Belief in brief: Pentecost

Friday, May 9, 2008 | 1:00 p.m. CDT; updated 10:34 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Pentecost celebrates the day the Holy Spirit — part of the Christian Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit embodied in one Godhead — descended on the Christians. It marks the beginning of the Christian church. The holiday, also called “Whitsunday,” occurs on the seventh Sunday after Easter; this year, it falls on May 11.


Although Pentecost is largely regarded as a Christian holiday, it has Jewish roots.

It was during the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which is associated with the spring harvest and marks the day Moses received the Torah from God on Mount Sinai — that the Holy Spirit came down to spread the good news about Jesus Christ.

According the second chapter of Acts in the Bible, as Jesus’ apostles celebrated Shavuot, the Holy Spirit appeared, marking

the beginning of the Christian church’s mission.


As described in Acts, it is believed that the Holy Spirit appeared with a “rushing wind,” and “tongues of fire” descended on the apostles. In Hebrew, wind and fire are words associated with God’s presence.

The apostles then began to speak in foreign languages, allowing them to pass on the message of faith in Jesus to the different linguistic groups in Israel. According to Acts, passersby thought the apostles might be drunk, but Peter reassured them that the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit.


Today, Pentecost is considered to be a joyful festival. Ministers sometimes wear robes with designs stitched in red to symbolize the fire that appeared as the Holy Spirit came down to earth. Other symbols include wind and a dove, which is one of the most traditional symbols of the Holy Spirit.

In addition to the use of symbols, Christians may sing a number of hymns based on the story of Pentecost. “Breathe on me breath of God,” “There’s a spirit in the air,” “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me” and “O Breath of Life, come sweeping through us” are among the most popular.


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