A Brief History of Ascension Day

The feast of Ascension Day, also known as Holy Thursday or Ascension Thursday, commemorates Jesus Christ's bodily ascension to heaven after his resurrection on Easter Day. As one of the critical ecumenical liturgical feasts, Ascension Day, ranking with the Passion of Jesus and the Christian holy day of Pentecost, is conventionally celebrated on the 40th day of Easter and varies by diverse denominations.

It is told that at the time of Christ is being believed to have been taken up into heaven, he first appeared to a Jewish woman named Madeleine, according to the four canonical gospels. She therewith passed the news on to Jesus's male sorrowful and mourning disciples. However, no one believed her when she told others that Jesus's tomb was empty and he had revived from death. Then Jesus of Nazareth made an appearance to two of his followers as they were walking outside Jerusalem and commissioned them as well to spread the news that the Lord was alive, but again nobody believed. Later, when the eleven Apostles were at the table, Christ appeared to them and blamed them for not trusting those who had seen him after his reappearance. He said to them: "Go forth to every corner of the world and notify the entire mankind the breathtaking news. Some who believe it and are baptized are apt to receive salvation for the repentance of sins, while the counterpart is inclined to be condemned. The snakes the believers encountered and the extremely toxic poison they drunk will cause no harm to them. The wandering devils the believers possessed will be cast out in my name and the patient on whom they put their hands will recover." Not long after speaking with them the Jesus was ascended into heaven and Christ's prophecy which was deemed to foreshadow the upcoming events.

The semantic origin of Ascension can be traced back to Latin terms, ascensa or ascensio, which indicate the fact that Jesus was raised up on his own and it is where the name "Holy Day" originated from. Though the use of the term "Holy Thursday" to represent Ascension Day is relatively rare, existing well-founded evidence including the Book of Common Prayer, the Illustration of the Liturgy of the Church of English published by Thomas Pruen in 1820, as well as William Blake's poem originally issued in 1789.

With regards to the earliest observance of the feast, the bishop and Church historian, Eusebius, claimed the celebration of it happened between 300s to 390s. At the inception of the 5th century, the Christian theologian, Saint Augustine of Hippo, pointed out that the feast was the common observance of the Church stemmed from the Apostles long before his era. Repeated mention of it is found in the works of St. Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, and in the Apostolic Constitutions. The Pilgrimage of Aetheria mentions the vigil of the feast, the feast itself, and the church constructed over the small cave in Bethlehem where the Jesus of Nazareth is generally thought to be born.

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