History and Structure of the Holy 50 Days
The Holy Fifty Days is the period immediately following the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ until the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples 50 days later. After Our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day, He remained with His disciples for forty days, teaching them about the kingdom of God and preparing them for the ministry (Acts 1:3).
On the 40th day following the resurrection, our Lord, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven before the disciples. The disciples returned to Jerusalem to the upper room and prayed for ten days until the day of Pentecost. On the 50th day following the resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples as tongues of fire. After receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples went out and began their ministry, preaching Jesus Christ around the world.
Spirituality of the Holy 50 Days
It is a period of rejoicing in the Resurrection of our Lord as well as our resurrection with Him. It is a time to experience the new life in our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is a period in which the person, who has practiced self-control over material things during the 55 days of the Great Lent, rises to live joyfully in the spirit and worships God in spirit and truth. If a person plants with effort, toils, and tears during the Great Lent, then the Holy Fifty Days to follow, is the time of harvest, accompanied by joy and gladness.
While the Great Lent represents the struggle of the Israelites in the Wilderness of Sinai, the Holy Fifty Days represents the entry of the Israelites into Canaan, the Promised Land. During the Holy Pentecost period, the church reminds the believer to live and experience the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection is not merely a story, but a life in which the Christian strongly feels his resurrection from sin, daily weaknesses, anger, hatred, glory of personal honor, and worldly lusts; then, we can truly say that we rose with Christ.
Focus of the Readings During the Holy 50 Days
The Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ not only brought about victory over death, Satan, and sin; it also marked the beginning of a new resurrected life to be lived fully here on earth and continued and glorified in heaven. That is why during the holy fifty days after the Resurrection, and while waiting to celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit, our church filled, directed and inspired by the Holy Spirit continues to reveal to its members, who that Person of Jesus Christ their Savior truly is; and what He, in essence, has procured for them. This, the church, does in such a significant, related manner throughout the seven consecutive weekly Gospel readings. Thus, the fifty day period between the Feast of the Resurrection and Pentecost Day becomes a period of meditation on the Holy Person of Jesus Christ: who He is, and how essential He is for us during our journey in this life in order to reach our ultimate destination which is the heavenly Jerusalem, where we will see Him face to face and be forever with Him.
The Church has prepared a practical method that takes us from one week to the other. The experience of the seven weeks of Pentecost are arranged according to the Sunday readings, so that they all revolve around the Person of Jesus Christ. Thus, we are strengthened in Him and our resurrection is complete. As inspired by the Holy Spirit, the church arranged it so that the readings and hymns of the Holy Fifty Days would help us experience the life of joy and victory of the new life in our Lord, Jesus Christ. The person who spiritually lives the prayers, hymns, and readings of this period, will experience spiritual depth. For him, the Holy Fifty Days will no longer be regarded as a time to just eat, drink, and lax spiritually; thus, he will not waste all the beautiful spiritual fruits he collected during the Great Lent and Holy Pascha Week.
The church arranged for special readings appropriate for the Holy Fifty Days and has a lectionary for this period. The readings revolve around the hypostasis of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of the joy of Christ’s Resurrection, the Church presents to us Christ, so we may come to know Him by experience and not only intellectually. It is a time when the soul rejoices in her Heavenly Bridegroom and can say with the Shulamite of the Song of Solomon, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s mine…When I found the one I love, I held him and would not let him go, until I had brought him to the house of my mother and into the chamber of her who conceived me (the Church)” (Song of Solomon 6:3, 3:4).
The Sunday Readings of the 50 Days
|First Sunday:||Christ Our Faith (John 20:28,29)|
|Second Sunday:||Christ the Bread of Life (John 6:35)|
|Third Sunday:||Christ the Water of Life (John 4:14)|
|Fourth Sunday:||Christ the Light of the World (John 12:46)|
|Fifth Sunday:||Christ the Way to Life (John 14:6)|
|Sixth Sunday:||Christ the Conqueror of the World (John 16:33)|
|Seventh Sunday:||Christ Announcing the Comforter (John 15:26)|
The Resurrection of our Lord has destroyed doubt and the deficiency of faith, and therefore the church was formed. In this place of sojourn, the Body of Christ (I am the bread of Life) is the true nutrition of the church, and any other food would do her more harm than good. The Lord, Jesus, alone is the water that quenches her thirst (I am the living water), because the worldly water increases her thirst and cannot quench it. Ergo, the church should proceed in the light of Christ (I am the light of the world), confident that the Lord, Jesus is the way to life (I am the way), and that Jesus, by whom the church lives, has conquered the world (I have conquered the world), and that He ascended into heaven to send us His Holy Spirit, and seat us with Him in the heavens.
In the Old Testament, by the same strong heavenly arrangement, the people of Israel experienced the crossing over and life with God until He led them to Canaan. These people before the crossing, were subject to the sins of fear, suspicion, and the attachment to the flesh pots as a source of nutrition for them and the dependence on the water of the river as the only source for quenching their thirst. But the crossing of the Red Sea drew the line between the worldly life and the new life by the power of God–the crossing of the sea is a symbol of baptism, and baptism is our share in the Resurrection of Christ. The journey of the Holy Fifty days is like the journey of the people of Israel through the Red Sea and through the wilderness.
Overview of the Themes of Each week during the 50 Days
1st WEEK OF PENTECOST – Christ our Faith
The teachings of the church in the first week deal with the power of faith in the resurrection of the body. Faith is necessary for walking in the wilderness, for encountering Amalek, and for trust in the power of God, to sustain the people by providing them with food and drink. Faith is required for the cure from the bites of snakes (by gazing upon the brass serpent-symbol of the Cross). Finally, the power of faith is an absolute necessity for entering Canaan. And thus, the Lord, Jesus strengthened His disciples’ faith (in the first week) by entering the room while the doors were closed to teach them that the Resurrection is the ability to come out of a closed grave–the creation of life from death, success from failure, and faith after despair. It is the emerging of purity out of the human weakness. It is absolute faith! It is life itself to us Christians. By the end of the week, He dispelled Thomas’ doubt by allowing him to touch His life-giving wounds. The main point of this Resurrection encounter is St. Thomas’ response to the Lord, Jesus Christ’s invitation; thus, accepting the Resurrected Lord, exclaiming, “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28). Then the Lord Jesus Christ said, “…Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Thus, my brethren, in the first week, we should fix our eyes on the Risen Lord and His wounds, trusting and believing that he will raise us, and will do the impossible with us. It is the week of Faith (Fr Mikhail Mikhail).
The new life that exists in Christ’s Resurrection becomes ours only by and through faith. That is why the first Sunday’s Gospel reading revolves around this point. Our Lord, Jesus Christ appears to Thomas saying to him “put your hand in the place of the nails…and be a believer” (John 20:28,29). In order for this belief to be genuine trust, it does not require seeing as evidence. On the contrary, blessed are those who believe without seeing. A good example of believing without seeing is the faith that the Israelites exhibited when they agreed to leave Egypt (Egypt being a symbol of our life before the Resurrection) and head towards the yet unknown promised land (the latter being a symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem). For the Israelites, the crossing of the Red Sea was like the crossing from death unto life, a resurrection (1 Corinthians 10:1,2). St. Paul considered that crossing of the sea, a baptism, which in essence is a symbol of the Holy Resurrection. It was through faith that the Israelites started their journey knowing the hardships and potential enemies that were lying ahead of them in the wilderness. Likewise, the journey with Christ starts with faith. It is only by faith that we find courage to denounce the world and its pleasures; knowing that by following the Resurrected Christ, we will be able to reach our goal which is Heaven. However, the road will not always be easy; and trials, hardships, and obstacles are bound to cross our way (HG Bishop Youssef).
2nd WEEK OF PENTECOST – Christ the Bread of Life
The people were in need of food in the desert, so God sent them the manna from heaven, and here the Gospel of the second Sunday reaffirms that he who eats the Lord has life, and that there is no life for man without His Body. The manna was enough to sustain the people, but was not a guarantee for everlasting life (your fathers ate manna in the desert and died). In the Christian resurrection, there is never death, but as Christ is living by the Father, so do we when we eat His Body and live by Him forever. What is the use of speaking about the Resurrection if the resurrected person has to die later? Resurrection means conquering death–it means everlasting life and our nourishment in the Resurrection is the ever-living Body of Christ (Fr. Mikhail Mikhail).
After the Israelites had left Egypt, God immediately catered for their physical need for food. Subsequently, He sent the manna from heaven to feed them on daily basis. Likewise, in our new resurrected life in Jesus, the need for spiritual food is catered for through the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:48-50). This is what the Church resounds in its Gospel readings on the second Sunday after Resurrection to remind us, the believers, of the need for that Spiritual Food which is given to us for salvation, remission of sin, and eternal life to those who partake of Him (the prayer of the confession) (HG Bishop Youssef).
3rd WEEK OF PENTECOST – Christ the Water of Life
One of the necessities for the people in the wilderness was water, without which, they would die of thirst. This is why God sent them water out of a rock. We wonder how a Christian can live in this world without the water of the Holy Spirit. The human being has emotions and feelings and needs that need to be filled, and unless he reaches the state of fullness by the Holy Spirit, he will eventually thirst after the world and its water, of which whosoever drinks shall thirst again. This is the subject of the Gospel of the third week, about the Samaritan Woman. It is important to note, that the church in her wisdom, reads this same gospel reading in the 4th Week of the Great Lent though we focus on a different theme. During the Great Lent, the focus revolves on the repentance of the Samaritan Woman, whereas during the Holy 50 Days, the focus is on the living water which is related to the new life we received after the Resurrection. Our Lord, Jesus revealed the nature of His Holy Spirit, by saying that He is rivers of living waters flowing with eternal life—thus, His nature is life itself, action, reviving and inundating others (with life) (Fr Mikhail Mikhail).
Just as God provided the Israelites with water procured from the rock “and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4) that God had ordered Moses to strike with his staff, so did He provide us with living water through His Son, Jesus Christ, from whose side had run that water, while on the cross in order to quench the thirst of humanity.
On the third Sunday, the Church reads the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman reminding us of what the Lord had said to her “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13,14). This is the thirst-quenching, living water, (His Grace and Mercy), that is given to us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
St. Augustine says, ‘You created us to Yourself and our souls will remain restless until we find comfort in You.’ Trying to satisfy our thirst to worldly desires is just like drinking from salty water; we end up thirstier than before drinking. Likewise, pursuing the pleasures of this world is like drinking from salty water; it brings about more thirst, whereas drinking from the Water of Life, Jesus Christ, brings about everlasting satisfaction. The living water is the Holy Spirit that He sent to us after His ascension to Heavens “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:38,39) (HG Bishop Youssef).
4th WEEK OF PENTECOST – Christ the Light of the World
The fourth very important matter for the people in the desert is a pillar of fire to light their way through the darkness of the desert. This is the subject of the Gospel of the fourth Sunday of the Holy 50 Days, where Jesus says: “Walk while you have the light…I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness…” The Resurrection is a procession in the light because he who walks in the dark stumbles, falls and dies. We should live this week in the blessings of the light, the light of the gospel, the light of the Holy Spirit, the light of the Church and its teachings. Let us beware of getting carried away by the dark currents of thought in this world, its lusts and cares after all worldly needs. Let us beware of the darkness of untruthfulness, hypocrisy, flattery, evasion contempt, and hatred. Let us walk in the light of the love of God, and in simplicity. This is the true experience of the Resurrection during this week (Fr Mikhail Mikhail).
“He who walks in darkness does not know where he is going” (John 12:35). In the midst of the dark wilderness, the Israelites needed light to find their way out. God, in His divine mercy provided them with a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21) that went constantly before them. Without that pillar, it would have been impossible for them to survive. Similarly, and symbolically we, the sons of the Resurrection, in order for us to know the direction in the wilderness of our life on earth, and how to reach our goal which is Heaven, we need to walk in the light of the Resurrected, Jesus Christ and His divine Word. Our Lord called Himself and us the light of the world, thus putting us on the same footing with Him. This is to be understood better when we remind ourselves of the unity that we have with Him, this unity being achievable only through having Him as the center of our life (HG Bishop Youssef).
5th WEEK OF PENTECOST – Christ is the Way, Truth, and Life
The last four pillars (Faith, Manna, Water from the rock, and the Pillars of fire) are enough to prepare for us a clear road leading to Canaan. This is the Gospel of the fifth week where the Lord Jesus said: ‘I am the way. ” When He says: “I am the way,” it does not means that He has come to draw for us a map of the road, or be a guide on the road, but He said: “I am the way,” and to clarify this, we refer to the Apostle’s words, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones” [Eph. 5:30], and according to the extent the members are attached in Him, so is the extent of the security of our path. The fifth Sunday is the Sunday before the Feast of the Holy Ascension (takes place on a Thursday, 40 days after the Resurrection Feast), and because of that, the Church explains to us how to be lifted up to heaven. Christ is the Head of the Church, and He ascended into heaven, and we are permanent members in His body, and hence we say: “As for us, we dwell in heavenly places.” Since the head ascended to heaven and sat on the right hand of His Father, and as the body and limbs are attached to Him, the Church can rightfully say while estranged in the wilderness, “He raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places” [Eph. 2:6]. In short, we do not look for a way because Jesus is our way. May we dwell in Him and may our thoughts be centered around Him who has raised us to heaven and prepared for us a place at the right hand of the Father (Fr Mikhail Mikhail).
Our Lord, Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). In Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, we become children of God the Father; and in Him we can inherit the Kingdom of God. This is the readings and the theme of the fifth week before the descent of the Holy Spirit. In order for us to reach the Father, we have to become sons to the Father. The only way to achieve this sonship is through unity with His Son, Jesus Christ who is the real Son of God who has raised us to the status of adopted sons to God the Father. St. Paul says, “if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Unity with the Lord, Jesus Christ has not only adopted us to the Father, but also made us inheritors in the Kingdom of God. This unity with Christ is achieved by the Holy Spirit through His work in the mysteries of the holy Church (HG Bishop Youssef).
Christ is the way, truth and Life. Without being a member of His Body and without being united to Him, we cannot be a part of the way. We read this Gospel the Sunday before the ascension as a reminder that Christ is the way to Life. In His ascension, He created a path for us to Heaven. As long as we are united to Him, as the Way, Truth and Life, we can also ascend with Him to heaven in the last days.
6th WEEK OF PENTECOST – Christ the Conqueror of the World
The people passing through the desert road should seek the victorious God to fight Amalek (nation named after Esau’s grandson), and should beware of the desire for the flesh pots, onions, leeks, and the golden calf. Moses has conquered Amalek by raising his hands in the form of a cross, and Moses defeated the peoples’ lusts by looking forward to the land of Canaan. The theme in church this Sunday is, “I have overcome the world; in the world ye shall have tribulation.” When the strong, faithful Christian are sure that he has already conquered the world, they are strengthened in their efforts and by the sign of the cross. They defeat Amalek, and by meditation on divine and heavenly matters, they will stay away from the lusts of this world. By dwelling in Christ, they say: “I am not alone, because the Father is with me.’ We are now dealing with a defeated Satan and a conquered world and a sin condemned in the flesh. We do not seek an outside victory because the victory is within us in Christ. He conquered for us and by Him we have inner victory (Fr Mikhail Mikhail).
The last week of the holy fifty days is about Jesus Christ, our Victory. In the world we will have a lot of hardship “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Among such hardships and tribulations, there are some coming from within us such as love of the world and love of praise. If the Lord overcame the world for our sake, in Him we too can overcome all tribulations and complications and become victorious. I say this to all the youth who do not find the courage to say no to bad company, bad places, and bad habits and urge them to be able to say with St. Peter: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Of course, we need to have love for and reconciliation with everyone. However, if need arise, forcing us to make a choice; then we must choose pleasing God repeating with St. Paul, “for if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10) (HG Bishop Youssef).
7th WEEK OF PENTECOST – Christ announcing the Comforter
We find no equivalent for this week in the wilderness of the Old Testament. It is the Father’s gift sent to us through His Beloved Son–it is His Spirit. With what longing and fervor of heart does the Church live this week in memory of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who came down in the form of tongues of fire. The Christian without the Holy Spirit lives as an orphan: “I will not leave you comfortless.” This week’s message deals with the filling by the Holy Spirit. This starts first by repentance. ‘And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God whereby you are sealed unto Me day of redemption’ [Eph. 4:30-5:3]. The second step for being filled by the Holy Spirit consists in prayer, thanksgiving, praise, and obedience with submission [Eph. 5: 18-21] (Fr Mikhail Mikhail).
The seventh week is the celebration of the long-waited-for coming of the Comforter, Teacher, Interpreter, Intercessor, Knowledgeable, Infallible Holy Spirit that our Lord Jesus Christ had promised to send; and on whose coming depended the understanding and revelation of the secrets of the Kingdom of God. Our Lord, Jesus Christ left a lot to be done by the Holy Spirit, because the former knew that without the latter, the disciples would not be able to understand nor bear to hear the secrets of the kingdom of God. Without the Holy Spirit, we would be orphans. The adoption to the Father occurred by Christ, His Only Begotten Son, through the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, the human failing memory would have rendered Christ an old forgotten episode instead of a live everlasting Redeemer (HG Bishop Youssef).
Sources and where to go to learn more:
A Scriptural and Liturgical Guide Based on the Coptic Orthodox Lectionary (Katamaros)
From Resurrection to Pentecost by Bishop Youssef