Forty days after Pascha the Orthodox celebrate one of the Great Feasts of the Church - the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This year it falls on June 2nd in the Belarussian Orthodox Church.
The story of Ascension is told in the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.
St Mark describes what happened rather briefly. He says that Jesus appeared to the Apostles when they were sharing a meal. The Lord told the Apostles to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)
After that, Christ “was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19)
St Luke wrote only two sentences about the Ascension of Jesus:
“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Luke 24:50-51)
It is in the Acts of the Apostles that we find some more explanation. We find out that Christ “was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9)
The Apostles were looking up to the sky as Jesus ascended when all of a sudden they saw two men dressed in white right before them. The men told the Apostles that Jesus was taken into Heaven and will one day return “in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
The book of Acts also specifies where the Ascension has taken place. It happened on the Mount of Olives (or Mount Olivet) which is near Bethany.
The Ascension of Christ into Heaven happened on the 40th day after His glorious Resurrection from the dead. It is not just a coincidence - the time span of forty days is used many times throughout the Bible.
For example, we know that Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days, as well as that the great flood that we read about in the book of Genesis lasted exactly 40 days. A forty day period signifies a temporal period of sufficiency and completeness That is why Christ ascended on the 40th day after Pascha.
The ascension of Christ is His final physical departure from this world into Heaven. It is also His final physical act, the formal completion of His mission. Ascension is Christ’s glorious and joyful return to the Father Who had sent Him as the Messiah.
Orthodox Christians believe that the Ascension is not just a commemoration of the event, because it has a direct connection with our lives. The arrival, the death, the resurrection and the ascension of Christ have taken place for us, for all men. Christ left so that He might glorify all men in God, so that the way into Heaven is open for all flesh.
Because of its great spiritual significance, the Feast of the Ascension is a joyous day for all Orthodox Christians, including the sisters and parishioners of our Convent.
We start celebrating on the eve of the feast. This year it falls on a Wednesday. We do not normally serve the All-Night Vigil service on Wednesdays, but the eve of the Ascension is an exception. A festive All-Night Vigil is served by our spiritual father Andrey Lemeshonok.
During the service we sing special hymns that remind us of the importance of the feast:
“O Christ God, You have ascended in Glory,
Granting joy to Your disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Through the blessing they were assured
That You are the Son of God,
The Redeemer of the world!”
(Troparion of the Ascension)
On the day of the feast fr. Andrey serves a festive Divine Liturgy in the morning. It is the time of great joy and concentrated prayer, as we sing even more beautiful hymns:
“When You did fulfill the dispensation for our sake,
And unite earth to Heaven:
You did ascend in glory, O Christ our God,
Not being parted from those who love You,
But remaining with them and crying:
I am with you and no one will be against you.”
(Kontakion of the Ascension)
During the days we celebrate the Ascension, the faithful can always come into the church to venerate the beautiful icon of Ascension. It depicts the Apostles, the Mother of God and two angels standing on the ground and looking up. Christ is portrayed in the sky in a ray of Divine light among God’s angels.
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