The elevation of Christ into heaven from the Mount of Olives in the presence of His followers took place on the fortieth day after His Resurrection. It is recorded in Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, and in Acts 1:4-12. The occasion celebrates the completion of Christ's earthly ministry, the pledge and guarantee of our eventual glorification with Christ in eternity, and His existence in heaven with a real and continual, yet completely glorified, human nature.
In the Fourth Century, St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, built the first church at the summit of Mt. Olivet to commemorate the Ascension of Christ.
This church was destroyed by the Persians in A.D. 614, rebuilt in the Eighth Century, destroyed again by the Saracens, then rebuilt a second time by the crusaders after they occupied Jerusalem at the end of the First Crusade. The Muslim army under Saladin destroyed this church in A.D. 1189, leaving only an octagonal structure, still standing today, which encloses a stone said to bear the imprint of the feet of Christ as He left the ground.
The descriptions of the Gospel writers as they describe the Ascension are a true account of what transpired. At the same time, they should not be interpreted to teach that heaven is to be located directly above the earth; no more than the words "sits on the right hand of God" mean that this is Christ's physical location at all times. As Jesus disappeared from the sight of His followers, He simply rose off the ground and was soon hidden by a cloud. Angles then told those who had been watching Him that He would return in a similar manner - that is, in the sky and from out of clouds.
The observance of this Feast Day in the Christian Church can be traced back to the days of the Apostles themselves. St. Augustine writes that it was begun by the Apostles, and he speaks of it in a way that shows it was the universal observance of the Church long before his time, in both the Eastern and Western Church.
Frequent mention of this celebration is also found in the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in the Constitution of the Apostles. It is one of the Feasts ranking as equal with the Feasts of the Passion, the Resurrection, and of Pentecost among Roman, Eastern Orthodox, and liturgical Protestant churches.
A very ancient tradition in all these churches is the extinction of the paschal candle and its removal from the Chancel area after the reading of the Gospel.