The Holy Ascension - 40 Days After Pascha


After his Resurrection Jesus remained on earth forty days, appearing at intervals to his Disciples in various places. He ate, drank, and conversed with them, thus verifying and assuring his Resurrection. On this day corresponding to the fortieth day from the Passover, falling then on the third of May, he appeared to them in Jerusalem. He first conversed with them on various topics; then he gave them his last commandment, to go forth and preach in his Name to all the nations, beginning with, Jerusalem. At the same time told them not to depart from Jerusalem, but remain there a while until they were clothed with power from on high by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them.

Having said this, he led them to the Mount of Olives. Then he lifted up his hands and blessed them. And as he was speaking to them with words of fatherly blessing, he was parted from them and ascended into heaven, being received by a shining cloud, indicating his divine, majesty. He sat on it as on a royal chariot and began to ascend to heaven, gradually disappearing from the sight of the Disciples as they gazed at him. And as they stood thus two angels in brilliant white robes appeared to them in the form of men and said to them, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. In these words, therefore, is fulfilled and defined the doctrine concerning the Son of God and his Word, in the Confession of Faith. And thus after our Lord Jesus. Christ fulfilled all his great dispensation for us, He ascended in glory into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God the Father. As for his undefiled Disciples, they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, rejoicing in the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit (St. Lk. 24:46-52 and Acts I :I-12).

It may be explained that the Mount of Olives was at such a distance from Jerusalem as would permit the Jews to walk to it on the sabbath, hence, it is said that it was a sabbath day's journey. Incomanius (in his commentary on Acts) explained that the distance must have been one mile, or two thousand cubits, as Origen also says in the Fifth of his Stromata. They deduce this from the fact that the tents of the Israelites of old in the wilderness were about that distance from the cupola of the holy tabernacle of the covenant, to which they walked on the sabbath for the worship of God.

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(Note: Either this is an alternate version of the Synaxarion reading, or it is a sermon from another unidentified source, which was posted somewhere on the internet.)

On the 39th day after Pascha we celebrate the Leavetaking of the Feast of Feasts, commemorating the last day of the Risen Christ's earthly sojourn. The day following is celebrated as His Leavetaking - His Glorious Ascension into Heaven. As Holy Scripture tells us, after Jesus had spoken with His disciples on the Mount of Olives, concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit, "while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, 'men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.' Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey." (Acts 1:9-12)

The Lord ascended to Heaven not to sadden us with His departure, but in order to do what was best for it. "It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you." (John 16:7) "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever - the Spirit of truth. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." (John 14:16,26). The Savior saw that His mission on earth was accomplished. The goal of His Incarnation was to proclaim the Divine Truth to the world, to direct men onto the path of repentance and salvation, and deliver us from Eternal Death. The Lord accomplished our salvation and man acquires it through the action of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord knew the trial and tribulations that would be endured by His disciples - mockings, scourgings, imprisonment and even death. And thus the Lord ascended to His Heavenly Father that the Spirit might descend from the Father as the Comforter, and fortify His Friends.

The Lord ascended to Heaven in order to prepare for us, too, the path to the Heavenly Mansions, to open the Gates of Paradise, and Himself be our Guide. Heaven that had been closed to mankind before the Resurrection now at the Ascension was opened by Christ the Savior.

None of the righteous of the Old Testament - the Patriarchs, the Prophets, and men pleasing to God could enter Heaven. "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven." (John 3:13), the Lord had said. Our first parent, Adam, closed the Gates of Paradise, and an angel with a flaming sword was placed at the gates. But the New Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, through His Ascension, opened the way to Life and Heaven itself. He was followed by the souls of the holy Forefathers, Prophets and hosts of righteous people of the New Testament. All worthy Christians who follow in the footsteps of their Savior, enter Heaven in this way today and so they will in the future.

The Lord ascended to intercede for us with His Heavenly Father. Towards the end of His earthly mission He had said: "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:2-3). This same thought was also expressed by the great Preacher of Christ's teaching, St Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." (Hebrews 9:24). These words fill us with hope, for we now have in Heaven a great Mediator and Advocate for the world with God - Christ our Lord. Our Lord ascended in a cloud on high, symbolizing the rising smoke of an acceptable sacrifice. Thus the sacrifice was accepted by God and Christ the Lamb that was slain is ushered into the preserve of God where He will be eternally offered in the Holy Eucharist. Therefore we must be worthy of the great mercies of God, capable and ready to receive them. All the power, all the fruit of His divine Ascension, therefore, belong to us, for: "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men." (Ephesians 4:8). This is why the Church repeatedly proclaims: "Clap your hands, all you nations, for Christ is ascended to the place where He was before" (Vespers of the Feast).

Let the Holy Spirit come into your life to bring you comfort and show you Truth.

Troparion, in the Fourth Tone

Thou hast ascended in glory, O Christ our God, and gleddened thy Disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit, having become confident of the blessing. Verily, thou art the Son of God, and Deliverer of the world.

Kontakion, in the Sixth Tone

When thou didst fulfill thy dispensation for our sakes, uniting the terrestrials with the celestials, thou didst ascend in glory, O Christ our God, inseparable in space, but constant without separation, and crying unto thy beloved, I am with you, and no one shall be against you.

The festival of the Ascension is kept for nine days, ending on the Friday before Pentecost. The following day is kept as a Soul Saturday. This Memorial Day is appointed so that the faithful departed share in the blessings of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.