Leavetaking of Pascha
* Tone 5 – Week after PASCHA 6
* LEAVETAKING OF PASCHA
* Forefeast of the Ascension
St John the Russian (Confessor), whose relics are on the island of Euboea (1730)
Hieromartyr Therapon, Bishop of Sardis (3rd)
St Bede the Venerable (735) (Greek use)
St Therapont, Abbot of Byelozersk (1426)
Virgin-Martyr Theodora and Martyr Didymus the Soldier of Alexandria
Transaltion of the relics of SS. Cyprian, Photius, and Jonah (1472), Metropolitans of Kiev
Translation of the relics of St Nilus of Stolbensk (1554)
St Thearpont, Abbot of Monza (1597)
Today is the Leavetaking of Pascha, and so the last day that we sing one of my favourite hymns:
The angel cried to the Lady full of grace:
Rejoice (rejoice) O pure Virgin!
Again I say rejoice!
Your Son is risen from his three days in the tomb!
With Himself he had raised all the dead!
Rejoice (rejoice) all ye people!
Shine! (Shine!) Shine O New Jerusalem!
The glory of the Lord has shone on you!
Exult now (exult) and be glad O Zion!
Be radiant, O Pure Theotokos, in the Resurrection (the Resurrection) of your Son!
The words in brackets are ones that are repeated in the melody we usually sing.
Nine years ago I spent the Paschal season teaching at the seminary in Albania and so I heard the students sing that hymn every day in the seminary chapel, in Albanian to the Byzantine melody. It took me some time to recognise what it was, because the music was unfamiar, but I got quite attached to it in Albanian. There was a monk who sometimes taught there, Fr Ephraim, who arranged for me to spend a few days at his home monastery on the Holy Mountain, Simopetra, and I arrived there just in time for the Leavetaking of Pascha and the Vigil of the Ascension, which made it particularly memorable.
And so tomorrow is, of course, Ascension Day, but that has different memories, memories of what was possibly the worst sermon I have ever heard.
It was at St Leoanrd’s Church, Streatham, in London, on 19 May 1966. The preacher compared the human situation to miners at the bottom of a shaft with a broken hoist, and Christ the heavenly lift mechanic comes and fixes it up, and then ascends back to where he came from. I’ve heard many better Ascension day sermons than that, but it is the worst of them that sticks in my memory.
There’s a Western hymn about the ascension that I quite like, though:
See the conqueror mounts in triumph
See the King in royal state
Riding on the clouds his chariot
To the heavenly palace gate
Hark! the choirs of angel voices
Joyful Aleluyas sing
And the portals high are lifted
To receive their heavenly King.
Who is this that comes in glory,
with the trump of jubilee?
Lord of battles, God of armies,
He has gained the victory;
He who on the cross did suffer
He who from the grave arose
He has vanquished sin and Satan
He by death has spoiled his foes.
Such military imagery sometimes makes people feel uneasy.
Conquerors, battles, armies. It all sounds so, well, violent.
Shouldn’t we rather sing about a peaceful redeemer? After all, didn’t Christ come to bring peace and reconciliation?
And of course that’s true.
Christ came to reconcile God and man, and man and man.
But he did not come to reconcile good and evil.
The next verse of that particular hymn could have been written by an Orthodox Christian, though the author was actually an Anglican bishop:
Thou hast raised our human nature
In the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heavenly places,
There with Thee in glory stand;
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
Man with God is on the throne;
Mighty Lord, in Thine Ascension
We by faith behold our own.