Pentecost Sunday

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. This feast is of great importance as it marks the coming of the Holy Spirit. On the Ascension we focused on an icon from the Rabulla Gospels. The Gospels were with the Maronites since the 6th Century. They are one of the oldest surviving biblical manuscripts and are based on the Syriac Peshita version of the Gospel. They also contain this icon of Pentecost.

rabbula-pentecost

The icon invites us to contemplate the scene of the Gospel and live it in your own life.

The large blue arch in the icon symbolises the heavenly realm. The trees that are growing above the blue represent the Garden of Paradise. The Holy Spirit descends on the Upper Chamber where the apostles are assembled at Pentecost. “Blessed is He who exalted Adam and caused him to return to Paradise.” (from Hymns on Paradise from St Ephrem)

The dove descending is the Spirit of the Living God. It descends from the blue heavenly realm and enters the earthly realm to rest on Mary who is speaking with the apostles. The dove echoes Jesus earlier baptism. This is also reflective of the scene in Acts 2:3 where tongues of fire res on each disciples head.

The inclusion of Mary in the icon is important. Syriac theology has been instrumental in the development of early Marian theology. Mary is not mentioned in the scene in Acts 2, however she is mentioned as being with the Apostles earlier in Acts 1:14. The icon puts Mary centre stage in the scene and puts her in a place of prominence. Her dark blue robe stands in contrast to the paler blue of the apostles and her halo is golden in comparison to the violet of the apostles. The icon is depicting the the gathering of Christ’s Church. Christ had ascended nine days earlier and left Mary as the leading Church custodian among the apostles.

Around Mary you can see a concentration of red which is representative of the divine. This is a typological reference to God who in the Old Testament is fire, for example the burning bush at Mt Sinai. The rocky sapphire stones on which they stand are a reference to Exodus 24:10 “and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.” They now see God by way of the Spirit.

Take a moment this Sunday and contemplate the icon. Feel the warmth of the Spirit in your life, it is the link for us between heaven and earth.


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