The Fifty Days of Pascha
The feast of our Lord’s P a s c h a (Greek for “passover”) is celebrated for 50 days so that the 40 days of repentance is surpassed by the days of rejoicing and salvation. The Pentecostarion is the book of these 50 days.
The number 50 is found in the scripture, in the Acts of the Apostles, which tells us that on the 50th day after the Resurrection, “(the disciples) were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2:1-4). Because of this basis in the New Testament, the 50-day feast is more ancient than the 40-day Fast before Pascha.
The period of 50 days is marked by a number of feasts. Three are most important. The feast of Mid-Pentecost comes on the 25th day of the 50-day period. Mid-Pentecost is more than a mathematical indicator of a passage of time. It is really the revelation and manifestation of the reality that Pascha and Pentecost are truly one feast, “God with us.”
Our Lord promised his apostle in the Last Discourse: “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you … when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming” (John 16:7.13). Mid-Pentecost is the celebration of a new reality, that the Lord has not left us orphans, that God is now closer to us than ever before.
It is a feast of the eucharist, of the presence of God. All of this is God’s wisdom, and so the icon of Mid-Pentecost is our Lord teaching in the Temple as a young boy, revealing the wisdom of God to the elders. We sing in joy today: “The midpoint of the feast has arrived; the days which begin with the Resurrection of the Savior and are fulfilled in the divine Feast of Pentecost. Truly it unites both feasts and draws from their double brightness, giving honor to the ascension of the Lord, which prefigures our glory.”
The ascension of our Lord after his resurrection is told in the four gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles. However, only in the Acts of the Apostles is it recorded that it was on the fortieth day (Acts 1:3).
The Ascension gives a deeper dimension to the glorification of our Lord. As St. John records, the lifting up on the Cross was the glory of God, in which his love for the human race was revealed to all. “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again” (John 12:27-28). The glory of his being lifted upon the Cross was sealed and fulfilled by his glory in being lifted up to heaven.
One might ask, “If the resurrection was real, and Christ rose in his glorified human body, why did he not remain to confirm the faith of his followers and to reign over the world. But Jesus had said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). It is for us to fulfill his kingdom by proclaiming and living out his gospel, “Then Jesus approached and said to them: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). His presence in his glorified body would be an obstacle to our perception of the Holy Spirit working in us, “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). The Christian is given a mission in the world, we are not star-gazers, but workers for the kingdom in our world.
“The angels said: ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The ascension is our hope for deification. The Word of God came among us and took on our human nature in all its fullness, except for sin, and in the ascension takes this human nature to glory at the right hand of the Father. Yet for all this, the Lord did not leave us, as he says, “ And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). We receive his risen body and blood in Communion, he speaks to us through the Holy Gospel, and he sanctifies us with the power of his Holy Spirit.
God cannot leave us, for as our Creator, he loves us and brings us to perfection. From this day, therefore, we greet one another, “Christ is among us.” “He is and will be.” Pentecost is the 50th day, “the last and greatest day of the feast.” In the New Testament, this story is told only in the Acts of the Holy Apostles (Acts 2:1-12).
On this day, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in the form “as of fire” and they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3). From this event, some observations can be made: This fulfills the promise made by the risen Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, “And, behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
They were in the upper room, where the Lord revealed his presence in Holy Communion. There were about 120 people present. Perhaps this was a symbolic number, for 10 people were needed for a prayer group, hence, 12 apostles plus 10 people for each apostle. The Spirit comes upon this gathering of communities. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles are transformed from frightened followers to fearless witnesses. Can we accept this witness in our lives without fear?