Sunday, May 23, 2010 is the Feast of Pentecost. According to the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples were gathered in the upper room on the Jewish feast of Pentecost some time after Jesus' resurrection.
Suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
— Acts 2:2-4
A Day and a Season
"Pentecost" means fifty days in Greek. It refers both to the fiftieth day after Easter, and also to that entire season of fifty days. The 8th century Armenian Church father and theologian St. John of Otzun says that during the fifty days of Pentecost, "every day is Sunday." By this he means that every day is a day to celebrate the Easter mystery of Christ risen and active among us. There should be no fasting and no kneeling down because these are penitential rites which are not compatible with the joy of Easter.
Ancient Ceremony of Genuflexion
One characteristic of the Feast of Pentecost in the Armenian Church and all other ancient eastern churches is a ceremony of "Genuflexion" or kneeling down. After the festivities of Easter are completed on Pentecost Sunday, the church resumes its normal cycle of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. In addition, the prohibition against kneeling down in prayer and penance is lifted. In fact, the churches celebrate this by ceremonially inviting the faithful to bend the knee for the first time since Easter.
In the Armenian tradition, this ceremony takes place during the Badarak (Divine Liturgy). The priest celebrating the Divine Liturgy interrupts the Eucharistic Prayer (before the words, Arek, gerek... (Take, eat...) and reads three prayers which come to us from the ancient liturgy of Jerusalem. Each prayer is addressed to one member of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Before each prayer a hymn is sung. After each prayer the priest invites all the faithful to bow down three times, saying, "With prayers, we fall on our knees and beseech the Lord."
St. John Vosgeperan Chrysostom
The three Pentecost Prayers are attributed to the great orator and theologian of the early church, St. John Chrysostom ("the golden mouth"; Vosgeperan) who was enormously influential in the theology and liturgy of the Armenian Church. A priest born in Antioch, he became Bishop of Constantinople in the late fourth century. He died in exile in western Armenia. Other traditions attribute the prayers to St. Basil the Great of Caesarea, another great saint of the fourth-century.
In most eastern churches the Ceremony of Genuflexion has a penitential theme: kneeling down is seen as a sign of sinfulness and unworthiness. In the Armenian Church, however, the three prayers to the Holy Trinity portray genuflexion on Pentecost is an act of adoration and worship. We kneel down before God to commemorate the descent of the Spirit on the Apostles on the first Pentecost day.
Pentecost and Baptism
In the Armenian Church a newly-baptized child, having been immersed in the water and anointed with the sacred oil, is taken up the steps of the altar by the priest and with him bows down "before the holy altar, and before the holy sanctuary, and before the holy font." The Armenian prayers of genuflexion recall this act of adoration at baptism and can be understood as a renewal of divine gifts received at baptism.
The great scholar of Armenian Christianity, the Benedictine monk Charles Athanase Renoux has theorized that the Armenian version of the three Pentecost Prayers and Byzantine version are based on a common model which evolved differently in the two liturgical realms of early Christianity.
Click here to download a full English translation of the prayers for Pentecost.