Category Archives: Ascension

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: The Time of Easter (Pascha) and Pentecost (part 6 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

The time of Easter and Pentecost is a season of great rejoicing in the Orthodox Christian Church. In this part of the liturgical year, we celebrate Our Lord’s glorious resurrection, His ascension, and preparing our hearts for His sending of the Holy Spirit to us at Pentecost. Each of these events has a feast of its own in our liturgical year, because of their great importance.

Easter (as it is called by the monk who wrote “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” though many of us refer to this feast as Pascha) is a feast in its own category: it is the Feast of Feasts, and is too important to be included with the other 12 feasts of the liturgical year. And rightly so, for it celebrates a victory like no other! “Easter is… the centre, the heart of the Christian year. It is on its date that the whole liturgical cycle depends, because this determines the moveable feasts of the calendar.” (1, pp. 176-177). “The celebration of Easter in the Orthodox Church…is not a dramatic representation of the ‘first Easter morning.’ There is no ‘sunrise service’ since the Easter matins and the Divine liturgy are celebrated together in the first dark hours of the first day of the week in order to give men the experience of the ‘new creation’ of the world, and to allow them to enter mystically into the New Jerusalem which shines eternally with the glorious light of Christ, overcoming the perpetual night of evil and destroying the darkness of this mortal and sinful world…” (2, p. 105) “The day of the Resurrection has always been a day of profound joy and the festival of festivals.” (3)

To help us recall the importance of this feast, during the week immediately following Pascha, the doors on the iconostasis stay open and we don’t prostrate ourselves or fast. “Easter week, in Greek, has a very beautiful name: ‘the Week of Renewal.’ …The Resurrection of Jesus tells us that we can be changed.” (1, p. 181) The troparion of the Resurrection is frequently sung during the time of Easter, which continues through the Ascension and on to the eve of Pentecost. (1)

The Feast of the Ascension falls 40 days after Pascha. This “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.” (1, p. 198) The ascension of Our Lord is important in part because, in ascending, He took His fleshly body into heaven. He did not discard His physical body, but rather restored humanity completely by taking it with Him! “The ascension of Christ is his final physical departure from this world after the resurrection. It is the formal completion of his mission in this world as the Messianic Saviour. It is his glorious return to the Father who had sent hin into the world to accomplish the work that he had given him to do.” (2, p. 111)

The time of Easter leads right up to the eve of Pentecost, a week and a half after Ascension. The scriptures read in the liturgy on the eve of Pentecost remind us that, “As long as we live, there is still time to make the essential decision and obey the word which tells us, as it told Simon Peter, not to be concerned with what others do, but to concentrate ourselves wholly on the only true essential: ‘Follow thou me.’” (1, p. 204) The blessing of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives (thanks to Pentecost) makes that possible, but we are getting ahead of ourselves: we will discuss Pentecost in our next blog post!

Purchase your own copy of “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” by a monk of the Eastern Church, here: https://www.svspress.com/year-of-grace-of-the-lord-the/ This book, quoted above, will be an excellent resource for you to read and learn from, throughout the Church year.

May we learn more about the feasts of Pascha and the Ascension, so that we can celebrate them more joyously, and better teach our students about these important feasts of the liturgical year!

Footnotes:

1. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

  1. Fr. Thomas Hopko. The Orthodox Faith volume ii: Worship. Syosset, NY: OCA, 1972. Fifth printing, 1997.
    3. Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship

    Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the time of Easter (Pascha) and Pentecost:

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The book featured in this blog post offers a plethora of information about each of the feasts, and can help you to prepare to teach your students about Pascha and the Ascension! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-heaven-meets-earth-celebrating-pascha-and-the-twelve-feasts-by-john-skinas/

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Find ideas for teaching your students about Pascha in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/celebrating-the-feast-of-feasts-great-and-holy-pascha/

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This blog post offers resources Sunday Church School teachers may want to use when teaching their students about Pascha: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/pascha-celebration-resources-for-sunday-church-school-teachers/

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Teachers of middle-years students may want to consider discussing this book (which happens during Lent and finishes around the time of Pascha) with their students: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/gleanings-from-a-book-queen-abigail-the-wise-by-grace-brooks/

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Help your students learn what goes into their family’s Pascha basket (and why it is there!) with this educational resource: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2014/04/pascha-basket.html
You may want to send this printable home with them after your discussion: http://www.holy12.org/holy12/files/PaschaBasket.pdf

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Together as a class, discuss Paschal traditions in the parish and in your students’ homes. Read pages 23-24 of the article “How Orthodox People Celebrate the Feasts” in the Little Falcons Orthodox Children’s magazine Issue #31, available here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf

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Find some ideas for teaching your class about the Feast of the Ascension here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/teaching-children-about-the-feast-of-the-ascension/

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Find additional suggestions for teaching about the Ascension here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/on-the-feast-of-the-ascension/

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Help your students to make these (free!) printable centerpieces for their prayer table or dinner table, for each feast: http://www.antiochian.org/1127698508

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On the Feast of the Ascension

Here are two possibilities of ways to teach your Sunday Church School Students about the Ascension:

1. Take your students on a hike. Find the highest point of your church’s property, and have your class there. (If you are unable to do so, ask your students about the highest place they’ve ever been. How far could they see? What did they see? Imagine that you have all hiked to that spot together.) When you arrive at that high space, talk about the Ascension. Pretend together that you are the disciples, reunited with your Lord after the difficult time of His death and the joy of His resurrection. How do you feel, having Him in your midst again? If He invited you to the top of the hill like this, would you go with Him? What if He stood in the middle of you and began to talk: would you listen? If He began to tell you He will be leaving, how would you feel? What would you think about? When He suddenly began to float up from the ground and keep rising into the sky, right in front of you, what would you think? (If you are outside, you could demonstrate this with a face “of Christ” drawn on a helium balloon attached a really long string – so you could eventually retrieve it – or with a small plastic toy “Christ” taped to a kite that flies as high as you can get it to go from your picnic spot.) And what if He got so high that He disappeared in the clouds? (If you’ve done the demonstration mentioned, you will need to retrieve the balloon or kite now, noting that we’re not Christ, so we can’t do what He did!) Even though we can’t actually lift into the sky like that, we can imagine what it must have been like for the disciples left behind! What if, as you were talking about Christ leaving and disappearing in that way, suddenly there were two other men there with you, asking what you’re looking for, and telling you that Jesus will come back again someday? How would you react? What would you think? What would you do next? Then talk about what the disciples did next: they went to Jerusalem and waited. Just like Christ told them to do. What do you suppose the disciples talked about as they went back to Jerusalem? Discuss this, especially the fact that we are still waiting for Christ to come again, as you gather your things and head back down the hill to your Sunday Church School classroom.

2. Spend a class period thinking about Christ’s last words to His disciples. Last moments/last words leave an impression to those left behind. Talk a bit about your students’ experiences with “last words” from people they know who have now passed away. Then spend some time thinking about the last moments and last words that Christ had with His disciples before the Ascension:


Matthew 28:19-20 – Just before He ascended, Jesus told His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Luke 24:50 says “He lifted up His hands and blessed them” before He ascended into heaven.

Acts 1: 4-5 – Christ tells His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come and be with them.

Acts 1: 8 – Christ tells His disciples that the Holy Spirit’s power will take them all over the earth, telling people about Him.
Set out art materials and invite each member of the class to choose one of the above to interact with through art. (It’s okay if everyone chooses the same one.) Someone may use chenille stems to create “Jesus” with hands outstretched in blessing, perhaps on a coiled “spring” of a pipe cleaner that allows him to begin “ascending.” Someone else may use a computer to print the words to the great commission (“Go therefore and make disciples…”) and incorporate them into a collage of magazine faces of different races or magazine pictures of different parts of the world. The ideas are endless.

 

Here are a few more ideas for celebrating the Feast of the Ascension with your students:

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After writing the blog post featuring these ideas for the Ascension, we went looking for additional links to share, and found this one that is similar to our blog ideas, but different enough to share: http://www.buildfaith.org/2015/05/08/celebrating-ascension-day-at-home/

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In case you missed it, here is our blog about the Feast of the Ascension from a few years back. It offers a variety of fun activities to do with kids as you celebrate this feast: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/teaching-children-about-the-feast-of-the-ascension/

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Print this foldable centerpiece about the feast of the Ascension to decorate your classroom table (or print multiple copies and send one home with each child for their dining room table at home): http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/e99a5a84333ba33b10a74cfd228c33c6.pdf

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If your elementary aged students enjoy word searches, print this one about the Ascension: http://www.biblekids.eu/bible_word_search_puzzles/bible_word_search_puzzles/ascension-of-jesus_word-search_puzzle-2014.JPG


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Watch this clip that uses Lego people to tell the story of the Ascension: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6D0kMWj5NCE

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This (Roman Catholic) mom’s blog post is full of ideas for celebrating the Ascension with children: http://cherishedheartsathome.blogspot.com/2011/06/ascension-day-plans-and-scenes.html

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Look together at the icon of the Ascension. How much can your class tell about the event, just by looking at the icon? Learn more about the festal icon here, and see if there is more to the icon than you knew: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/ascension/index_html

 

The Creed: And Ascended Into Heaven, and Sitteth at the Right Hand of the Father

By witnessing the Ascension, the disciples understood that the same Jesus who had lived among the poor and lowly was truly the God of all and would soon be glorified at the right hand of the Father. In the icon of the Ascension, we see the disciples with the Theotokos in the center, looking straight at us, lifting her arms to point to her Son, Jesus Christ, enthroned as ruler of all. “Ruler of All” is what the Greek word “Pantocrator” means. That is also the name of the icon we see in the center dome of many Orthodox churches. For us, the Feast of the Ascension is the reassurance of Christ’s living presence with us and the call for us to recognize Him as Lord and Master of all that exists.

“To say that Jesus is ‘exalted at the right hand of God’ as St. Peter preached… means exactly this: that man has been restored to communion with God, to a union which is, according to Orthodox doctrine, far greater and more perfect than that given to man in his original creation.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 107.)

“…The Ascension of Christ is seen as man’s first entry into that divine glorification for which he was originally created. The entry is made possible by the exaltation of the divine Son who emptied Himself in human flesh in perfect self-offering to God.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 109)

“The Ascension is proof that man was made for heaven, not for the grave; for glory, not for death.” (Coniaris, “The Nicene Creed,” p. 49)

Try this:  Bring an icon of the “Pantocrator” to Sunday Church School. Talk about the Pantocrator icon with your students. If you need a refresher course before beginning this discussion, check out this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1a17zFbaPU and read this blog post http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2012/03/05/why-i-love-the-christ-pantocrator-of-mt-sinai-icon/. Both offer some of the symbolism behind the icon and can help you help your students better appreciate the icon! Consider making Pantocrator icon magnets like these http://thefrugalgirls.com/2010/10/marble-magnets-tutorial.html together. The children can take theirs home to stick on your fridge, in lockers, etc. Then they can remember that the Ruler of All is present in their everyday life!

Learn more about the Ascension of Our Lord. See https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/teaching-children-about-the-feast-of-the-ascension/ for a variety of ideas of ways to do so!

Teaching Children about the Feast of the Ascension

It is nearly the end of the Paschal season already. We Orthodox Christians have been celebrating Christ’s resurrection for many days, beginning with the glorious celebration of Pascha! The end of the Paschal season offers us yet another opportunity to celebrate: the Feast of the Ascension of Christ, which always falls on a Thursday, is celebrated 40 days after Pascha. This Feast is one of the twelve Great Feasts of our Orthodox Church Year. Yet, for many of us, it goes by nearly unnoticed. Let us learn more about this feast and teach our Sunday Church School students about Our Lord’s return to heaven and His promise to send us the Holy Spirit.

The Ascension is important to us as Orthodox Christians for many reasons: it marks the end of Jesus’ time on earth reassuring His followers, after His resurrection; it is the date on which Christ gave his last commandment to His disciples; and it is the day in which Christ Himself took human flesh (His body!) into heaven, the presence of God, restoring man’s communion with God by giving humanity a permanent place of honor in heaven. (See more at http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/feasts/ascen.htm orhttp://www.metropolitannektariosofhongkong.org/2013/06/celebrating-the-feast-of-ascension/.)

Here are some ideas that can help to teach children about the Ascension:

Troparion (Tone 4)
O Christ God, You have ascended in Glory,
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!

Kontakion (Tone 6)
When You did fulfill the dispensation for our sake,
And unite earth to Heaven:
You did ascend in glory, O Christ our God,
Not being parted from those who love You,
But remaining with them and crying:
I am with you and no one will be against you.

It is important for the children to learn what the Ascension is about; that it is one of the 12 major feast days of the Orthodox Church; and that it is to be celebrated! How you choose to communicate those ideas with the children is up to you. However we choose to do so, may we all be prepared, and properly celebrate the Feast of the Ascension: for, through Christ’s Ascension, we humans have gained restoration with God!