By A Monk of the Eastern Church
Published by SVS Press
The Wednesday which follows the fifth Sunday after Easter is the day when, in liturgical terminology, we ‘take leave’ of the Easter feast. We commemorate the last day of the physical presence of the risen Christ amongst his disciples; and to honour this presence, to honour the Resurrection once more, the church on this Wednesday repeats the service for Easter Sunday in its entirety. And now we have come to the fortieth day after Easter, the Thursday on which the Church celebrates the feast of the Ascension.
Three lessons from the Old Testament are read at vespers for the Ascension, on the Wednesday evening. The first lesson (Isa. 2:2-3) speaks of a mountain: ‘It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains…and all nations shall flow until it…. Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord’. This alludes to the Mount of Olives, from which Jesus ascended to his Father. The second lesson (Isa. 62:10-63; 3, 7-9) was chosen because of the following words: ‘Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people…. In his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them…’. Jesus, ascending to heaven, opens the gates to his people, he prepares a way for them, he carries them and raises them up with him. The third lesson (Zech. 14:1, 4, 8-11) also speaks of the mountain which was the scene of Jesus’s final triumph: ‘Behold the day of the Lord cometh…. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east…. And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem.’
The chants at matins for the Ascension are already filled with allusions to the Spirit, the Comforter, whom Jesus will send. Ascension is the prelude to Pentecost.