June 1, 2023

The Exodus of the Jews and the Pentecostarion of the Church

 By John Sanidopoulos
Originally, in biblical times, Pentecost was primarily a harvest festival, but after the time of Jesus and the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans it became more focused on the fact that according to Exodus 19:1, fifty days after Israel came out of Egypt, God brought them to Sinai to establish His covenant with them and to give them His Law through His Prophet Moses. So from the institution of the feast of Passover, which led to the liberation of the Jews from bondage in Egypt, until God brought them to Mount Sinai to deliver His law to His people, fifty days passed. By being given a law and having God as their Ruler, they would be able to enter the Promised Land as one nation.

In the Orthodox Church, on the feast of Easter, which is known as Pascha (the Greek word for Passover), we celebrate the liberation of the human race from the bondage of sin, death and the devil through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and over a period of fifty days until the feast of Pentecost we are led on a journey to receive from God His Holy Spirit, through whom the law of God is written in our hearts instead of on tablets of stone (cf. 2 Cor. 3:3). When the law of God is written in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, we become united citizens of God's eternal kingdom. The fifty day period between Easter and Pentecost is known in the Orthodox Church as the Pentecostarion.

After we celebrate Easter, and when Renewal or Bright Week is over, the Church wisely sets up two Sundays in which to abolish all doubts concerning the Resurrection of Christ, that of the Sunday of Saint Thomas and the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women. This is done in order to ensure that we all partake of the living water that only the risen Lord can give. The following three Sundays, as we approach Pentecost, the theme of water from the Gospel of John becomes more and more central in the hymns of the Church. Thus we are found one Sunday at the Sheep's Pool with the Paralytic, then at the Well of Jacob with the Samaritan Woman, and finally at the Pool of Siloam with the Blind Man. During this festive period we hear concerning the "living water" which if one partakes "he will never thirst." We are taught that it is our Savior Himself who is this living water, and we partake of Him through the baptismal waters and the divine eucharist which issued forth from His side at His crucifixion unto remission of sins and life everlasting. Then on Pentecost we have grace rained upon our parched souls and bodies so that we may be fruitful and have a rich harvest as we hear from the holy Gospel on that day: "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." Finally, the Pentecostarion concludes with the Feast of All Saints, celebrating those who partook of the "waters of piety", which is the harvest of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

In the story of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt to the Promised Land, we first read how God abolishes the doubts of His people by His parting of the Red Sea and being in their presence as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. He also provides water and food for them. As desert life proves arduous, the Israelites complain and long for Egypt, but God miraculously provides manna for them to eat and water to drink. Water, as a source of life, also becomes a central theme in the Exodus story, since it is the most basic human need when traveling through a dry and hot desert. Not only does God part the Red Sea allowing for the safe passage of the Israelites, but He also provides water for them by miraculously issuing water from a rock. Therefore, just as Jesus provides the living water by which His people will never thirst again, so does God provide for the Israelites natural water in a miraculous way to quench their temporary thirst. The same with the manna from heaven: just as Jesus provides for us His body and blood as food and drink, without which we cannot be a part of Him and His kingdom, so also the Jews were given the manna miraculously for forty years in the desert, without which they would not have survived to enter the Promised Land.

Arriving at Sinai, before Moses ascended the mountain, he spoke to the people (Ex. 19:3-9):
"And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, 'Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.' ... And the Lord said to Moses, 'Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.'”
Likewise did Jesus speak to His disciples before ascending into heaven (Acts 1:4-9), having told them before His Passion that "it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you" (Jn. 16:7):
"And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, 'which,' He said, 'you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.' Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, 'Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' And He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.' Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight."

And then in the Book of Exodus (19:16-20) we read:

"Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up."

Compare this with what we read in the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-4), when the holy apostles were in the upper room in which Jesus established His covenant with them before His crucifixion, waiting for the promise of the Lord to send them His Holy Spirit, who suddenly came on Pentecost at the third hour of the day:

"When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."

The people outside who heard this noise and had come from throughout the world to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost were confused by what they heard and amazed how each of them could understand the apostles in their own language, yet some mocked them and considered them drunk. Peter then spoke to the people and proclaimed the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ, testifying to the fact that the Holy Spirit had come, the great day of the Lord proclaimed by the prophets. Then we read of the reaction of the people:

"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.' ... Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them... So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

Meanwhile we read in Exodus (24:3-4), after Moses was given the law from the Lord and came down to the people:

"So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, 'All the words which the Lord has said we will do.' And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel."

We therefore conclude with the fact that the Exodus of the Jews foreshadows the Pentecostarion of the Church. Both are about an arduous journey of a people who have a covenant with the Lord to receive a great promise from Him after being united as one people and becoming one nation. One is united by the Law of Moses written with the finger of God, while the other is united by the Grace of Jesus Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, making them a new nation, a new people, a new Israel, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

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