Pentecost, Holy Trinity and the Green Holidays
(P'Yatidesyatnitsya, Nedilya Svyatoi Troitsi y Zeleni Svyata)
In the fall of 2000, Fr. Philip Scott requested the author to inquire into the origins and meaning of our custom of decorating the churches with green, leafy branches on Pentecost Sunday and the practice of the priests and deacons to wear green vestments on that day. Hereinafter follow the results of the inquiry.
The Feastday of Pentecost occurs 50 days after the celebration of the Glorious Resurrection. It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the heads of the Apostles infusing them with the mandate to go forth into the world and preach the Gospel. (Acts 2, 1-11) It is celebrated as a major feastday in all of the ancient Apostolic Churches of East and West and is considered the birthday of the Church. In the Eastern Church, however, the feast does not stand alone. On Pentecost the Eastern Church also celebrates the Feastday of the Holy Trinity and on the Saturday preceding , one of the five Saturdays in the typikon dedicated to the remembrance of the dead.  How and why these three feasts came together at the same time is not known to the author. All three of these feasts are moveable, i. e. their date is determined by the date of Resurrection Sunday which varies from year to year. Fortuitously, rather than by design, the three feasts occur more or less in late spring or early summer, a time when agricultural peoples, are most concerned about preparing the fields and sowing the crops.
In pre-Christian times, the Eastern Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians and Ruthenians) held beliefs and practiced customs which evolved in response to their needs to secure their livelihood and survival under adverse conditions because Eastern Europe is far from the benign influence of the Gulf Stream and for that reason more subject to extremes in weather. The challenges of the environment played a large role in determining the beliefs and customs of the Slavs as it did with other Indo-European peoples with whom they were more closely linked in the millennia before Christ. (See THE SLAVS in http://www.members.tripod.com/resurrectionwillows).
The ancient Slavic cults involved Mother Earth, the forests, the trees, the grasses, the flowers and the waters and the propitiation of the spirits which inhabited them. One cult believed to have been derived from ancient Greek and Roman sources, called ANTHESTERIA in Greek, and ROSALIA in Latin is called RUSALIYA in the Slavic languages. The spirits associated with this cult are called RUSALKI which in Christian times were considered the souls of children and others who died unbaptized, or who drowned or who committed suicide or were executed. Such spirits dwelled variously in the forests or the waters and could be benevolent or harmful depending on mood. Often they were associated with spirits known in various times and places as MAVKAS or LESHYES. 
St. Vladimir the Great
The conversion of the Eastern Slavs by St. Vladimir the Great in 988 AD did not result in the Slavs' abandonment of the old beliefs in exchange for the teachings of the new religion. The hierarchs of the Church soon realized that real conversion was more than a matter of simple baptism; rather it was an arduous task requiring generations, if not centuries.  The raging of princes and the exhortations of the clergy did little to divert the Slavs from familiar beliefs and customs. Accordingly the Church implemented the tried and true remedy of pulling Satan's fangs by directing its charges' attention away from the old ways to the requirements of Christianity. In short, the old ways were infused with Christian meaning and tied to the feastdays of the Church. Long before the conversion of the Eastern Slavs, the feastdays of the Church had been fixed. Nevertheless the Church in Eastern Slavdom displayed deft ingenuity in using what was inherited from Byzantium to achieve its objectives. The Slavic festivals associated with spring and summer and the sowing of crops coincided more or less with the Remembrance of the Dead, Pentecost and Holy Trinity. In time much of the old heathenish belief system yielded to Christianity and thus became less harmful. In consequence new customs derived from the old took form and persist among Eastern Slavs to this day.
Green Week begins on the Thursday before Pentecost. On this day, the girls in the village go into the fields to gather branches and flowers for weaving wreaths in memory of all the saints. The custom varies from place to place but represents the survival of the ancient practice of wearing wreathes in honor of the gods. Wreaths then as now represent youth and beauty as well as serving as protection against evil.
Green Saturday (Zelena Subota) is the Saturday of Remembrance of the Dead immediately preceding Pentecost Sunday. On this day the faithful visit and decorate the graves of their ancestors and pray for the repose of their souls and their release from their sins. In memory of the dead, flowers, wreaths and green branches, all representing life and the liberation from death (resurrection) are used not only at the grave sites but also to decorate the homes and churches. This is the origin of our custom of decorating the churches on Pentecost with green branches.
Green Sunday, also Pentecost and Holy Trinity (P'yatidesyatnitsya and Nediliya Svyatoi Troitsi) are the combined feastdays of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Trinity.  Interestingly, the iconography of the day refers only to the descent of the Holy Spirit in form of tongues of fire on the heads of the Apostles.  Neither the iconography nor the liturgy of the day contain any special reference to the Holy Trinity. In the Western viz. Roman Church the vestments of Pentecost are red as tongues of fire, while those of the priests and deacons of the Eastern Church of Byzantine/Slavonic liturgical tradition are green in acknowledgement of the overwhelming preoccupation of the Eastern Slavs with life, their lives, the success of crops and the wellbeing of livestock, and by extension, the lives and resurrection of those who had passed on before them.  Thus, when we decorate our churches on Pentecost, Trinity Sunday or Green Sunday with green branches of trees and shrubs, we acknowledge the beliefs and customs of the Slavs who infused into the religion of Byzantium new meanings to edify and enlighten our minds and to beautify our rites. Green is the color of spring and summer, the color of life, and life is an attribute of the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and giver of Life” who animates us all.
The author acknowledges thoughts and words from Fr. Philip Scott and Fr. David Petras, Ruthenian Byzantine (Greek) Catholic Metropolitanate of the US; Fr. Rafail Turkoniak, Greek Catholic Metropolitanate of Lviv, Ukraine; iconography from St. Isaac of Syria Skete and others; from the texts referred to below; and landscapes from Vladimir Igaev.
- The other four days for the Remembrance of the Dead are the Saturday before Sunday of Meat-fare and the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Saturdays of Great Lent. The practice of praying for the dead for the repose of their souls and their release from their sins is of pre-Christian Jewish origin. See 2 Maccabees 12, 43-46.
- This essay is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of Slavic beliefs associated with spring and summer. For further information, the reader is directed to: a) THE UKRAINIAN CULTURAL AND EDUCATIONAL CENTER, 184 Alexander Avenue East, Winnipeg, MB R3B OL6, Canada; b) THE UKRAINIAN MUSEUM, 203 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10003, USA; and more specifically to: c) Calendar Year in Ukrainian Folklore (Ukrainskii Rik y Narodnikh Zvichayakh) by Prof. Stepan Kylymnik, pub. 1957 in Winnipeg in Proceedings of the Ukrainian Research Institute of Volyn: d) Customs of Our People (Zvichai Nashogo Narodu) - Ethnographic Essay pub. Ukrainian Publishing House (Ukrainske Vidavnitstvo), 1966, Munich, Germany; and e) The Russian Religious Mind, Kievan Christianity: the 10th to the 13th Centuries by G. P. Fedotov, pub. 1960, Harper & Bros.
- For over two hundred years after the conversion of the Eastern Slavs, Christianity remained substantially the religion of the ruling classes. The mass of the peasantry, whether baptized or not, remained in the grip of the old superstitions concerned with appeasing the forces of nature. See chapter 12 of THE RUSSIAN RELIGIOUS MIND, supra. As late as the 19th century, bishops in the more remote areas of the Russian Empire complained to the Holy Synod about beliefs and practices of their flocks which were heathenish and irreconcilable with the Church's teachings.
- In the Western viz. Roman Church, the Feastday of the Holy Trinity is celebrated on the first Sunday following Pentecost.
- The figure in beard and crown who appears to emerge from beneath the floor where the Apostles are assembled is called COSMOS. The explanation on page 368-369 of THE RUSSIAN RELIGIOUS MIND, supra, says it best. “It is a commonplace among historians of religion that Eastern Christianity stresses the cosmological aspects more strongly than the Christian West which puts unquestionable emphasis upon anthropology. That is, beyond doubt, the Hellenistic legacy to Eastern theology, clearly discernible from Origen to the Damascene. A symbolic expression of this tendency can be found in the representation of Cosmos on the Greek icons of the Pentecost. Around the Blessed Virgin the twelve Apostles are depicted receiving the fiery tongues of the Holy Ghost; but beneath their seats the half-figure of a bearded man with a crown on his head is seen as if coming from under the earth. This is the 'King Cosmos' also participating in the outpouring gifts of the Holy Ghost.”
- Among Eastern Slavs, barley (Hordeum vulgare) was of paramount importance. Barley is a high-energy Old World grain hardier than wheat and more suitable for cultivation in Eastern Europe. When the harvest was good, there was a surplus to brew into beer and for celebrations. When harvests were bad, there was hunger. The grain bloomed more or less at the time of the Green Holidays. The flowers were susceptible to damage by evil spirits, i. e. hail and downpours.