Orthodox Ascension Day is celebrated on the first Thursday of June every year, and takes place on June 6 this year. It marks the ascension of Jesus Christ and is observed by all members of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church stresses the importance of worshiping Christ in the correct (orthodox) way, passed on from the early days of Christianity when Jesus walked the Earth spreading the gospel. As such, Orthodox Ascension Day, also known as the Feast of Ascension, is considered one of the most important holidays for members of this church. It’s a special period of reflection and gratitude, when Christians celebrate the Messiah’s ultimate sacrifice.
History of Orthodox Ascension Day
The Orthodox Church borrows its customs and traditions from Eastern Roman Christianity. It shares many similarities with other Christian Churches. Where it differs is in certain aspects of theology, as well as worship and way of life. They believe that the Holy Spirit is present in all members of the Church, acting as a guide through priests, bishops, and the whole body of the Church. The papal claim to supreme authority and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is what led to the “Great Schism” between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
The division between the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic) churches was gradual, happening as eastern and western Rome slowly fragmented. The sacking of Constantinople in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade of the Western Church, accelerated the Orthodox and Roman Catholic factions breaking away from each other. The Crusaders sacked the city, leading to the Muslim Ottomans taking the capital over a century later in 1453.
Orthodox Ascension Day is celebrated as one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church. It is mentioned in the Gospels of ‘Mark’ (16:19) and ‘Luke’ (24:50–53). It’s also referenced in the Acts of the Apostles 1:3–11. On this day, 40 days after resurrecting from the dead, Christ made His final appearance on Earth. He appeared before His apostles, commanding them not to leave Jerusalem. Jesus instructed the disciples to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christ then ascended to Heaven.
Orthodox Ascension Day timeline
Jesus Christ forms the Orthodox Church together with His apostles.
The First Ecumenical Council is held in Nicea, setting the precedent for all Ecumenical Councils.
Emperor Constantine, who played a major role in the spread of Christianity, dies of illness.
Johann Gutenberg produces the first-ever printed “Bible” in Mainz, Germany.
Orthodox Ascension Day FAQs
Why did Jesus ascend after 40 days?
Jesus accomplished His mission of dying for our sins and by resurrecting, He gave everlasting life to all those who believed in Him, and so He ascended from Earth to Heaven.
How many disciples were waiting for the Holy Spirit?
Eleven apostles waited for the Holy Spirit, along with Mary, the mother of Jesus.
What did Jesus say to His disciples before He ascended?
On the evening of His resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples, “Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”
How to Observe Orthodox Ascension Day
Dress in white
White is the liturgical color of this day. It reminds us that Christ ascended to the clouds. You can also place white flowers before an icon of Jesus to honor this tradition.
Read the ‘Acts of the Apostles’
The story of the Ascension is told in the book of the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ 1:3–11. It chronicles the events leading up to the last appearance of Christ on Earth and the words of advice that He spoke to His disciples before he departed.
What Would Jesus Do?
Jesus was a man of action. We may not be capable of performing His miracles, but we can still do our best to emulate Him by being kind and compassionate. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, buy groceries for a struggling family, or donate to a charity. Be a good Christian on Orthodox Ascension Day.
5 Fascinating Facts About The Orthodox Church
Orthodox translates to ‘straight teaching’
‘Orthodox’ comes from the Greek words ‘orthos,’ which means ‘straight,’ and ‘doxa,’ which means ‘teaching’ or ‘worship.’
There are millions of members worldwide
The Orthodox Church has an estimated 200 — 300 million members around the world, including 5.6 million Americans and more than 70 million Russians.
Orthodox priests can be married
Married men may become deacons and then priests in the Orthodox Church. However, Orthodox priests cannot marry after becoming ordained.
The Orthodox Church has no Pope
Unlike the Catholic Church, which recognizes the Pope as its supreme spiritual leader, the Orthodox Church has the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
It’s one of the oldest religious institutions
The Orthodox Church was set up over 2,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest surviving religious institutions on earth.
Why Orthodox Ascension Day is Important
Giving thanks to Christ for His sacrifice
Jesus died for our sins. On Orthodox Ascension Day, members of the church give thanks to Christ for His ultimate sacrifice in service to mankind.
Good triumphs over evil
When Christ died and wresurrected, He opened the kingdom of Heaven to all those who believed in Him. Jesus also resisted the temptations of Satan, demonstrating His worthiness and resolve. It’s a timely reminder that good always triumphs over evil.
Spreading His holy message
On the day of His ascension, Christ urged his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” It is with this spirit that we celebrate the holiday. Christians honor His sacrifice by spreading His message.
Orthodox Ascension Day dates