Midfeast of Pentecost (2020)

Today, Wednesday, is the MidFeast of Pentecost.  Liturgically, the MidFeast points to the fact that at one time in Orthodox, Pascha and Pentecost were treated as one continuous, unified Feast of the Lord.  Thus today is MidFeast not Midfeasts – the middle of the one Feast.  And the Feast referred to is, perhaps unexectedly for us, Pentecost not Pascha.  [Note also the liturgical book governing the 50 days after Pascha is called the PENTECOSTARION, not the Paschalion].   The troparion of the MidFeast reminds us we are in the middle of the feast (in the singular not plural).  It lasts 50 days, but it is one feast.

In the middle of the feast, O Savior,

fill my thirsting soul with the waters of piety as You cried to all:

“If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink!”

O Christ God, Fountain of our life, glory to You! 

Through the centuries the Feasts (Pascha, Ascension and Pentecost) became treated as separate historical events rather than as one cosmic event which we have entered into through faith and baptism.   So unfortunately we treat Pascha as the much welcomed end of Great Lent, whereas it really is the beginning of the longest Feast Day of the Year – the Day without end.  Pascha begins the Feast of Pentecost, but Pentecost is where we are headed from our starting point, Pascha.  Sadly, for Orthodox today, we are often exhausted by the too many services of Holy Week and Pascha and in the days and weeks following Pascha, instead of us continually rejoicing in the Lord’s salvation, church attendance declines as there is a post-Pascha let down because we think we’ve reached the finish line after a grueling marathon.  Pentecost is treated like some unimportant addition tacked on harmlessly at the end of the Paschal period.  But Pentecost was the goal all along, Pascha being the beginning of the festal celebration.  In a hymn from MidFeast Vespers, we sing:

The middle of the days has come,
beginning with the Savior’s Resurrection,
and sealed by the holy Pentecost.
The first and the last glisten with splendor.
We rejoice in the union of both feasts,
as we draw near to the Lord’s Ascension:
the sign of our coming glorification.

Scholar Christopher Lockwood ties together the events of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well with the living water mentioned in John 7:37-39, the Gospel reading for the Feast of Pentecost.  Lessons worth considering at the MidFeast.

The connection between the water of life and the regenerative activity of the Spirit of God becomes even more pronounced, however, in a typological return to the judicial ordeal of the Old Testament…  This occurs when Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman involved in an illicit relationship who is drawing water from the well of Jacob (Jn 4:1-42).  . . .  Jesus, just like the waters of judgment, reveals the truth about the woman; yet he does not impart punishment, instead promising her living water (Greek: udor zon) which will make her never thirst again.   The greater significance of this is then unveiled in John’s Gospel when Jesus attends the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, where, it should be recalled, water was ritually drawn from the pool of Siloam and poured out together with wine before the altar in the temple of Solomon.  It is within the backdrop of all this that the meaning of ‘water of life’ is then revealed:

On the last day of the feast [of Tabernacles], the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water [udatos zontos].’ Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  (John 7:37-39)

This living water is again mentioned as ‘the water of life‘ in the mystic and eschatological vision of the world to come presented in the Book of Revelation (Rev 22:17; cf. Zech 14:8).

Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  (Revelation 22:1; cf. Gen 2:9)

Taken together with passages that speak of the Spirit being poured out like water, then, living water essentially comes to symbolize Christian experience of God’s Spirit both now and in the eschatological Kingdom of God to come.”  (SVTQ Vol 61 #1, 2017, pp 27-28)

Christ is risen!