This is why the Antiochian Archdiocese, and the whole of the Patriarchate in fact, has a no fasting period from Pascha to Ascension. This tradition follows the admonishment of Christ, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as the bridegroom is with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” (Mark 2:19) During these forty days the Church triumphant is here on earth in the presence of Christ and his followers. We celebrate the great joy of having our Lord with us. Nevertheless, He will ascend and we will return to the worlds as the Church militant, struggling to remember the triumph of Christ over death.
This separation has meaning too. Christ does not wish to be parted from us but it is necessary for two reasons. First, as He said, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do no go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7) Christ must ascend that the Holy Spirit may come and continue the work of salvation. Through the Spirit truth is proclaimed unto the whole world and Christ’s words to Thomas, “more blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe” find their fulfillment. The Spirit can only reveal the heart of men after they no longer have the risen Lord standing right in front of them.
Second, Christ also said, “You have heard me say that I am going away and coming back to you…I am going to my Father, for My Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28) In His ascension Christ takes his body, which is the same nature as our body, and presents it to the Father and sits down at the right hand of God with a human body. This act reaffirms humanity’s place in creation. We were created in God’s image and likeness. Through Christ’s actions human nature is once again true to its original purpose. We are glorified in our bodies because Christ has been glorified in His, if we are imitators of Him and His sacrifice. Thus St. Athanasius said, “God became man that man might become like God.” Human nature is deified in the person of Jesus Christ. This great mystery can only happen if Christ ascends and presents Himself, and by extension us, to God the Father in love.