Christ is risen!
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1-3)
Early on in church history, liturgical celebrations did not try to recreate the life of Christ, and so Feasts were seen as celebrating the Lord Himself or all that Christ accomplished for our salvation rather than just one particular event in His life. The fifty days from Pascha to Pentecost were treated as one long Feast celebrating salvation in and through Christ. The Ascension was simply part of this one liturgical celebration. One can occasionally still encounter this idea in some of the hymns of these feasts that tie all of them together. (see for example my posts – Pentecost: The Fullness of the Feast of Feasts or Midfeast of Pentecost 2020). Only through the long centuries of history do we see the Church moving liturgically to treat each feast as a separate historical event or using the entire year to ‘re-enact’ the life of Christ rather than as a continual celebration of salvation. Look closely at the Apostolos reading for Pascha above from Acts 1. We read this lesson for Pascha, yet it references both Christ’s Ascension and resurrection. The 40 days referenced are being treated in the Church as one event in our salvation: the resurrection/ascension. Salvation in Christ ties all things together, it doesn’t separate them into unrelated events separated by historical time. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17) We are so used to the ‘re-enactment’ of Christ’s life type thinking, that it is hard for us to imagine a time in which Christians didn’t think in this same way.
As we celebrate Pascha, Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we celebrate all that Christ did for our salvation, and thus as in every Orthodox Feast we celebrate Christ Himself. It is the very person of Christ who is our salvation: our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Who He is makes all the difference not only in the world but in heaven as well for our salvation is dependent on His being both God and human.
“Then Cyril [of Alexandria] adds the sentence, ’If he conquered as God, to us, it is nothing; but if he conquered as man, we conquered in Him. For he is to us the second Adam come from heaven according to the Scriptures.’ This is an extraordinary statement and to my knowledge unprecedented. Cyril asserts that Christ triumphed over death because of the kind of human being he was.” (Robert Louis Wilken, THE SPIRIT OF EARLY CHRISTIAN THOUGHT, p 121)
Christ changes everything in uniting divinity to humanity, earth to heaven, death to life, Creator to creation. His victory over death is attributed as much to His humanity as His divinity!
“The Resurrection destroys the world as a tomb and reveals it as Eucharist.
The Resurrection signifies the victory of life in its wholeness, over death and hell, and offers this victory to all.” (Olivier Clement, ON HUMAN BEING, pp 119, 144)
Because both the resurrection and salvation affect all the created cosmos, even things in nature can witness to the resurrection. Even in ancient Jewish thinking we encounter this in a question that ponders why a prayer for the resurrection mentions rain:
… the Mishnah’s question as to why one refers to the falling of the rain in the blessing concerning the resurrection of the dead. That Talmud answers: ‘because it [rain] is equivalent to the resurrection of the dead’ (Babylonian Talmud, Ber 33A…). In other words, just as rainfall awakens new life in the plant world, so will the dead be resurrected at the End of Days. (Adolfo Roitman, ENVISIONING THE TEMPLE, p 100; see also my post The Bread In and Of the Kingdom)
For those with eyes to see, we can experience God’s Gospel all around us.
Shine! Shine! O new Jerusalem! The glory of the Lord has shone on you. Exult now and be glad, O Zion. Be radiant, O pure Theotokos, in the resurrection of your Son.