While religious holidays – or those holidays observed religiously by some – receive a great deal of attention in the United States, many of these holidays have become mainstream, to the point where their religious aspects are frequently subordinate to their cultural observance. Christmas has become an occasion for gifts, and Santa Claus may attract more belief in some households than Jesus, whose birth the holiday commemorates. Easter has chocolate and a mysterious rabbit, which is good enough for many.

But lesser-known holidays abound in all religions, and a week rarely goes by without including a religious observance of one type or another. One of the less obscure of these is the feast of Pentecost, observed by Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Also known as Whitsunday, because of the white clothing traditionally worn by participants, Pentecost takes place seven weeks after Easter. One fascinating aspect of Pentecost’s history is its relationship to the Jewish holiday Shavu’ot. Shavu’ot marks the day on which Moses received the Torah from the hands of God, and occurs seven weeks after Passover, the Jewish commemoration of the departure of the Jews from Egypt. Pentecost is a translation of the Greek word for Shavu’ot, and the two festivals were originally one and the same. Pentecost and Shavu’ot do not usually coincide, however, as Easter and Pentecost’s positions in the Gregorian calendar are determined by the Christian calendar, while Passover and Shavu’ot are determined by the Hebrew calendar. Shavu’ot was observed on June 9 and 10 this year; Pentecost falls on Sunday, June 15.

Pentecost, although it shares some meaning with the Jewish holiday of Shavu’ot, has also taken on other significance, which is related to New Testament teachings. In addition to celebrating Moses’s reception of the Ten Commandments, Pentecost also commemorates the Holy Spirit’s appearance to the Apostles.

There are several Orthodox churches in Santa Barbara, and all of them will be observing Pentecost with a special service. Saint Barbara’s Greek Orthodox will be offering a Pentecost service, and St. Athanasius Orthodox is holding a Pentecost potluck.

Pentecost is a highly important holiday in Christian Orthodox worship, but there is also a Pentecostal denomination based around the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is related to the Holy Spirit’s appearance to the Apostles. There are currently no Pentecostal churches in the immediate Santa Barbara area; however, any worshippers looking for a particular observance of the holiday can contact one of the Orthodox churches listed above.


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