Ascension of Christ.

Questions & Answers[1]

 

QUESTION 1. What significance does the event of the Ascension of Jesus Christ have for the Christian? We should understand why we celebrate any feast, and its inner meaning.

 

ANSWER

Christ ascended to Heaven as man and as God. Once he became a man, being at the same time, as always, perfect God, he never put off His manhood, but deified it, and made it and us capable of apprehending heavenly things.

The Ascension is a prophecy of things to come for those who love God and believe in Him in an Orthodox manner. Those who believe and live according to this belief will be in the heavens, in the flesh, with Him, just as He now abides in the Heavens in the flesh. Our flesh and souls will be saved, because Christ made human flesh capable of deification.

We also call to mind the promise of the Holy Spirit, since Christ mentions this promise He had made before to them, and its advent is tied to His ascension thusly:

"Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. {8} And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: {9} Of sin, because they believe not on me; {10} Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; {11} Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged." (John 16:7-11)

What Christ has done for human flesh and our souls is impossible to understand, but the church, with sweet melody, meditates with fervor and thanksgiving and precise theology in her services.

"O Christ, having taken upon thy shoulders our nature, which had gone astray, thou didst ascend and bring it unto God the Father" (Matins canon for the Ascension, Ode 7)

"Having raised our nature, which was deadened by sin, Thou didst bring it unto Thine own Father, O Savior" (ibid.)

"Unto Him Who by His descent destroyed the adversary, and Who by His ascent raised up man, give praise O ye priests, and supremely exalt Him, O ye people, unto all the ages." (Matins canon for the Ascension, Ode 8)

Since the disciples were "filled with great joy", we who are Orthodox in belief and way of life should naturally be this way also, and should hasten to the temple. There we can meditate upon the magnificent truths and promises in the ascension by listening carefully to the divinely inspired theology, sung in sweet melody. If we pray with care, and expectation, having valued divine worship above our worldly cares, surely God will enlighten us and noetically teach us the true meaning of Christ’s Ascension.


 

QUESTION 2. There is an important account of the Ascension in the scriptures that is not in the Gospels. Where is it? The story involves angels. How? Describe how a cloud was involved.

 

ANSWER

St. Luke, who wrote an account of the Ascension in his Gospel, also wrote a slightly different account in his Acts of the Apostles. In this account, he describes two angels who speak to the Apostles as they are gazing at Christ going up into the sky:

"And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, 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." (Acts 1:10-11)

St Luke also mentions a cloud in his account in the Acts:

"And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight." (Acts 1:9)

"Thou Who art immortal by nature didst arise on the third day, and didst appear unto the eleven and all the disciples, and riding upon a cloud, didst hasten back unto the Father, O Thou creator of all." (Matins canon for the Ascension, 1st Ode, Irmos)


 

QUESTION 3. In the gospel reading for liturgy on the Ascension, two gifts are mentioned by Christ. One is given and one is promised. What are they? Comment on their importance and meaning for a Christian.

 

 

ANSWER

When Christ saw his disciples in the upper room, he told them:

"Peace be unto you." (Luke 24:36).

This peace is not a worldly peace, but is the gift of God, and the attainment of it is the purpose of our life. The only way to understand this peace is to live the Christian life and be changed. It is freely given, but not freely received – not until a man is purified by intense effort, war against his passions, and desire to fulfill the will of God.

Shortly after this, Christ promised:

"And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." (Luke 24:49).

This, of course, is the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit, to be given only ten days later, on Pentecost.

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is so profound, it cannot be described adequately.

He convicts concerning sin and righteousness, He gives strength, He gives wisdom, and the words to say when being persecuted. Ignorant and weak fisherman and all those who make an abode for Him wax bold in their witness of the gospel. He guides the church, and enlightens every man concerning the truth. Without Him, the Christian life cannot be lived.


 

QUESTION 4. What mountain did Christ ascend from? How will this mountain be involved in another, cataclysmic event?

 

 

ANSWER 4

Christ ascended by the Mount of Olives. "Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a Sabbath day’s journey." (Luke 1:12). Holy tradition understands that Christ will come to judge the world at the culmination of all things "from the East" over this very same mountain.

"And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; {11} Which also said, 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." (Acts 1:10-11)


 

QUESTION 5. There is a significant occurrence in the Ascension story that can only be understood in the context of the church, and the absolute need for apostolic succession of bishops and priests. This occurrence, properly understood, should cause everyone who trusts his own interpretation of the bible outside of the context of a visible, authoritative and dogmatic church to flee from his false, individual understanding and seek out the church.

What is this occurrence? Comment on it, and try to specify other scriptures which point out or support this critical Christian teaching.

 

 

ANSWER

It is clear that the scriptures are a dark book, unless God gives illumination. The Jews did not understand the book they gave appearances to love, and Jesus corrected their misunderstandings numerous times. The Holy apostles themselves had to be taught in numerous private sessions with their Lord, an important one which is described in the Ascension story:

"Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, {46} And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: {47} And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. {48} And ye are witnesses of these things. {49} And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." (Luke 24:45-49)

There much that the apostles were taught that was not written in the scriptures, and which has become part of the mind of the church, through the teaching of the apostles, and all their successors, who remained true to their teachers as the apostles had to one great teacher. St. John alludes to this hidden wisdom, held so closely to the bosom of the church, when he says:

"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen." (John 21:25)

St. Peter admonishes us and reminds us of our own frailty and the sure reliability of the church when he tells us:

"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." (2 Peter 1:20)


 

QUESTION 6. When is Ascension celebrated?

 

ANSWER

 

Ascension is always on a Thursday, exactly forty days after Pascha, just like it occurred in the Scriptures. The Jewish (and Orthodox) way of reckoning days is to count the first and last days. So, Pascha is the first day, and Ascension Thursday, in the 6th week after Pascha, is the Fortieth day.

 

In the same way, Christ was in the tomb three days, although not even one and a half days in terms of hours.  Good Friday, the first day, He was buried in the late afternoon. The second day, Saturday, His body lay in the tomb the entire day, then at some point in the very early hours of the third day, He rose from the dead.

 

 


 

QUESTION 7. What commemoration is the day before Ascension? Explain.

 

 

ANSWER

The Apodosis of Pascha is celebrated on the Wednesday before Ascension Thursday (according to the Russian Typicon).

All Great Orthodox feasts, according to the Jewish model, have three phases.

There is a preparation phase, which may be very long. The preparation for Pascha is the whole of Great Lent, and especially Holy Week. Great Feasts such as Theophany and Nativity have pre-festal Vesperal divine liturgies served the day before. Many feasts are preceded with certain hymns, such as the katavasia of the matins canon, sung for a period before a feast.

The feast itself is the ultimate celebration, and then there is a post-festal period, where the truths of the celebration are meditated upon at length in the services.

For Pascha, this period is forty days, and ends on the "Apodosis", or "leave-taking" of the feast, on the Wednesday before Ascension.



 

QUESTION 8. How long is the feast of the Ascension?

 

ANSWER

The feast of the Ascension lasts until the Friday before Pentecost, when its Apodosis occurs. This makes perfect sense, as we are waiting for Pentecost, just as the disciples were waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus promised would come to them.



 

QUESTION 9. What, in general terms, is the Typicon for the services of the Ascension? List all the books needed to serve the services completely. Where may one obtain the main texts for the Ascension in English?

 

 

ANSWER

One the eve of the Ascension, Wednesday evening, an All Night vigil is served. This is a service which combines Great Vespers, Litya, Matins and the First Hour, with slight changes to the beginning and end of Great Vespers and Matins from their form when they are served alone.

The "rank" of commemoration is "Vigil" The rank indicates somewhat the importance of the feast, and how much the regular formats for vespers and matins will be modified. Two other "ranks" are "single commemoration" and "double commemoration".

On Thursday morning, the Third and Sixth hours and Divine Liturgy are served.

To serve the Great vespers, Litya, matins, the hours, and Divine liturgy the following service books are needed.

  • The Horologion – the fixed parts of vespers, matins, the hours and the Divine liturgy
  • The Psalter – needed for the kathisma readings at vespers and matins. Usually any other psalms that are read are in the Horologion
  • The Apostolos – for the epistle reading at liturgy.

The Old Testament – Great vespers has 3 OT readings. They are usually contained in the service texts in the

  • Gospel – read in matins and the liturgy.
  • The Pentecostarion – texts for the feast, such as the stichera at Lord I have cried, the Aposticha, the matins canon, etc.
  • The priest’s liturgikon – used by the priest for services like vespers, matins, Compline, the midnight office, the hours and divine liturgy.

 

QUESTION 10. Detail the differences between the services of the Ascension and those of a "regular" Sunday.

 

 

ANSWER

On a "regular" Sunday, vigil is appointed, just as for Ascension. The services are very similar, with these differences (and some, similarities, listed for comparison purposes):

Vespers:

Both have ten stichera at Lord I have cried. All of the stichera for the Ascension are about the feast, as is the case for all "great feasts of the Lord". For "regular" Saturday night vespers, there are at most 7 stichera about the Resurrection (sometimes 6, sometimes 4), with the rest being concerned with a Saint(s) or another event At the end of the Lord I have cried stichera, for the Ascension, "Glory … Both Now …" is sung all at once, and one sticheron, about the feast, is sung. In a regular Sunday vigil, there are usually two stichera here, the first one preceded by "Glory to the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit", the second being preceded by "Both now and ever, and to the ages of ages, amen". The second Sticheron is a "Theotokion", which is about the Theotokos and the incarnation.

Three OT readings are read for the Ascension. OT readings are not read in most Sunday vigil services.

Litya is appointed in the Ascension services. This service is usually omitted in a regular Sunday service (but the Old Believers always do a litya on every Sunday)

.
At the end of vespers for the Ascension, the troparion of the feast is sung three times (this is just before the blessing of the loaves, wheat, wine and oil). In regular vespers, "O Theotokos and virgin rejoice" is sung three times.

Matins

The Ascension matins has the "Polyeleos", followed by the "magnification" (the latter is in Russian usage only), whereas a regular Sunday matins usually has in stead of the Polyeleos, the 118th kathisma (known as "the blameless"), and there is no magnification.

Just before the praises, on Sunday, an expostilarion, "Holy is the Lord our God", is sung. This hymn is omitted on the Ascension.

Liturgy

The Ascension liturgy replaces the regular antiphons with festal ones.



QUESTION 11. Detail the differences between the services of the Ascension and those of a "regular" weekday.

 

 

ANSWER

On a "regular" weekday", vespers is served on the eve, and matins in the morning, and no vigil service is sung, as there is for Ascension, Sundays, and most great feasts of the Lord (Pascha being a special exception).

Daily vespers, which is usually served on a weekday is a far simpler service than Great Vespers, with no small entrance, "O Gladsome light" being chanted instead of being sung, and less "Lord I have cried" stichera (there are usually 6). In addition, the last two litanies of both vespers and matins are reverses (read in a different order), and the first two petitions of the second litany in regular (daily) vespers and matins are omitted.

There are numerous other differences, because daily services are much simpler and shorter. Here are a few, off the top of my head.

Vespers

 
The kathisma for Great Vespers on a feast is "Blessed is the man". A different kathisma is read at a daily vespers for every day of the week

No Small entrance, OT readings, at a daily vespers

No litya at the end of a daily vespers.

Less "Lord I have cried stichera" at a daily vespers

Matins

No gospel, "Save O God" intercession at a daily matins.

That is enough for now. The best place to understand these services and their differences is to study the service books and chant or sing in the chanters stand.

 

 

From St Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney Texaswww.orthodox.net

 

This document is at http://www.orthodox.net/questions/ascension_1.html  & http://www.orthodox.net/questions/ascension_1.doc

 

 

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[1] This document is a list of ten (more or less) questions & answers about a particular topic. More “Questions and Answers” topics may be found at http://www.orthodox.net/questions. They are also posted to the blog of St Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney Texas, called “Redeeming the Time”http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime. Use anything you wish, but please indicate authorship, with the URL.

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8 Responses to “Ascension of Christ.”

  1. When I think of this Feast, I often remember the words by St. Isaac the Syrian: “The way of God is a daily cross. No one has ascended into heaven through an easy life.”
    When I began my church life, for a long time I felt a great relief on this day. I was happy… for Christ. As we are glad for a person who was for a long time cut off from his relatives, from his home, from what he loves, from everything he can name “his”. As if this person returns from something alien, a stranger surrounded by those whom he does not belong to. And finally – this all is ended, and he can return to his natural surroundings. This way I perceived what happened with Christ. I felt much triumf – that the justice crowed over evethything, the truch has won, sorrows have ended. Temporary gave place to Eternal. I even wrote a poem on the Ascension day.
    If we for a moment could realise what a soul feels which parts from this sinful world and is going to ascend to God, to join Him – what a joy, what a victory. and all this – for endless time! The Gospel shows us, discloses to us how it happens, giving us the description of Christ’s Ascension. This is the moment of the eternal triumph. But if we want it, we should carry our cross, we should get through our way, enduring everything we are to suffer. Whatever happens – it is so short in the face of Blessed Eternity! Christ does not promise us an easy life, but He calles us for reigning with Him. Eternally. If we hear His appeal & follow Him.

  2. Thank you, Natalia. Beautiful thought.

  3. Yuliya says:

    I would like to ask a question for self-educating purposes. Once when I spoke to a non-Orthodox, I heard that those who are departed are in heaven as spirits. The whole idea was so alien to me, I felt it was wrong but could not quote the Gospel. As it is mentioned in Question 1, orthodox tradition says that those who believe and live according to the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ “..will be in the heavens, in the flesh, with Him, just as He now abides in the Heavens in the flesh. Our flesh and souls will be saved, because Christ made human flesh capable of deification…”. I don’t want to be like that person, but could you direct me to the place in the Gospel which talks a little more that we (and those who already departed) will be in heavens in flesh not as spirits.
    Since I already touched the subject about departed, is there a place in the Bible where it is said that it is not permitted to pray for those who are dead? I heard it in another conversation with a non-Orthodox when trying to explain why we pray to saints.
    Thank you.

  4. Rdr. Nicholas says:

    Yuliya,

    Those who depart this life now endure separation of their soul from their body. The body lies in the grave and undergoes “corruption,” while the soul passes on to the next life. Only the Lord himself and the Theotokos are already in heaven with their bodies. At the end of the age, these same dead are reunited with their bodies, which are the same bodies that they had in life, but in a renewed form. This is what St. Paul is speaking about in 1 Corinthians 15: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”

    On the second question, the simple answer is no, there is no place in Scripture where it says we may not pray for the departed.

    This questions deserves a longer answer, but I don’t have time now : )

  5. Nicholas, you possess a precious ability to express important things in a few words, whereas I do totally the contrary:-)
    Thank you very much for your explanation, for me infornative as well.
    BTW, I heard from someone long ago a similar question. I thought if we take it simply logically, why not pray for the departed? We believe in eternal life, we believe that the division between “this” & “future” life is quite convention, as it’s a matter of terminology & these 2 notions are used in order to explain many things. Actually our life is not devided, it’s a united process, which begins here & lasts here for a while, and then passes into another state. The process which has its beginning but has no end. The major difference, as I see it is that here we have a free will, which we can direct either for achieving eternal salvation or condemnation, here we can improve something, repent & change – things & ourselves. There we’ll not have such a possibility (though prayers of those who are here for us when we depart may influence somehow, but anyway we are responsible for the verdict & no one can live our life for us). There – the process is terminated, and we get a result.
    So, if life is a united uninterrupted process, with the difference in the forms of a person’s existence – then if we pray for those who are with us here on the Earth, why shouldn’t we pray for those departed? Why should we deprive them of this privilege? Only because they departed? Seems illogical.
    If I deviated, pls correct.

  6. Maybe I am not right, but I devote more of my soul praying for the reposed, and of course -church prayers, expecially by priests at Liturgy…as our dear departed cannot do anything themselves any more, and our prayers, as Church teaches us, is a powerful tool in mending their fate beyond the grave. Of course, as our Holy Fathers say, the best commemoration of the departed is the righteous life of those who pray here for them, i.e. of us. Well, not many of us can boast of it:-) A stumbling stone! Though – there is always room for improvement. And this motivation – is really strong! If we love the reposed, and if we want to inherit blessed Eternity.

  7. Yuliya says:

    Thank you Natalia and Nicholas. I agree with both of you. Thank you for showing me the place in the Acts which talks about it. For some reason, I was not surprised to see it was my beloved St. Paul, who also speaks so clear, simple and to the point about the most complicated and mystical matters. That’s why I love to read him.

  8. Deborah says:

    Yuliya,

    Coming from a non-Orthodox, Protestant background I can tell you that while most evangelical/Protestant denominations do believe in a physical resurrection of the dead, it has been my experience that it is not widely taught or mentioned–at least not in the churches and denomination that I grew up in. I grew up thinking that we would be in Heaven as spirits and I was surprised as young adult, through the study of scripture, to discover otherwise. So it does not surprise me that you have encountered this idea–and your friend may actually be ignorant not only of scripture, but of her church’s own teachings.

    As to scriptures teaching that it is wrong to pray to/for the dead, I don’t know for sure, but your non-Orthodox friend may be misunderstanding and/or misusing the command against the use of mediums and spiritists who claim to contact the dead and speak for them–and be thinking of Saul’s attempt to contact Samuel through the Witch of Endor.

    As far as praying ‘for’ the dead, most evangelical denominations would consider that wrong because they would consider it pointless. I don’t know which scriptures they use to justify this doctrine but it is essentially believed that once a person dies his destiny is set for all eternity and the Final Judgment is just basically a formality to finalize and announce his fate.

    Hope this helps.

    Deborah

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