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Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pentecost



INTRODUCTION
Pentecost is the last holiday in the Christian Moveable Feast Cycle, and celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit among the followers of Jesus in general and of the Apostles in particular. For 2016, Pentecost falls on May 15 for the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions; and on June 19 for the Eastern Orthodox and Coptic traditions.

Pentecost is a major feast day in the Roman Catholic, Coptic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Some Protestant denominations – including the Anglican, Episcopalian, United Methodist, Dutch Reformed and Lutheran Churches – celebrate Pentecost in varying degrees. Other Protestant denominations --  Baptists and Presbyterians -- are mixed in their practice from congregation to congregation as to how much they observe Pentecost or even whether or not they observe the holiday at all. Many other Protestant denominations do not observe Pentecost at all; this includes most Pentecostal Protestant denominations (although ironically the name Pentecostal comes from the name of the holiday).

DATING PENTECOST

Pentecost comes 50 days after Easter and the name in English comes directly from the Greek (Πεντηκοστή) meaning “fiftieth.” Because the Western and Eastern Orthodox traditions vary in the calendar used for dating holidays, the dates for the holiday differ. In both cases, though, Pentecost comes 50 days after Easter.

For 2016, Pentecost falls on May 15 for the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions; and on June 19 for the Eastern Orthodox and Coptic traditions. Two years ago in 2014, in an oddity, the calendars of the different traditions aligned and Pentecost fell on June 8 for all traditions.  This was an anomaly. 

In several traditions, the holiday lasts for three days, with the following Monday and Tuesday recognized as part of the holiday. In 16 nations, Pentecost Monday is a national holiday: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Senegal, and Togo. The Monday after Pentecost is also the secular Spring Bank Holiday in the United Kingdom (having formerly been a national religious holiday until 1967).



OTHER NAMES FOR PENTECOST

In the Western tradition the names for Pentecost derive from some version of either the Greek or German for “fiftieth.” Thus, the holiday is called Pentecostés in Spanish, Pentecôte in French, Pfinngsten in German, Pinksteren in Dutch and so on.

In England, the holiday is known as Whitsun or Whitsunday, with the three-day period through the following Tuesday known as Whitsuntide. This comes from the shortening over time of the original “White Sunday,” with “white” symbolizing the dove of the Holy Spirit. As noted above, Whit Monday was an official holiday in the United Kingdom until 1967 when the holiday was officially secularized and renamed the Spring Bank Holiday.

In the Orthodox tradition, the holiday is frequently called some version of “Trinity Sunday” with the following days known by some variant of this such as Spirit Monday and (for the following Tuesday) Third Day of the Trinity. The entire week following Trinity Sunday is considered an Eastern Orthodox Afterfeast in which fasting is not allowed.

RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE

Pentecost is closely associated with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Indeed, some Christians actually refer to the Old Testament references to Shavuot as Pentecost. This is never done by Jews themselves though.

The close association between Shavuot and Pentecost is because the first Pentecost occurred while the Apostles were celebrating Shavuot for the time following the Crucifixion.  The religious parallel of the two holidays is often emphasized with Shavuot representing the giving of the Torah to the children of Israel at Mount Sinai and with Pentecost representing the Descent of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles gathered to celebrate Shavuot 50 days following the Resurrection of Jesus. For more on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, please see my earlier blog at

  

Giotto, Pentecost, 1304-06
Scrovegni Chapel, Padua
In the Book of Acts, the Apostles and followers of Jesus are described gathered in one place at which time the Holy Spirit descended about them:  
 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 
 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a might wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
El Greco, Pentecost, 1596-1600
The Prado, Madrid
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2:1-4 

Of notable importance is the theme of descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost as a major subject for Christian art for centuries into the present day.. Notable paintings include those by Giotto, Maestà, Anthony van Dyck, El Greco, Joseph Ignaz Mildorfer, Fernando Gallego, Mikhail Vrubel and Peter Paul Rubens, among others.

In more modern art, the first Pentecost has been a subject for the Expressionist period artist Emil Nolde and the Japanese Naive School artist Sadao Watanabe.
Left - Emil Nolde, The Pentecost, 1909, Staatliche Museen, Berlin
Right - Sadao Watanabe, 1975,  print 


The Book of Acts describes a specific event at a specific time, a belief that Christians of all sects and denominations share. What is much more subject to argument, though, is whether or not the descent of the Holy Spirit described there is about a one-time event or is something that is possible for others at other times. As Dennis Bratcher explains:
There is much debate in some circles about exactly what happened at Pentecost, whether it is a repeatable event or only for the early church, or whether it should or should not become a paradigm for personal religious experience. Those who advocate it as a paradigm are sometimes termed Pentecostals, although that term usually refers more specifically to church traditions who advocate speaking in "tongues" or a special Spirit-inspired prayer or praise language.http://www.crivoice.org/cypentecost.html
 
OBSERVANCES
Priest wearing
a red chasuble
for Pentecost
In the Western Roman Catholic, Anglican and Episcopalian traditions, special prayers are recited on Pentecost. Priest wear red vestments (and some congregants wear red as well). This because red symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Church decorated
with red flames
for Pentecost
Many churches hang red decoratons, especially depicting flames. Other red decorations are also common, including red flowers, red fans, red scarves and handkerchiefs, and (more recently) red helium-filled balloons.

In the Anglican and Episcopalian tradition, Pentecost is one of the days set aside for baptisms. Those being baptized traditionally dress in white to symbolize purity. It is for this reason that in the Anglican tradition the holiday is traditionally called Whitsun (or “white Sunday”).

In many traditions, banners are hung as decorations to symbolize the “mighty wind” described in Acts 2:2. In some national traditions (notably those in Germany and Austria), the “mighty wind” is symbolized through playing brass instruments. The playing of organ music or choral pieces also takes this role, and Johann Sebastian Bach wrote several cantatas for the holiday, including the famous Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott (Praised be the Lord, my God), which was first performed in Leipzig Cathedral on Pentecost Sunday, 1726.

In Italy (and especially in Sicily) rose petals are scattered about and dropped from above on congregants during specific times.

The dove representing
the Holy Spirit is a common
Pentecost symbol
In both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, churches are decorated with images of doves, as the dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. In some traditions (especially in Italy), giant wooden doves are lowered over the congregation. Much more commonly worldwide, dove decorations are placed around the church and home.

In some Protestant churches and especially in Lutheran tradition, Martin Luther’s Komm Heiliger Geist Herre Gott (Come Holy Spirit, God and Lord) is sung. Similarly in some Protestant churches and especially the Methodist tradition, Charles Wesley’s two hymns “Spirit of Faith Come Down” and “Come Holy Ghosts Our Hearts Inspire” are sung.

Pentecost birthday cake
Both Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions recognize Pentecost as the "birthday of the church." In some Protestant traditions, particularly in North America, believers bake a birthday cake for the holiday. It should be noted that the Eastern Orthodox strongly disagrees with this concept, believing that the Church as an institution exists outside of time and therefore could not have a birthday.

Given particular significance in both Roman Catholic and Protestant practice, are the following lines from the Book of Acts:

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Acts 2:5-6

Emphasizing the many languages
highlighted at Pentecost, this
Pentecost decoration says
Jesus in many languages
Because of this, it is traditional in both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions to read this line from Acts 2:6 in as many languages as possible, particularly highlighting the languages spoken already by those present.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the holiday is, as noted above, called Trinity Sunday. Its formal name is actually “The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.”  They recite the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and sing several special prayers. On Sunday evening at what is called the Great Vespers, worshippers have a prolonged service in which they kneel for the first time since Pascha (Orthodox Easter). In some practices, this includes fully prostrating oneself on the ground. During the kneeling worship, three prayers are highlighted: one for repentance, a second  asking for the Holy Spirit to provide guidance, and the last in remembrance of those who have passed away.

Tree branches for Pentecost
 St. Andrew's Cathedral
St. Petersburg, Russia
Eastern Orthodoxy has several traditions that intentionally echo that of Jewish Shavuot observances. Eastern Orthodox traditionally hold an all-night vigil which parallels the Jewish all-night study session of Tikkun Leil on Shavuot.

Similarly, it is traditional in many Eastern Orthodox traditions to decorate with tree branches and foliage, intentionally done to recall the Jewish practice of decoration with trees and flowers at Shavuot (which they believe Pentecost supplants).

                          CLOSING WORDS

As with all of the blogs on religious observance, this blog post is meant only as one person's understanding of religious holidays and attendant observances. This is not meant as a guide to practice or as a stance on what is acceptable or unacceptable practice. Observances vary.

As always, if you would like to comment on your own observances or add more information, I welcome you do to do so.

Blessed Pentecost!



WANT TO LEARN MORE?

Kristen Birkey-Abbot, "Pentecost Promises: Let's Not Forget This Church Holiday," The Lutheran, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=9905

Dennis Bratcher, “The Church Year: Pentecost,” The Voice: Biblical and Theological Resources for Growing Christians of the Christian Resource Institute,

Sergei Bulgakov, "Pentecost: Explanation of the Feast," Handbook for Church Servers, p. 608: http://www.orthodox.net/ustav/bulgakov-pentecost.html
Catholic Encyclopedia, "Pentecost (Whitsunday)," http://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=9145

David Koll, "Resources for Pentecost Sunday," http://www.reformedworship.org/article/march-1998/resources-pentecost-sunday

Scott P. Richert, "Pentecost 101: Everything You Need to Know About Pentecost in the Catholic Church," About.com - Catholicism: http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/tp/Pentecost_101.htm

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, "Holy Pentecost," Orthodox Church in America website: http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsLife.asp?FSID=45

Ralph W. Wilson, "Artwork and Paintings of the Day of Pentecost," Joyful Heart Ministries: http://www.joyfulheart.com/pentecost/pentecost-artwork.htm

Jack Zavada, "Day of Pentecost," About.com - Christianity: http://christianity.about.com/od/biblestorysummaries/a/Day-Of-Pentecost.htm

CLIP ART SOURCES

Pentecost Sunday opening clip art: http://stjohnsgoshen.com/calendar

Passion to Pentecost, Ruver of Life Church, Muncie, Indiana:  http://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/p480x480/536694_10150639574147344_1427645328_n.jpg



Church decorated with red flames for Pentecost: http://www.spirit-too.com/images/Pentecost_flame.jpg


Giotto's The Pentecost (1304-06): Olga's Gallery: http://www.abcgallery.com/G/giotto/giotto123.html

El Greco's The Pentecost, 1596-1600, The Prado: http://www.joyfulheart.com/pentecost/pentecost-artwork.htm

Emil Nolde, The Pentecost, 1909, Staatliche Museen, Berlin: http://www.allpaintings.org/d/152483-2/Emil+Nolde+-+Pentecost.jpg

Sadao Watanabe The Pentecost, 1975, print: http://images.acswebnetworks.com/1/1455/pentacost1.jpg



Tree branches in St. Andrew's Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_interior_of_St._Andrew%27s_cathedral_St._Petersburg.jpg

Pentecost Sunday closing clip art:  http://www.newsletternewsletter.com/Months/May02/may02.asp

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shavuot

Introduction

For 2016, Shavuot (or Shavuos) begins at sunset Saturday June 11 and lasts through sunset Sunday June 12 for (most) Reform and Reconstructionist Jews and through sunset Monday, June 13 for Conservative and Orthodox Jews.  This is a major holiday for Jews and employees, students, and others should be accommodated for religious observance.

Shavuot is determined by counting from Passover.  This is reflected in the name as the word “Shavout” in Hebrew simply means “Weeks.” In English translations of the Bible, the holiday is usually translated as the “Festival of Weeks.”

Jews believe that Shavuot is the day in which the Lord gave the Torah (literally “the Law”, which refers to the first five books of the Bible) to Moses on Mount Sinai.  An alternative name for Shavuot  -- Hag Matan Torateinu (The Festival of the Giving of the Torah) – recognizes this. One point emphasized here is that the Torah was given on this day rather than received.  The Jewish belief is that even though God gave the Torah on Mount Sinai on Shavuot, it is up to every Jew to receive the Torah (that is to accept it and follow its teachings) anew with every day.

In Christianity, Shavuot is associated with the Christian holiday of Pentecost (the Descent of the Holy Spirit). This is because the first Christian Pentecost occurred when the followers of Jesus (who were Jewish) were celebrating Shavuot. While some Christians refer to the Jewish Shavuot as Pentecost, this is never done by Jews (and is viewed as offensive generally). For more on the Christian holiday of Pentecost, please see

http://davidvictorvector.blogspot.com/2012/05/pentecost.html
Shavuot is one of the three festivals in Judaism linked to the harvest (the other two are Passover and Sukkot).  Unlike the other two harvest festivals, though, Shavuot has no ritual that would correspond, say, to the Passover Seder service or the building of a sukkah at Sukkot. For more on these two holidays, please refer to the earlier blog posts for



One explanation for why Shavuot has no similar ritual associated with it is sometimes attributed to the enormity of the event of the giving of the Torah.  As Michael Strassfeld in his book The Jewish Holidays puts it:

the Revelation at Sinai can be viewed as an experience so cosmic and mysterious that no ritual could encompass it, just as the Torah itself is so multifaceted that it eludes any attempt to delineate it. Like God who cannot be described, His Torah cannot be limited by a specific ritual or symbol other than the Torah scroll itself. (p. 72)


In the days of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, Shavout celebrated the offering of the first fruits pf the harvest.   It is for this reason that the holiday has yet another name: Yom ha-Bikkurim (Day of the First Fruits).

Observances

It is traditional for Jews – especially in the Orthodox tradition – to stay awake all night at the synagogue and to pray at the very break of sunrise.  The night is usually spent in Torah study groups called Tikkun Leil Shavuot.

Jews worshipping at the Kotel
on Shavuot
In Jerusalem, thousands of pilgrims crowd the Kotel (the so-called Wailing or Western Wall, which is the only surviving remnant of the Temple) as dawn breaks to pray.

In addition to the shared studying of the Torah, Jews read two works aloud that are not from the Torah at this time: the Akdamut prayer and the Book of Ruth.

The first is the Akdamut prayer.  The Akdamut is a song of praise for the Torah written by Rabbi Meir of Worms at some point in the 1090's before his death in 1095.  Late in his life Crusaders killed Rabbi Meir’s son (the killing of Jews in Europe was a common occurence among Crusaders en route to fight the Moslem Turks. After his son's death, Rabbi Meir was forced to explain in a public debate with the Church leaders responsible for his son’s death why he still believed in Judaism. His defense was apparently strong enough that he was not only allowed to live, but was allowed to continue to practice Judaism.  Following the public debate, Rabbi Meir wrote the Akdamut that is read on Shavuot.

Ruth gathering sheaves


The other reading is the Book of Ruth.  This book, though part of the Bible, is not part of the Torah.  Much debate as to why the book is read exists, but two of the more common explanations are that it takes place at the harvest of the first fruits and that Ruth (who is a convert to Judaism) accepted the Torah by choice. 

Finally, Shavuot is one of the days in which Jews say Yizkor, the traditional remembrance observance for loved ones who have passed away.

Traditional Shavuot Decorations 

Harvest decoration
(the Hebrew letters here
are the word "Shavout")
Shavuot is a harvest festival. To acknowledge this, many Jews decorate with harvest symbols, sheaves of wheat or baskets of fruit. This is particularly a practice in some kibbutzim (collective farms) in Israel where such decorations actually come from the local harvest, although Jews all over the world often use the harvest motif even if they live far from any actual harvest themselves.

Because the Bible indicates that the Israelites were told not to allow their flocks to graze on Mount Sinai, it has been traditional at Shavuot to decorate worship places and homes with plants and flowers during the holiday. This somewhat obscure association that such a warning could be made only if the area were already green with plants in the midst of the dessert is nonetheless one of the oldest recorded traditions historically tied to the holiday.

Some Jewish traditions consider Shavuot a day of judgement for tree and say prayers for the trees. Even in those traditions without this belief, some Jews still decorate with trees in pots and tree branches. Because the Torah brings sweetness to people's lives, many Jewish congregations distribute sprigs of sweet-smelling myrtle to worshippers.


Finally, it is very common to decorate with flowers, and especially lillies-of-the-valley and roses. This harkens back to the harvest motif again, but has another significance.

Lillies-of-the-Valley are
a common Shavuot decoration
In the Song of Songs (2:1-2),  the beloved one (who in some Jewish interpreation is at once a lover and a metaphor for Israel) is compared to lillies-of-the-valley. Therefore, lillies-of-the-valley (and often simply lillies) are used as symbols of the Lord's love for Israel in giving the Torah.

In the Book of Esther (which is actually not related to Shavuot at all, but to Purim), a line reads "And the decree was proclaimed in Shushan" (Esther 8:14). In a rather convulated logic, the word "decree" has been associated with the "law" or the Torah. Hence the Torah was proclaimed in Shushan. Shushan was the capital of ancient Persia, but it is very similar to the Hebrew word for rose (Shoshanah) so the pun is used as the basis of the link of roses to the Torah.


Traditional Shavuot Foods


By tradition, Jews traditionally eat a dairy meal at least once on Shavuot. 

Several traditions are associated with the eating of dairy. Among these is the belief that the Torah as nourishing as milk is to a child. Another association with dairy is numerological in nature. All Hebrew words have numerical equivalents since Hebrew letters are used for numbering as well as for writing words. The letters of the  Hebrew word for dairy -- chalav -- add up to the number 40, which is the number of days that the Bible indicates that Moses spent on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah. Another tradition suggests that when the Israelites received the Torah, the realized that they could no longer mix milk and meat (one of the requirements of keeping kosher) so they had to eat dairy until they could make their cooking utensils kosher.

Cheese blintz


Whatever the reasons behind it, Shavuot has become a time for Jews to focus on cooking dairy dishes.  In particular, the cheese blintz is associated with the holiday among the Ashkenazi (Jews with Eastern and Central European backgrounds). A recipe for traditional cheese blintzes can be found at



Cheesecake with nuts
Another Shavuot speciality is cheesecake. Often the cheesecake is made with nuts to bring in the tradition of praying for trees, the cheesecake is made with some sort of nuts either as a topping or mixed into the cake itself. One recipe for a traditional Shavuot cheesecake with nuts can be found at


A more modern, Israeli recipe for cheesecake with nuts can be found at





Closing Comments

As with all posts on religion on this blog, these remarks are meant only as one person's understanding of religious holidays and attendant observances. This is not meant as a guide to practice or as a stance on what is acceptable or unacceptable practice. Observances vary. If you would like to comment on your own observances or add more information, I welcome you do to do so.


Want To Read More?

Larry Fine, "Ruth: The Perfect Convert,"  http://www.netglimse.com/holidays/shavuot/customs_and_traditions_of_shavuot.shtml

Leslie Koppelman Ross, "Shavuot Decorations," My Jewish Learning website, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Shavuot/In_the_Community/Decorations.shtml
"Shavuot," Aish.com website,  http://www.aish.com/h/sh/
:Shavuot," New South Wales Board of Jewish Education, http://www.bje.org.au/learning/judaism/kids/holydays/shavuot.html

"Shavuot: The Giving of the Torah," Chabad.org, http://www.chabad.org/holidays/shavuot/default_cdo/jewish/Shavuot.htm

"Shavuot," Jewish Virtual Library: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/holidayc.html

Michael Strassfeld, "Shavuot" in The Jewish Holidays, Quill/Harper Collins, 1985, pp. 68-83.

Clip Art Sources

Opening Shavuot clipart: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Pi5rbC7pgXY/TfQMT19ZwHI/AAAAAAAAAeg/ABv-2soQbaE/s1600/shavuot.gif

Moses with the 10 Commandments: http://www.netglimse.com/holidays/shavuot/customs_and_traditions_of_shavuot.shtml

Jews at the Kotel worshipping at Shavuout: http://www.travelujah.com/media/images/userimages/7/travel_shavuot_kotel.JPG

Ruth: http://www.netglimse.com/holidays/shavuot/customs_and_traditions_of_shavuot.shtml

Harvest Shavuot decoration, Anne's Opinions blogsite: http://anneinpt.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/chag-shavuot-sameach/

Lillies-of-the-valley clip art: http://www.bje.org.au/learning/judaism/kids/holydays/shavuot.html

Cheese blintz: http://kosherfood.about.com/od/shavuot/r/blintz_cheese.htm

Cheesecake: http://jannagur.com/108704/Cheesecake-with-Assorted-Nuts

Closing Happy Shavuot clipart: http://www.jr.co.il/hotsites/j-hdaysh.htm