The Leavetaking (Apodosis) of Pascha

The Leavetaking of Pascha is observed on Wednesday of the sixth week after Pascha. On this day, the forty-day celebration of the Bright Resurrection of Christ comes to an end, and for the last time, we greet each other with the words of Paschal joy: “Christ is Risen!” We then prepare to celebrate the upcoming feast of the Ascension of the Lord.

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The Leavetaking of Pascha: History

The “Leavetaking”, or Apodosis of a feast refers to the final day of the post-celebration period for major or Great Feasts, which has its distinctive features in the liturgical services. From church history, it is known that the leavetaking of the most significant Christian feasts, such as Pascha (Easter), Nativity, and Pentecost, began to be observed as early as the fourth century. Later, the established liturgical order was adopted in its current form. The post-celebration period of Pascha is the longest among all the Great Feasts, lasting for forty days. This is because, according to Church Tradition, the Lord, after His Resurrection from the dead, remained on earth for these forty days and appeared repeatedly to His Most Pure Mother, as well as to His holy disciples and apostles.

The Appearances of the Risen Jesus During the Forty Days After Pascha

The day of the Leavetaking of Pascha was the last day of Jesus Christ’s life on earth when the Risen Lord appeared to His disciples to impart His final words about the Kingdom of Heaven. Accounts of the appearances of the Risen Lord during the forty-day period from Pascha to the Ascension are found in all four Gospels:

“According to John, Jesus first appeared to His disciples on the very day of the Resurrection when the doors were shut; then eight days later, when Thomas also came to believe. After that, as they were planning to go to Galilee and had not yet all gathered together, but some were fishing on the Sea of Tiberias, the Lord appeared to the seven who were fishing. What Matthew describes happened later, exactly when the earlier events narrated by John occurred, for He often appeared to them during the forty days, sometimes coming and then going again, not always and not everywhere being present with them.”1

Appearance of Christ to the Apostles on the Sea of Tiberias. Fresco, Holy Transfiguration Cathedral, Mirozh Monastery, Pskov. 12 c. Appearance of Christ to the Apostles on the Sea of Tiberias. Fresco, Holy Transfiguration Cathedral, Mirozh Monastery, Pskov. 12 c.     

The Leavetaking of Pascha: History

Saint John the Theologian writes in great detail about this event. The twenty-first and final chapter of his Gospel is entirely devoted to describing the third appearance of the Savior, which took place at the Sea of Tiberias. On this occasion, the Lord not only appeared before His disciples but also shared a meal with them. Though after His Resurrection He no longer needed physical sustenance, He did this to provide greater assurance and to show that He had risen in the same body in which He had suffered on the cross. During this event, one of the most significant moments in the history of the emerging Christian Church occurred, as He entrusted the care of the Church to the holy apostle Peter:

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me (John 21:15–19).

“Since the meal had a purpose, Jesus entrusted Peter with the care of the sheep of the whole world, assigning this responsibility to him, first because he was chosen among all and was the mouthpiece of the entire apostolic company. Also, to show that Peter should have boldness, as his denial of Christ had been forgiven. Jesus did not remind him of his denial or reproach him for it but said: If you love Me, take care of your brothers and now prove that fervent love for Me, which you once proclaimed, saying you were ready to die for Me. He asked him three times, partly to show that He cares so deeply for the believers and loves His sheep so much that caring for them is a sign of love for Him; and partly, through the threefold questioning and confession, He healed Peter’s threefold denial, correcting his fall with a word, for the fall had been with words.

“From this event arose the custom of asking for a threefold confession from those who wish to be baptized.

“After the first and second questions, Peter called upon Jesus Himself as a witness, who knows all hearts; he no longer relied on himself or answered hastily, but each time added: ‘You know.’ When Peter was asked for the third time, he was troubled, doubting whether he truly loved as he thought, because previously he had thought much of himself and his strength, but the outcome had disproved him. Now he feared the same mistake. Hence, he answered with reverence, saying, ‘Lord, You know everything,’ the present and the future; You know that I love You now, as it seems to me; but whether my love will endure, that You know, not I. The Lord, having spoken to Peter about his love for Him, foretold him of the suffering he would endure. He said this to show that if He asked about his love, it was not out of distrust but out of confidence that he loved, for how could someone who would even suffer for Him not love Him? He asked to reveal Peter’s own love more clearly and to teach others that if we wish to love Him, we must show this love by caring for our brothers.

“By ‘lambs,’ perhaps He means those who are just beginning, and by ‘sheep,’ those who are more mature. Thus, whoever loves Christ must care for both lambs and sheep, must ‘feed’ the lambs, that is, watch over them with simple care, and ‘shepherd’ the sheep, which implies higher guidance. Sometimes, however, even the most mature need tender care, and the shepherds must feed them. ‘Shepherding’ indicates stricter oversight, while ‘feeding’ suggests gentler care. What then shall we render to the Lord, who loved us so much that He made care for His sheep the sign of love for Himself?”2

The next appearance of the Risen Lord, according to the interpretation of the blessed Theophylact of Bulgaria, is described by Saint Matthew the Evangelist. Jesus commanded His eleven apostles to gather in Galilee and instructed them to embark on a worldwide mission. Here, the Savior gives a solemn promise of His continuous presence among Christians: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Amen” (Matt. 28:20).

Encouraging His disciples (since He was sending them among the Gentiles to face dangers and sacrifices), He said: do not fear, for I will be with you until the end of the age. Observe also how He reminded them of the end, to urge them to disregard dangers even more. Do not fear, He says, for everything will have an end, whether it be worldly sorrow or prosperity; therefore, do not fall away in sorrows, for they pass away, nor be seduced by blessings, for they will come to an end. However, this promise that He would be with them until the end of the world did not apply only to the apostles, but to all His disciples in general, for surely the apostles did not live until the end of the world. Thus, this promise applies to us and those who will come after us—but not in such a way that He will be with us only until the end and then depart. No! Rather, then He will especially be with us, in a clearer and more manifest way, for wherever the word ‘until’ is used in Scripture, it does not exclude what follows”3

Christ’s Appearance to the Apostles on the Galilean Mountain. Dečani Monastery, 14th Century, Serbia Christ’s Appearance to the Apostles on the Galilean Mountain. Dečani Monastery, 14th Century, Serbia     

The Evangelists Mark and Luke recount the final conversation with the disciples, just before the Ascension. St. Mark records the farewell words and commandments given by the Savior to the apostles:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen (Mark 16:15-20)

Apostolic Preaching. Circa 1668, Veliky Ustyug Apostolic Preaching. Circa 1668, Veliky Ustyug   

“Notice the Lord’s command: “Preach to all creation.” He did not say, “only to the obedient,” but “to all creation,” whether they listen or not. “Whoever believes.” It is not enough to merely believe, but also to “be baptized.” For whoever believes but is not baptized remains only a catechumen and thus will not be saved. “These signs,” He says, “will accompany those who believe”—driving out demons, speaking in new tongues, and handling snakes—both literal and metaphorical, as He mentioned elsewhere: I give you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions (Luke 10:19), clearly referring to metaphorical ones. However, the phrase “pick up snakes” can also be understood literally; for example, Paul took a snake in his hand without suffering any harm (see Acts 28:3–5). “And when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them.” This happened many times, as we find in stories where people drank poison and, by the power of the sign of the cross, remained unharmed. After speaking with them, the Lord was taken up into heaven and sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His word by the signs that accompanied it…. Do you see? Our action precedes God’s cooperation. God assists us when we take action and make a start, but when we do not act, He does not assist. Observe too that deeds follow words, and the word is confirmed by deeds, as with the apostles, whose subsequent deeds and signs affirmed their message. O Christ the Word, may our words about virtue also be confirmed by our actions and deeds so that we may stand perfect before You, who assist us in all our deeds and words. For to You belongs glory in both our words and deeds. Amen.4

The Leavetaking of Pascha. Divine Services

The church service for the Leavetaking of Pascha is conducted with special solemnity. On this day, three liturgical services are combined: the Paschal service, the service for the Sunday of the Blind Man, and the Forefeast of the Ascension of the Lord. The Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours, as well as the antiphons at the Liturgy, are sung in the Paschal manner. The day is a fasting day, but the Triodion prescribes that there be a “consolation for the brethren” at the meal: “We eat oil, and fish, and drink wine, giving thanks to God.” Thus, the faithful bid farewell to the Paschal hymns until the next year and transition (except for reading the prayer “O Heavenly King”) to the ordinary annual liturgical rule for prayers.

The days following Pascha have their own relaxation concerning the Wednesday and Friday fasts and release the faithful from full prostrations. These are days of spiritual joy when, following our Savior, we turn our hearts towards the Future, Everlasting Pascha, where we will receive eternal comfort and rest if we are found worthy.

The church hymns for this period mainly speak of this same theme. “Shine, shine, O new Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon Thee. Now dance for joy and be glad, O Zion. And thou, O pure Mother of God, rejoice in the Rising of thy Son,” the post-Paschal Exapostilarion composed by St. John of Damascus, which we read daily in church and home prayers, always elevates our thoughts to the new world and the Heavenly Jerusalem. St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, in his interpretive commentary on the Paschal canon, elaborates on the spiritual meaning of this well-known, exalted prayer:

“The God-inspired poet heard the prophet Isaiah say: Thou wilt draw water from the wells of salvation’ (Isa. 12:3) (where the wells of salvation are understood to be the Divine Scriptures, according to the interpreters), and so he himself has borrowed many thoughts from the Divine Scriptures and watered the spiritual gardens of his hymnal canons with them. Now he draws from the same prophet the phrase: ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’ (Isa. 60:1), and he turns this into the present irmos, slightly altering the phrase and saying: ‘Shine, shine, O new Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon thee.’ The poet repeats this word ‘shine’ twice, firstly to confirm the enlightenment and secondly from an excess of joy, as it is customary for both those affirming something and those rejoicing exceedingly to repeat the same word, as the great Gregory also said: ‘Renewal, renewal, is our feast, brothers; let this be repeated with pleasure!’ (Oration for New Sunday). So, shine, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon you; and the glory of the Lord, according to Theodore, is the Cross of Christ, for Scripture says: ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified’ (John 13:31); or, according to Gregory the Theologian, it is the Divinity of Christ, which Paul also confirms: ‘The Father of glory’ (Eph. 1:17), meaning Divinity; or, according to others, the glory of the Lord is the Divine light and radiance of His face, as it is said: ‘And the glory of the Lord shone around them’ (Luke 2:9), for these three have shone upon you, O Church of the Gentiles.

“To show that the Jews, seeing, do not see, as Isaiah prophesied, while the people sitting in darkness (that is, the Gentiles) saw a great light of divine knowledge, for among those very Jews the Sun of Righteousness, Christ, was hidden because of their unbelief. For, having been killed by them, He was hidden and ruled in the depths of the grave and Hades, while among us the Gentiles who have believed, He shone forth, for we recognized the rising of His Divinity and were illuminated by the light of piety and virtue. The poet commands the new Zion to dance spiritually and rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ the Bridegroom, for Christ’s joy and exultation are also ours. Then he turns his word to the Theotokos, not idly or in passing, but to show that this irmos belongs to the ninth ode, the hymnographer, origin, and creator of which is the Lady Theotokos. Therefore, he says to her: ‘And thou, O Theotokos, rejoice and be glad in the Resurrection of your Son. For as before your heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow because of the suffering and death of your Son, according to Simeon’s prophecy, so now it is meet for you to rejoice and be glad first, more than all others, for the Resurrection of your Son, as you prophesied in your song, saying: My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior (Luke 1:47).”

Translation by

Russkaya Vera


1 Blessed Theophylact of Bulgaria, Commentary on the Gospel.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

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