The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles (the fifty days from Easter to Trinity Sunday) is one of the Twelve Festivals-Days of the Church, established in remembrance of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles in Jerusalem during the Judaical holiday of the Pentecost, observed on the 50th day after Easter (Acts 2:1-13) This event is realization of the Old Testament prophecies (Joel.2:28-32 and others) and of the New Testament prophecies (St.John the Baptist: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire” St.Matthew 3:11; St.Mark 1:8, St.Lucas 3:16) and marks the beginning of the operation of the Holy Spirit and birth of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ.It has been celebrated since the 1V century.

The Holiday iconography presents the apostles sitting in the semicircular, with the Holy Spirit descending on them in the tongues of flame, under them in the cave-a man’s figure in the crown symbolizing the enlightened peoples.In the centre of the composition-the apostles St.Peter and St.Paul.Though St.Paul historically could not have been present in the Cenacle but it would have been inappropriate not to include the prime apostle Paul as the author of many books of the New Testament in the icon of the Christian Church birth.And though the first chapter of the Acts ends with electing Matthew instead of the rejected Judas,Paul is considered by the Church to be the twelfth apostle.Books and scrolls in the hands of all the twelve apostles are symbolsof their magisterium.Inside the halos or above them are tongues of flame:the apostles are honoured to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit by the Saviour Himself on His promise.From the XV11-XVШ centuries in the centre of the apostle semicircle the Mother of God is placed forever. The Saint Evangelist Lucas, author of the Acts of the Apostles, not mentioning the name of the Mother of God in his description of the Descent of the Holy Spirit nevertheless writes that after ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ all the apostles were praying with some women and Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:14). During one of these praying sessions the Descent of the Holy Spirit occurred.

The earliest available depiction of the Descent of the Holy Spirit dates back to the 1V century: a miniature of the handwritten Gospel created by the Syrian monk Rabula in 586 (Biblioteca Laurentiana,Florence-Bibl.Laur.Plut.1,56).

Depictions of the Pentecost occur in the illuminated Gospels and Psalms, in the ancient collections of various manuscripts,in mosaics (for example, the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, in the Venetian Cathedral of St.Mark of 1X-XШ centuries), in the frescoes of Athos, in the ancient cathedrals of Kiev,Novgorod and other churches. On the Sinai icons depicting the Descent of the Holy Spirit of the V11-1X centuries originating from the most ancient icons, the sitting apostles accept the Holy Spirit-descending tongues of flame-from the Saviour blessing them from the Heaven.

The holiday is celebrated on Sunday of the eighth week after Easter.

Zhanna G. Belik,

Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.

Olga E. Savchenko,

research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.


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