May 2, 2018

History of the Feast of Mid-Pentecost

By John Sanidopoulos

Mid-Pentecost is the bond between the two feasts of Pascha and Pentecost, of which it falls at the mid-point. We have no documented testimony to the origins of the feast of Mid-Pentecost, but it was widely known by the fifth century. The Bishop of Ravenna, Peter Chrysologus (c. 380-c. 450), called it a divine festival from the tradition of the apostolic fathers. It existed in the time of John Chrysostom, based on an alleged homily of his, and its observance can be documented in sixth century Antioch by Severus of Antioch as well as seventh century Jerusalem. Hymns for this feast were written by Patriarch Elias of Jerusalem (494-513), Patriarch Anatolios of Constantinople (449-458), Andrew of Crete (seventh century) John of Damascus (eighth century) and Theophan the Confessor (ninth century).

The first properly Constantinopolitan reference to this feast also goes back to the sixth century, in the homily of Leontios of Constantinople. In his day, the Gospel passage of Jn. 9:1-14 was read, but this passage was, before the tenth century, replaced with Jn. 7:14-30, the passage we use today, because of the words, "About the middle of the feast." The Gospel text obviously refers to the Feast of Tabernacles, which the Church transferred to the fifty-day paschal period.

Today this feast is only observed in the Eastern Churches, but this was not always so. Peter Chrysologus, mentioned above, was a Bishop of the West and the feast was observed in the Ambrosian rite and other Western usages, but it certainly never took hold entirely in the West. This may be perhaps because in the West, specifically in Ravenna during the time of Peter Chrysologus, the feast of the Ascension had not yet been established when Mid-Pentecost was celebrated. Therefore, when the Ascension feast was established in the West, it seems to have replaced entirely the need to celebrate Mid-Pentecost.