June 01, 1996

Holiday of the Holy Trinity

Fifty days after Easter, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the great holiday of Pyatidesyatnitsa — the feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit. It was on this day, as God had promised, that the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles. According to Orthodox teaching, and indeed Christianity in general, God exists in three entities — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The notion of Trinity became dogma, adopted and expressed as a symbol of faith at the first ecumenical council in 325 A.D.

In Russian folk tradition, Pyatidesyatnitsa is called Troitsa (Trinity). This holiday somehow merged with the old Slavic pagan holiday Semik (from the Russian word for the figure ‘seven’ – sem). It was one of the most joyful summer festivals of the ancients Slavs – a sort of farewell to spring and a welcome to summer.

Semik was considered a female holiday because in pagan times agriculture was mainly a woman’s job. Agricultural spirits, which pagans believed to be patrons of the crop and favoring fertility, were also considered to be female. In order to please and appease them (these customs and rites are still observed in some parts of Russia), people would cut down a young birch tree in the forest, decorate it with ribbons and flowers, and take it to the other extreme of the village where they would sing and dance around the tree and have a kind of party beneath it — serving pies, fried and boiled eggs and other food. They decorated themselves  and their homes and churches  with birch branches and flowers. Girls also wore special garlands made of birch branches. At the end of the feast, they would go to the river bank, throw the garlands into the water and watch how they floated. The fate of the garland would be the same as the fate of the thrower in life.

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