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The Feast of the Ascension

January 25, 2010

He took our beating for us and paid the wages for our sin –

Ascension Day, properly called “The Feast of the Ascension”,  is observed the 40th day after Easter.  It commemorates the day that the risen Christ Jesus ascended into heaven finally after His many visits with His apostles.  It is always celebrated on the 6th Thursday of Easter season.  In the year 2010, it will be celebrated on May 13th.  In some parts of the world, it is observed on the Sunday after the traditional date.  This is ostensibly to make it easier for the faithful to fulfill their obligation to attend Mass on this day.  This day also marks the end of the Easter season.  The ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven is recorded in the New Testament in the Acts of the Apostles.  Historical evidence from John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, and others indicate that regular celebration of this day in the Church calendar originated in the 4th century A.D.  However, historical writings from St. Augustine insist that it is an apostolic feast, meaning that it was first celebrated by the apostles themselves in commemoration of their witness of this event.

This feast day is of great importance to the Church and the faithful because it celebrates and reminds us of the reality of G-d made Man, His return after resurrection to the Father, and the fact that He will return again in the future, parousia, to judge the living and the dead.  On that 40th day, Jesus journeyed to the Mount of Olives with his disciples where they witnessed His ascension.

This ascension marks the final component of the paschal mystery which consists of the passion of Jesus Christ, his crucifixition, death, and burial, descent to the realm of the dead and subsequent resurrection.  This ascension along with the resurrection is taken by the Church and the faithful as proof that Jesus is the Messiah.  It is the event where Humanity is taken to Heaven and also is the final act that destroyed Satan’s power over mankind.  It was often symbolized in the iconography of the early Church as the lion (Jesus) defeating the dragon (Satan).

Additionally, the ascension lends comfort and hope to mankind that we, as members of the body of Christ, may live in anticipation of one day being with Him in eternity.  He has preceded us into the Kingdom of Heaven to emphasize this truth.  Having entered the kingdom, Jesus stands for us as the ‘man in the gap’ who constantly intercedes for us to the Father and according to scripture assures us of the permanent and never ending outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Many modern thinkers, philosophers, and doubters reject the notion of Christ ascending into Heaven because it implies a three tiered universe with ‘that which is above’, the earthly reality, and ‘that which is below’ or Hell.  In reality, this event is above human perception and explanation.  It may not have been a spatial ascension, but is recorded as such in scripture due to the fact that humans are spatially limited and must perceive reality spatially.

Below is a very old and beautiful prayer:

Orthodox Vespers of Ascension

O Christ,
you ascended in glory on the Mount of Olives
in the presence of your disciples.
O you who penetrate all things with your divinity,
you were enthroned at the right hand of your Father
and sent down upon your disciples the Holy Spirit
who enlightens, strengthens, and saves our souls. Amen.

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