1945: Orthodox Ascension Day services
in a Greek cathedral, Agia Sofia, officiated by
the Russian metropolitan and his two
companion delegates along with the Greek
Archbishop and observed by the
Archbishop of Canterbury.
According to tradition, it was first
celebrated in 68 A.D. however there is no written evidence of the Ascension
Day feast until about 385. Today it is celebrated mostly by Catholics and Anglicans.
It is one of the six holy days of obligation wherein mass must be attended.
On a Thursday on the 40th day of Easter,
or 39 days after Easter Sunday, Ascension Day is officially celebrated. Some
churches in the United States join forces to celebrate a combined Day of Prayer
and Ascension Day service, which may include a time for reflection. A few churches
also organize a "church crawl", where people travel from one church
to another and experience the different prayer events.
Other churches may feature combined cathedral
choirs that offer a special solemn Eucharist written especially for Ascension
Day. A social time usually follows the service. Some Lutheran churches hold
a special ceremony where the Paschal candle is extinguished and removed after
the reading of the gospel on Ascension Day.
Ascension Day is one of the great feasts
in the Christian liturgical calendar, and commemorates the bodily Ascension
of Jesus into heaven. Ascension Day is officially celebrated on a Thursday,
the fortieth day from Easter day. However, some Roman Catholic provinces have
moved the observance to the following Sunday. The feast is one of the ecumenical
feasts (i.e., universally celebrated), ranking with the feasts of the Passion,
of Easter and of Pentecost among the most solemn in the ecclesiastical calendar.
Ascension in a Occidental church
In Roman Catholicism, the Ascension of
the Lord is a Holy Day of Obligation. The Latin terms used for the feast, ascensio
and, occasionally, ascensa, signify that Christ was raised up by his own powers.
The three days before Ascension Thursday are sometimes referred to as the Rogation
days and the previous Sunday, the Fifth Sunday after Easter (or the Sixth Sunday
of Easter), as Rogation Sunday. Ascension has a vigil and, since the fifteenth
century, an octave, which is set apart for a novena of preparation for Pentecost,
in accordance with the directions of Pope Leo XIII. In Western Christianity,
the earliest possible date is April 30, the latest possible date is June 3.
The Ascension feast is known in Greek
as Analepsis, the "taking up" in the Eastern Church, and also as the
Episozomene, the "salvation from on high", denoting that by ascending
into his glory Christ completed the work of our redemption. Ascension is one
of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox liturgical year.
Ascension in an Oriental Orthodox
church in India.
Ascension is always observed with an
All-night vigil. The day before is the Apodosis (leave-taking) of Pascha (i.e.,
the last day of the Feast of Easter). The Paroemia (Old Testament readings)
at Vespers on the eve of the Feast are Isaiah 2:2-3; Isaiah 62:10-63:3, 63:7-9;
and Zecheriah 14:1-4, 14:8-11. At the Divine Liturgy, the Epistle is Acts 1:1-12,
and the Gospel is Luke 24:36-53. Ascension Thursday also commemorates the Holy
Georgian Martyrs of Persia (17th–18th centuries).
The event of Ascension has an Afterfeast
of eight days. The Sunday after Ascension is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers
of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea. This council formulated the Nicene
Creed up to the words, "He (Jesus) ascended into heaven, and sits at the
right hand of the Father; and shall come again, with glory, to judge the living
and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end." The Afterfeast ends on
the following Friday, the Friday before Pentecost. The next day is appropriately
a Saturday of the Dead (general commemoration of all faithful departed).
Ascension in school: 'Ascend'
The Eastern Orthodox Church uses a different
method of calculating the date of Pascha (Easter), so the Eastern Orthodox commemoration
of Ascension will usually be after the western observance (anywhere from a week
to as much as a month later; but occasionally on the same day). The earliest
possible date for the feast is May 14, and the latest possible date is June
17. Some of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, however, observe Ascension on the
same date as the Western Churches.