Between Ascension and Pentecost
For Orthodox Christians the time between Ascension and Pentecost seems a strange hiatus. We have taken leave of Pascha, and so no longer sing “Christ is risen”. But we have not yet reached Pentecost, so we do not pray “O Heavenly King”. As in Pascha, there is no kneeling in church — that must wait until after the kneeling prayers at Pentecost Sunday Vespers. Something seems to be missing.
But it seems to be a time for preparation of leaders of the church.
The Twelve elect Matthias to replace Judas.
It is the Afterfeast of the Ascension, and the commemoration of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. The Gospel reading is from John 17, the prayer of Jesus for those who would lead the church after his ascension. The epistle reading is St Paul’s address to the elders of Ephesus. and both emphasis that teaching has been entrusted. The word the Father has entrusted to Jesus he has passed on to the twelve, who have all kept it, except for the Son of Perdition, Judas.
St Paul had declared to the elders of Ephesus the whole counsel of God. He had held nothing back — not Gnostic doctrine passed on secretly.
The emphasis is on structural ministries, the bishops, priest and deacons, rather than charismatic ministries — those come after Pentecost, since they are ministries given directly by the Holy Spirit. But these structural ministires for the ordering of the church, the ordained ministries of bishops, priests (elders) and deacons are put in place before the descent of the Holy Spirit. Certainly they will need the Holy Spirit’s power and guidance and wisdom to carry out their ministry. The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council needed such wisdom to resist the false teaching of Arius, who wished to demote Christ to a mere creature.
It almost makes that ugly phrase in bureaucratese — “putting structures in place — seem useful after all. Because it’s a time of putting structures in place, to be animated by the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
It’s almost like preparing for a long car journey — checking the tyre pressures, the brakes, oil levels and so on, and then packing everything in, and all it needs is the tongue of fire — the ignition spark, to set off.
Make a good pilgimage!