Forty days after Pascha we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven. During the forty days following his Resurrection, Christ appeared to his disciples–teaching them about his fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, preparing them to lead His church and feed His sheep, and charging them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. He proved the reality of both is death (by showing his wounds) and his Resurrection (by eating and touching them).
Now, as the apostles stood watching, Christ ascended up to Heaven–bringing humanity into divinity. The apostles stood with the Risen Savior at Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. He told them, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
And he blessed them and was lifted up and “a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts. 1:9). Then, two angels appeared and told them that Christ would return in this same manner, but the apostles were to wait in Jerusalem, as he said.
Christ was lifted up to heaven to also raise us up with him. We will also be seated with him in the heavenly realm–not by our own doing or our own hower, but by the grace of God.
Thus, the Ascension is a feast at which we see both the divine and human natures of Christ, and catch a glimpse of our true calling as humans created in the image of God. It is also a feast of waiting. For, the apostles (and all of us) can do nothing until they are filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have been granted joy and now wait for the power.
As the troparion for the feast says:
“You ascended in glory, O Christ our God,
Granting joy to Your disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Through the blessing, they were assured
That You are the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world!”
Ways to Celebrate The Ascension as a Family
1. Attend Divine Liturgy and Sing the Troparion
As always, try to attend the Divine Liturgy. Ascension is unique among the feasts in that it never falls on a weekend. Because it is 40 days after Pascha, the feast of the Ascension is always celebrated on a Thursday. If you can, however, make an effort to attend either the Vespers for Ascension of the Liturgy itself.
2. Wear White to Church
In some jurisdictions, it is traditional to wear white on the feast of the Ascension. This is the liturgical color for the day, and it also reminds children that Jesus ascended up into the clouds. You can also find some white flowers to place in front of the festal icon and make a display.
3. Go on a Family Picnic
Another simple but fun way to celebrate the feast as a family is to take a hike and bring a picnic along. Walk with your family, talking about how Jesus and his disciples climbed Mount Olivet before the Ascension. Then, when you reach the top of a hill, lay out a picnic lunch or supper, look at the clouds in the sky, and tell the story of Christ’s ascension to Heaven.
4. Say, “Christ Has Ascended! From Earth to Heaven!”
Most Orthodox Christians are familiar with the call and response of “Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!” that we use to greet one another during the Paschal season. Few, however, realize that there is also a traditional greeting for Ascension and the 10 days following. Teach your children the call and response of, “Christ Has Ascended! From Earth to Heaven!” Then listen to them use it all day long!
5. Go Cloud Watching
While you are out on your family picnic, lay a blanket down on the grass and look up at the clouds for awhile. You can try to find pictures in the clouds and speak about the Ascension. It is also a fitting time to mention that the angels told the Apostles that Christ would return the same way he went to Heaven. This may lead to a discussion of Christ’s second coming and the last judgement.
6. Map Activity
Before ascending, Jesus told his disciples that they would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Most older children will understand the significance and general location of Jerusalem, but many will be confused about the other places. Bring out a map of the Middle East (preferably one that includes parts of Asia and Europe as well), and show the children where Judea and Samaria were.
You can point out that Jerusalem was an area that the Apostles were familiar with. This was a holy place for the people of Israel. The region of Judea was also home, but it didn’t have the same spiritual prestige that Jerusalem did. Samaria was even worse. It was the home of the Samaritans, people that the Jews looked down upon and viewed as having a faulty religion.
When the disciples received the Holy Spirit, they would first preach the Gospel in Jerusalem and establish the Church there. They wouldn’t stay there, however. They would begin moving farther and farther out from what they knew and into the very ends of the earth, spreading the Good News of Christ.
On this feast day, let us rejoice with the psalmist,
“God has gone up with a shout,
The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!”
These small, simple activities can help make the feasts of the Church more real in the home.
Have a blessed feast.
How does your family celebrate the Feast of the Ascension?