21 - Feast of the Ascension
Albair Gamal Mikhail
December 28, 2003
The rite of the Feast of the Ascension.
The Church celebrates the Feast of the Ascension on Thursday, the fortieth day in the Holy Fifty Days. It is considered one of the Seven Major Feasts of the Lord. On this day, the Lord ascended by His divine power to Heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father. Following His resurrection, the Lord prepared His disciples for the service of preaching and did so for a period of thirty-nine days. He also taught them about the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. By his resurrection, He gave humanity the most precious spiritual gift - living once more with God. He gave our human nature a spiritual garment to prepare us for the eternal life, free from pains, suffering, and sins of the body. After He revealed the nature of this new body through His frequent appearances, and had guided the disciples in the way of service, He ascended to Heaven, declaring to them their readiness in serving Him. The disciples thereafter prayed and praised God as they waited to receive the Holy Spirit. Consequently, they set out to preach in the Name of Jesus Christ in all the corners of the world.
The ascension of Christ Himself was part of His plan for our ascension as well. He ascended to prepare a place for us in His Kingdom. He ascended with our human body to give us the ability to ascend as well. He ascended so He may seat us and glorify us with Him. He “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). The Lord spoke three promises regarding His Ascension. The first was, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (Jn. 16:7). The second promise was, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (Jn. 14:18). His third promise was, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” (Jn. 12:32). For this reason we rejoice on this day on which the Lord Jesus Christ raised our eyes from the dust of the earth, so that we may direct our thoughts to spiritual matters concerning the eternal life above. The disciples themselves “were gazing up toward heaven” (Acts 1:10). Our thoughts have been directed to Heaven, and our goal is to live with Christ in His Kingdom.
In His ascension to the heavens, Christ sat at the right hand of the Father with power and glory. Daniel the prophet prophesized of this in a vision, as he “watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient one and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14). By sitting at the right hand of the Father is to say that the equality between Him and the Father is everlasting. Since Christ was with God before all ages, it was all Christ’s as well for they are both one. He took from what is the Father’s in glory and power, all of which was Christ’s before emptying Himself to take the form of a servant. Therefore, the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ and His sitting at the right hand of the Father is a declaration of His eternal reign, and a means of power for us to overcome sin.
During the Vespers and Prime Raising of Incense for the Feast of the Ascension, the prayers begin as usual, and the Verses of the Cymbals specifically for the Feast of the Ascension are chanted in a joyous tune. The Doxologies of both the Resurrection and the Ascension are chanted, followed by other suitable doxologies. The Psalm is chanted in the minor joyful tune, followed by the Psalm Response of the feast; and after the reading of the Gospel, the Gospel Response for the Feast of the Ascension is chanted. In the conclusion of the prayer, the Concluding Canon of the feast is chanted.
As for the Divine Liturgy of the Feast of the Ascension; it begins with the Agpeya prayers of the Third and Sixth Hours, which is followed by the Offering of the Lamb, and the hymn of `Allyloui`a @ vai pe pi is then chanted. After the Absolution of the Servants, Tai soury is chanted, followed by the Hiten that includes the verses specifically for the Feast of the Resurrection, in the following order: the first is said to the Virgin Lady; the second to the Angel Michael, which is specific to the Resurrection; then the heavenly hosts; then the verse for Joseph, Nicodemos, and Mary Magdalene, which is also said specifically during the Holy Fifty days; and then the rest of the common verses are chanted. After the reading of the Catholic Epistle, the Praxis Response of the Feast of the Ascension is chanted, followed by the reading of the Praxis, and then the hymn of Afrek `tve is chanted. The priests and the deacons go through a procession around the altar three times, while they chant the hymns of the Procession of the Feast of the Ascension. After that, the mohayar hymn of Pa[oic is chanted, followed by the joyful hymn of Agioc , where the words `o `anactac ek twn nekrwn ke `anel;wn ic touc ouranouc `eleycon `ymac , is said in all of its three verses. Then, the major Sengary Psalm is chanted, followed by the Psalm of the feast. After the reading of the Gospel, the Gospel Response of the feast is chanted.
The Adam Espasmos and Watos Espasmos are chanted according to what is appropriate for the feast. During the Fraction prayer, the Fraction for the Feast of the Resurrection is said with the additional verses for the Feast of the Ascension. In the communion hymns, the Psalm 150 is chanted in a joyous tune, and it is also possible to say the hymn of Afrek `tve after it, followed by the poetical pieces of the Ascension. In the conclusion, the Concluding Canon specifically for the Divine Liturgy of the Feast of the Ascension is chanted.
As for the period starting from the Feast of the Ascension to the forty-ninth day of the Holy Fifty days, their orders are as follows: The Vespers and Prime Raising of Incense are prayed in exactly the same way as the Feast of the Ascension. As for the Divine Liturgy, the procession is done only around the altar three times, without proceeding around the Churchís nave. This symbolizes that Christ ascended to heaven (the altar) and an end came to the period of His appearances on the earth (the Church’s nave) to His disciples, during which He preached and proved His resurrection and taught them the spiritual way of following Him in their services. The Church in the past used to have a procession only on one day, which is the Sunday that comes between the Feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, and it was enough to say the hymn of Afrek `tve . However, by researching historical sources, it was found that the reason behind this was that the Church in the early centuries used to pray the Divine Liturgy only on Sundays, and for this reason the procession of the Feast of the Ascension was done only on Sundays. As for today, the Divine Liturgy is prayed everyday throughout the week, and for this reason the Committee of Rites of the Holy Synod, which was gathered on the Feast of Pentecost in 2001 A.D., decided that the procession of the Ascension should not only be done on Sunday, but everyday between the periods of the Feast of the Ascension to the Feast of Pentecost. With this exception, the rite of the Divine Liturgy during this period follows exactly the rite of the Feast of the Ascension.
May the blessings of this feast be with us all. Amen.
Mikhail, Deacon Albair Gamal, The Essentials in the Deacon’s Service, (Shobra, Egypt: Shikolani, 2002), p. 755, 756. Translated from Arabic by Bishoy K. R. Dawood and Ragy Sharkawy, edited by John Sedrak and Mariam Wanis.