The Feast of the Ascension
The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ is celebrated each year on the fortieth day after the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha (Easter). Since the date of Pascha changes each year, the date of the Feast of the Ascension changes. The Feast is always celebrated on a Thursday.
The Feast itself commemorates when, on the fortieth day after His Resurrection, Jesus led His disciples to the Mount of Olives, and after blessing them and asking them to wait for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, He ascended into heaven.
The story of the Ascension of our Lord, celebrated as one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church, is found in the book of the Acts of the Apostles 1:3-11. It is also mentioned in the Gospels of Mark (16:19) and Luke (24:50-53). The moment of the Ascension is told in one sentence: “He was lifted up before their eyes in a cloud which took Him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).
Christ made His last appearance on earth, forty days after His Resurrection from the dead. The Acts of the Apostles states that the disciples were in Jerusalem. Jesus appeared before them and commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the “Promise of the Father”. He stated, “You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).
After Jesus gave these instructions, He led the disciples to the Mount of Olives. Here, He commissioned them to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It is also at this time that the disciples were directed by Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus also told them that He would be with them always, “even to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
As the disciples watched, Jesus lifted up His hands, blessed them, and then was taken up out of their s
ight (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9). Two angels appeared to them and asked them why they were gazing into heaven. Then one of the angels said, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Icon of the Feast
The icon of The Ascension of Our Lord is a joyous icon. It is painted with bright colors. Christ is shown ascending in His glory in a mandorla A mandorla is a design which is almond-shaped or round. Inside the mandorla is the figure of a holy person. Christ blesses the assembly with His right hand. In His left is a scroll. The scroll is a symbol of teaching. This icon shows that the Lord in heaven is the source of blessing. In addition, Jesus is the source of knowledge. The icon reminds us that Christ continues to be the source of the teaching and message of the Church, blessing and guiding those to whom He has entrusted his work.
The Theotokos occupies a very special place in this icon. She is in the center of the icon, immediately below the ascending Christ. The gesture of her hands is gesture of prayer. She is clearly outlined by the whiteness of the garments of the angels. The Theotokos is depicted in a very calm pose. This is quite different from the appearance of the Disciples. They are moving about, talking to one another and looking and pointing towards heaven. The entire group, the Theotokos and the disciples represent the Church.
Orthodox Christian Celebration of the Feast of the Ascension
This Feast of our Lord is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is conducted on the day of the Feast and preceded by the Matins service. A Great Vespers is conducted on the evening before the day of the Feast. Scripture readings for the Feast are the following: At Vespers: Isaiah 2:2-3, 62:10-63:9; Zechariah 14:1,4,8-11. At the Orthros (Matins) Mark 16:9-20; At the Divine Liturgy: Acts 1:1-12; Luke 24:36-53.
Hymns of the Feast
Apolytikion (Fourth Tone)
O Christ our God, You ascended in Glory and gladdened Your disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. Your blessing assured the that You are the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world.
Feast Of Mid-Pentecost
The fourth Wednesday after the Feast of Holy Pascha is commemorated as Mid-Pentecost. This feast marks the halfway point between Pascha and the Feast of Pentecost. As explained below this feast is closely linked to the Sunday of the Paralytic.
After the Saviour had miraculously healed the paralytic, the Jews, especially the Pharisees and Scribes, were moved with envy and persecuted Him, and sought to slay Him, using the excuse that He did not keep the Sabbath, since He worked miracles on that day. Jesus then departed to Galilee. About the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles, He went up again to the Temple and taught. The Jews, marvelling at the wisdom of His words, said, “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” But Christ first reproached their unbelief and lawlessness, then proved to them by the Law that they sought to slay Him unjustly, supposedly as a despiser of the Law, since He had healed the paralytic on the Sabbath. Therefore, since the things spoken by Christ in the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles are related to the Sunday of the Paralytic that is just passed, and since we have already reached the midpoint of the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost, the Church has appointed this present feast as a bond between the two great feasts, thereby uniting, as it were, the two into one, and partaking of the grace of them both. Therefore today’s feast is called Mid-Pentecost, and the Gospel Reading, “At Mid-feast”–though it refers to the Feast of Tabernacles–is used.
It should be noted that there were three great Jewish feasts: the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Passover was celebrated on the 15th of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar, which coincides roughly with our March. This feast commemorated that day on which the Hebrews were commanded to eat the lamb in the evening and anoint the doors of their houses with its blood. Then, having escaped bondage and death at the hands of the Egyptians, they passed through the Red Sea to come to the Promised Land. It is also called “the Feast of Unleavened Bread,” because they ate unleavened bread for seven days. Pentecost was celebrated fifty days after the Passover, first of all, because the Hebrew tribes had reached Mount Sinai after leaving Egypt, and there received the Law from God; secondly, it was celebrated to commemorate their entry into the Promised Land, where also they ate bread, after having been fed with manna forty years in the desert. Therefore, on this day they offered to God a sacrifice of bread prepared with new wheat. Finally, they also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles from the 15th to the 22nd of “the seventh month,” which corresponds roughly to our September. During this time, they live in booths made of branches in commemoration of the forty years they spent in the desert, living in tabernacles, that is, tents (Ex. 12:10-20; Lev. 23).
Hymn of the Feast
Apolytikion (Plagal of the Fourth Tone):
Mid-way in the feast, refresh my thirsty soul with the flowing waters of piety. For You cried out to all, O Savior, “Let him who thirsts come to me and drink.” You, O Christ our God, are the Fountain of Life, glory to You.
Sunday of the Paralytic
The fourth Sunday of Holy Pascha is observed by the Orthodox Church as the Sunday of the Paralytic. The day commemorates the miracle of Christ healing a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. The biblical story of the event is found in the Gospel of John 5:1-15.
Close to the Sheep’s Gate in Jerusalem, there was a pool, which was called the Sheep’s Pool. It had five porches, that is, five sets of pillars supporting a domed roof. Under this roof there lay very many sick people with various maladies awaiting the moving of the water. The first person to step in after the troubling of the water was healed immediately of whatever malady he had.
It was there that the paralytic of today’s Gospel was lying, tormented by his infirmity of thirty-eight years. When Christ beheld him, He asked him, “Will you be made whole?” And he answered with a quiet and meek voice, “Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool.” The Lord said unto him, “Rise, take up your bed, and walk.” And straightaway the man was made whole and took up his bed. Walking in the presence of all, he departed rejoicing to his own house. According to the expounders of the Gospels, the Lord Jesus healed this paralytic during the days of the Passover, when He had gone to Jerusalem for the Feast, and dwelt there teaching and working miracles. According to Saint John the Evangelist, this miracle took place on the Sabbath.
Icon of the Sunday of the Paralytic
The icon of the Sunday of the Paralytic depicts the biblical story of the Christ healing the paralytic. Our Lord, accompanied by His disciples, is shown blessing the paralytic. The man has risen and taken up his bed as commanded by Christ. The paralytic is bowing toward the Lord in reverence and in gratitude for the great miracle that has been done. In the background of the icon is the pool where the infirmed came for healing.
Orthodox Christian Celebration of the Feast of the Sunday of the Paralytic
The Sunday of the Paralytic is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. On this Sunday and throughout the Paschal period until the Apodosis or leave-taking of Pascha, the day before the Feast of the Ascension, the services begin with the chanting of the troparion of Pascha, “Christ is risen…”
Hymn of the Feast
Kontakion (Third Tone):
I am grievously paralyzed in a multitude of sins and wrongful deeds. As You raised up the paralytic of old, also raise up my soul by Your divine guidance, that I may cry out, “Glory to Your Power O Compassionate Christ.”
SUNDAY OF THE MYRRH-BEARING WOMEN PIOUS JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA, RIGHTEOUS NICODEMUS
About the beginning of His thirty-second year, when the Lord Jesus was going throughout Galilee, preaching and working miracles, many women who had received of His beneficence left their own homeland and from then on followed after Him. They ministered unto Him out of their own possessions, even until His crucifixion and entombment; and afterwards, neither losing faith in Him after His death, nor fearing the wrath of the Jewish rulers, they came to the sepulchre, bearing the myrrh-oils they had prepared to annoint His body. It is because of the myrrh-oils, that these God-loving women brought to the tomb of Jesus that they are called the Myrrh-bearers. Of those whose names are known are the following: first of all, the most holy Virgin Mary, who in Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 is called “the mother of James and Joses” (these are the sons of Joseph by a previous marriage, and she was therefore their step-mother); Mary Magdalene (celebrated July 22); Mary, the wife of Clopas; Joanna, wife of Chouza, a steward of Herod Antipas; Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus; and Susanna. As for the names of the rest of them, the evangelists have kept silence (Matt 27:55-56; 28:1-10. Mark 15:40-41. Luke 8:1-3; 23:55-24:11, 22-24. John 19:25; 20:11-18. Acts 1:14).
Together with them we celebrate also the secret disciples of the Saviour, Joseph and Nicodemus. Of these, Nicodemus was probably a Jerusalemite, a prominent leader among the Jews and of the order of the Pharisees, learned in the Law and instructed in the Holy Scriptures. He had believed in Christ when, at the beginning of our Saviour’s preaching of salvation, he came to Him by night. Furthermore, he brought some one hundred pounds of myrrh-oils and an aromatic mixture of aloes and spices out of reverence and love for the divine Teacher (John 19:39). Joseph, who was from the city of Arimathea, was a wealthy and noble man, and one of the counsellors who were in Jerusalem. He went boldly unto Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, and together with Nicodemus he gave Him burial. Since time did not permit the preparation of another tomb, he placed the Lord’s body in his own tomb which was hewn out of rock, as the Evangelist says (Matt. 27:60).
The sixth Sunday of Holy Pascha is observed by the Orthodox Church as the Sunday of the Blind Man. The day commemorates the miracle of Christ healing the man who was blind since birth. The biblical story of this event is found in the Gospel of Saint John 9:1-41.
The Lord Jesus was coming from the Temple on the Sabbath, when, while walking in the way, He saw the blind man mentioned in today’s Gospel. This man had been born thus from his mother’s womb, that is, he had been born without eyes (see Saint John Chrysostom, Homily LVI on John; Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V:15; and the Second Exorcism of Saint Basil the Great). When the disciples saw this, they asked their Teacher, “Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” They asked this because when the Lord had healed the paralytic at the Sheep’s Pool, He had told him, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:14); so they wondered, if sickness was caused by sin, what sin could have been the cause of his being born without eyes. But the Lord answered that this was for the glory of God. Then the God-man spat on the ground and made clay with the spittle. He anointed the eyes of the blind man and said to him, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.” Siloam (which means “sent”) was a well-known spring in Jerusalem used by the inhabitants for its waters, which flowed to the eastern side of thecity and collected in a large pool called “the Pool of Siloam.”
Therefore, the Savior sent the blind man to this pool that he might wash his eyes, which had been anointed with the clay-not that the pool’s water had such power, but that the faith and obedience of the one sent might be made manifest, and that the miracle might become more remarkable and known to all, and leave no room for doubt. Thus, the blind man believed in Jesus’ words, obeyed His command, went and washed himself, and returned, no longer blind, but having eyes and seeing. This was the greatest miracle that our Lord had yet worked; as the man healed of his blindness himself testified, “Since time began, never was it heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind,” although the Lord had already healed the blind eyes of many. Because he now had eyes, some even doubted that he was the same person (John 9:8-9); and it was still lively in their remembrance when Christ came to the tomb of Lazarus, for they said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have caused that even this man should not have died?” Saint John Chrysostom gives a thorough and brilliant exposition of our Lord’s meeting with the woman of Samaria, the healing of the paralytic, and the miracle of the blind man in his commentaries on the Gospel of Saint John.
Icon of the Sunday of the Blind Man
The icon of the Sunday of the Blind Man depicts the biblical story of Christ healing the man who was blind since birth. Our Lord is shown placing the clay on the eyes of the man. He is with his disciples who are questioning Christ about the source of the man’s affliction. The blind man is shown with his hand outstretched toward Christ expressing his faith and willingness to receive healing and grace from the Son of God. Our Lord has in His hand a scroll, which directs us to His statements, “I am the light of the world,” (John 9:5), and “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,” (Luke 4:18). This are clear statements of the Gospel of salvation that comes through Christ. The scroll may also represent the role of Christ as Judge as depicted in Matthew and Revelation, and also later in the same passage on the healing of the blind man (John 9:39), Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”
Orthodox Christian Celebration of the Feast of the Sunday of the Blind Man
The Sunday of the Blind Man is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. On this Sunday and throughout the Paschal period until the Apodosis or leave-taking of Pascha, the day before
the Feast of the Ascension, the services begin with the chanting of the troparion of Pascha, “Christ is risen…” This is the last Sunday of the Paschal period before the Feast of the Ascension, which will follow on Thursday of this week. The Apodosis or Leave-taking of the Feast of Pascha is on Wednesday, a day which is free of fasting and celebrated with the joy and brightness of the Feast of Feasts.
Hymn of the Feast
Kontakion (Fourth Tone):
I come to You, O Christ, as the man blind from birth. With the eyes of my soul blinded, I cry out to You in repentance, “You are the resplendent Light of those in darkness.”
The Orthodox Church observes the Sunday of Thomas one week following the celebration of the Sunday of Holy Pascha. The day commemorates the appearance of Christ to His disciples on the evening of the Sunday following Passover. It also commemorates the appearance of the Lord to His disciples eight days later when Thomas was present and proclaimed “My Lord and my God” upon seeing the hands and side of Christ.
This Sunday is also called Antipascha (meaning “in the stead of Pascha,” not “in opposition to Pascha”) because with this day, the first Sunday after Pascha, the Church consecrates every Sunday of the year to the commemoration of Pascha, that is, the Resurrection.
Saint Thomas the Apostle is commemorated by the Church on October 6.
The events commemorated on the Sunday of Thomas are recorded in the Gospel of Saint John 20:19-29. Following the crucifixion and burial of Christ, the disciples were gathered in a room with the doors closed and locked for fear of the Jews. On the evening of the Sunday after Passover, Jesus Christ entered the room and stood in their midst, greeting them with the words, “Peace be with you.” (v. 19) He showed the disciples his hands, feet, and side. (v. 20)
Thomas was not present with the disciples when Jesus appeared, and he did not accept the testimony of the other disciples concerning Christ’s Resurrection. He stated, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (vv. 24-25)
Eight days later, the disciples were gathered together again with Thomas present, and the Lord appeared in the same manner. Standing in their midst he said, “Peace be with you.” He then spoke directly to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” (vv. 26-27) Thomas answered, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replied by saying, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (v. 29)
Icon of the Sunday of Thomas
The icon of the Sunday of Thomas depicts Christ standing in the midst of the disciples. He has appeared to the eleven in the upper room, and he is inviting Thomas to come and examine his hands and his side. Thomas is reaching out to touch the side of Jesus. He is also looking to Jesus in a manner that indicates his faith and the proclamation recorded in Scripture.
Orthodox Christian Celebration of the Feast of Sunday of Thomas
The Sunday of Thomas is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. On this Sunday and throughout the Paschal period until the Apodosis or leave-taking of Pascha, the day before the Feast of the Ascension, the services begin with the chanting of the troparion of Pascha, “Christ is risen…”
Scripture readings for the feast are the following: At Orthros: Matthew 28:16-20, the first of eleven resurrectional Gospel passages that are read in a cycle throughout the year during the Sunday matins. On this day the cycle always begins with the first Gospel passage; At the Divine Liturgy: Acts 5:12-20 and John 20:19-31.
Hymns of The Feast
Apolytikion (Grave Tone)
While the tomb was sealed, You, O Life, did shine forth from the grave, O Christ God; and while the doors were shut, You did come unto Your disciples, O Resurrection of all, renewing through them an upright Spirit in us according to Your great mercy.
Kontakion (Plagal of the Fourth Tone)
With his searching right hand, Thomas did probe Your life-bestowing side, O Christ God; for when You did enter while the doors were shut, he cried out unto You with the rest of the Apostles: You are my Lord and my God.
Bier Decoration 2018 – By the Antiochian Women of St. Mark