Ascension of Jesus Christ: spiritual symbol and national ritual

 May 29, the Armenian Holy Apostolic Church celebrated the Ascension of Jesus Christ.

After his tortures, Christ appeared alive in front of his disciples and spoke of the Kingdom of God. One day, while eating with them, he asked them not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for the Lord’s pledge, which, he said “you heard from me. John was baptized with water, but you will soon be baptized by the Holy Spirit.”

Approaching him, they asked, “Lord, will you reinstate the Kingdom of Israel now?” In response, Jesus said: “You are not to know the hours and time that the Lord established his power, but when the Holy Spirit comes down , you will become strong and be my witnesses in Jerusalem, the Jewish land, Samaria and across the globe.”

When he said these words and while they watched him, he rose to the heavens and the cloud covered him. While they were looking at him go to heaven, two people in white uniforms appeared and said: “You Galillians, why are you looking up to the heavens? The Jesus that rose to the heavens will come in the same way that he did as he went to the heavens.”
(Acts of Apostles, ch. A, 3-11)

This episode from evangelist Luke’s “Acts of Apostles” presents the Ascension of Jesus Christ, which took place on the Thursday of the 6th week after His Glorious Resurrection, that is, the 40th day after the Savior’s Resurrection. As far as the shift of Easter is concerned.

“Ascension” means a rise. The Ascension is the remembrance of Jesus’s body rising to the heavens and his seat next to his Father.

The Armenian Holy Apostolic Church has always held a grand celebration of the Savior’s Ascension, which concludes the period of Christ’s dominance and history in the Bible.
The Savior’s appearance to His disciples, mother, women and others for 40 days before Ascension, his undoubted presence made the apostles affirm that the cross and the darkness of death were followed by the eternal light of bright days to come. However, with His Ascension, Christ didn’t leave his disciples, but left for the Holy Spirit to come and endow them heavenly grace. He ascended to connect heaven and earth, make human nature divine and glorious and had said: “When I arise from the land, I will pull all of your toward me.”

He rose to the heavens and joined his Father without leaving his beloved disciples and all those who loved and believed in Him.

The Savior’s last words to the apostles at the peak of Mount Dziten were very touching. They would speak those words to the world through much martyrdom, fire and bloodshed. “I leave you to join you eternally. I leave you the truth as your leader.” And in the end, “I will be with you every day until the end of the world…”

The Ascension of the Lord was also preparation for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Christ rose to the heavens from where he had come down with His divine power to save the guilty and free them from the chains of death. For us Christians it is an absolute truth that even though the Lord became separate from us in body, he is always with us in soul and those who fulfill His will are under his highest patronage.

Since ancient times, Ascension Day has been one of the Armenian nation’s most beloved holidays with its rich rituals and national customs. The people also called the celebration “Lot”. On that day, girls dressed in vivid colors, especially red and green, organized strolls and lots at places decorated with flowers. In some colonies of Armenia, Ascension Day was also called “Jan Gyulumi” day because the lines for the lot ended with “Jan Gyulum”. Jan Gyulum is the glorification of the flower, primarily the rose and, according to Archbishop Artak Manukyan, has made some suppose that the Lot of Ascension, collecting leafs and flowers is a custom that has remained since the Vardavar celebration.

That day was also called “flower appraisal”. Unfortunately, nowadays the “Lot of Ascension”, “Jan Gyulum” and “flower appraisal” have been forgotten and the only thing left is the custom of strolling for schoolchildren and some representatives of the nation. However, there was a time when the “Jan Gyulum” of Ascension was a grand celebration that was considered a holiday that only referred to ladies.

The day before the celebration (Wednesday), ladies would bring vivid flowers from fields and gardens and tie bouquets of which the largest was cross-shaped and called “Tsakhkamer” (Flower Mother). Then, they would pour water into a pot and each girl would throw any item, keep it with the flowers and make sure the boys didn’t steal them. The next day, on Ascension Day, they would all sit together, place the flower bouquets next to the pot and start the lottery. They would sing the verses of a folk song and one of the lines would end with “Jan Gyulum, Jan, Jan” and the other line was “Jan Tsaghik (Flower), Jan, Jan”. After singing each verse, they would take each item out of the pot with the hand of a child whose face was covered with a veil. The content of the song or the four lines would determine the good or bad lot of the person whose item was taken out. This ceremony was called “Tsaghik Govel” (Flower Appraisal). It was this national custom that the great Hovhannes Tumanyan beautifully portrayed in his poem entitled “Anush”.
After distributing all the flowers, the “Tsakhkamer” (Flower Mother) would donate the cross-shaped flower in the middle to the church.

The folk songs and the four lines were unique fortune-telling for the ladies’ future, “determined” their luck and fate, wishes and expectations that were either good or bad under the impression.
On Ascension Day, many Armenians visit Tsakhkavank where they organize a grand celebration for “Jan Gyulum”. Tsakhkavank is located at the plateau of Mount Ara where, according to tradition, Virgin Varvare’s cemetery.

In the last years, fortunately, not only did people not forget about that beautiful tradition, but also continue to reinforce it. Throughout the week of the Lord’s Ascension Day, especially on Ascension Day, larger groups head toward the Tsakhkavank cathedral of the Virgin Varvare located on Mount Ara.

Hayk Karapetyan

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