So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away; and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:6-14)
“As the Gospel tells us, after the Lord’s Ascension the Apostles returned (to Jerusalem) ‘with great joy.’ (Luke 24:52) The Lord knows what joy He gave them: and their souls experienced this joy. That they had known the true Lord Jesus Christ was their first joy. Their second joy – that they loved Him. Their third joy – that they had known life eternal in heaven. And their fourth joy – that they desired salvation for the world, as for themselves. And later on they rejoiced because they came to know the Holy Spirit, and witnessed the workings of the Holy Spirit in themselves.” (ST SILOUAN THE ATHONITE, p 399)
John Baggley tells us a bit about the historical development of the Feast of the Ascension which originally was simply part of the Pascha-Pentecost fifty day feast, but eventually emerged as a separate feast of Christ with its own rite. This happens through the centuries as the Church shapes its yearly calendar around a dramatic presentation (re-enactment) of the life of Christ. It probably is hard for us to imagine that for a number of centuries early Christians did not think about the year as being a series of feasts which re-enact the life of Christ and rather tended to view the feasts as celebrating our salvation (thus Pascha-Pentecost early on was considered one long feast but this changes after a few centuries into feasts commemorating separate events in the life of Christ: Pascha/resurrection, Mid-Pentecost, the Ascension, and then Pentecost/giving of the Holy Spirit). This new thinking reflected the growing piety which tended to view the year as well as each Divine Liturgy as a dramatic presentation of the life of Christ. The believers became less participants in their own salvation and more an audience who was watching the drama unfold with the clergy as the actors.
“The development of a separate celebration of Christ’s Ascension on the fortieth day after Easter began in Syria and Asia Minor during the latter part of the fourth century, and seems to have become almost universal practice by the seventh or eighth centuries…The understanding of the Church set forth in the Ascension icon is succinctly expressed by Paul Evdokimov: “Christ is the head of the Church, the Mother of God is its image, and the apostles are its foundation.” The icon expresses the sovereignty of Christ over his Church; he is its Head, its guide, its source of inspiration and teaching; it receives its commission and ministry from him, and fulfils it in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Mother of God, as the image of the Church, stands under Christ. She from whom the Incarnate Son took his humanity stands rooted on the earth in the midst of the apostles, with her hands raised in the gesture of the orant, signifying prayer and intercession; Mary intercedes for humanity, and in this she embodies an important aspect of the Church’s vocation—to intercede, to be the mediating channel of divine grace and love in a fallen world. Mary represents the holiness of the Church, which already shares the divine life and knows the reality of Christ’s triumph over sin and death.” (Festival Icons for the Christain Year, pp 134, 138)