It was on the fortieth day after His Resurrection that Christ appeared to His disciples in Jerusalem for the last time. He gave them instructions and then led them from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. So, having told His disciples to go preaching the Gospel worldwide to the ends of the Earth, Christ blessed them and started moving away from the ground and up to heaven, from where He had come and which was now waiting for Him. Angels wrapped Him with a light cloud, and came down to tell His astonished apostles about His return, the second coming, which He had told them would be like “the lightning that comes from the east and shines even unto the west.”
Blessed Jerome testifies that the Mount of Olives was inhabited by hermits who lived in its caves and rifts since the first centuries of Christianity. Holy Queen Helena built a Christian church called Imbomon (Greek for “on the hill”) at the top of the Mount of Olives where the Lord ascended to heaven. The church was completely round, 28 meters in diameter, with three rows of columns. The very top of the dome was not closed so that the worshippers in the temple could constantly see the sky, which hid the Savior. According to the testimony of the pilgrims, the cross crowning the Imbomon was visible from afar, from the Kidron Valley.
The Western European pilgrim Arculf (670) reports, “… there is no place on the whole Mount of Olives above that from which the Lord is said to have ascended to heaven. There is a large round church, around which there are three vaulted porches, covered from above: the inner structure of this church has no roof and no vault and stands in the open air; there is an altar covered with a narrow roof in the eastern part of this structure.”
Etheria described the position of the Mount of Olives and the Imbomon as follows in the description of the Great Thursday service, “They all go to the Mount of Olives, to the church where there is the cave in which the Lord and the Apostles were on that day. From there, at about six o’clock in the morning, they go up chanting hymns to Imbomon, to the place from where the Lord ascended to heaven.”
In addition to the fact that the church was at the site of the Ascension, there was a great relic – the stone on which the foot of the Saviour was imprinted. This is mentioned both by ancient pilgrims and later visitors to the Holy Land.
According to the testimony of Arculf (7th century), the stone was fenced “by a large round wheel, smoothed over, the height of which is up to the neck, and there is a considerable hole in the middle of it, through which the steps of the Lord’s feet are clearly and distinctly imprinted. There is a door constantly open on the west side of this wheel, so that those who enter through it might easily approach the place of holy dust (on the rock), and take the particles of the holy dust by extending their hands through the opening of this wheel.”
The church was destroyed by the Persians in 614, but was soon rebuilt. However, it was restored not in its original shape and not quite in the right place. In subsequent centuries, the temple was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt. Muslims captured Jerusalem in 1187 and covered the central part of the open temple with a dome. The building was finally destroyed in 1517 by Sultan Selim (Suleiman). Only the chapel and the fence remain above the stone. The place belongs to Muslims: the Chapel of the Ascension is in the yard of a Muslim mosque, but it has never been a mosque itself.
As previously mentioned, there is the stone framed in a rectangular marble plate on the ground inside the chapel, opposite the western entrance, with the left human foot clearly imprinted on it. “The similarity here, at least for me, is striking,” Archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin), chief of the Russian Spiritual Mission to the Holy Land in 1865-1894, emphasized. “Daniel saw two more footsteps here (in the 12th century), but Muslims later cut one footstep out of the rock and moved it to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where that footstep remains to this day.” He refers to the testimony of the first Russian pilgrim on the Holy Land, Daniel, known as the “hegumen of the Russian land” who visited the Holy Land in 1106. He dedicated a whole chapter to the Mount of Olives in his Pilgrimage.
The Savior’s footstep faces north, from which the Russian pilgrims concluded that “the Savior ascended to heaven with His face facing north, in the direction of Russia, and thus He blessed Russia while He ascended.”
Today, although the chapel where the stone with the imprint of the Savior’s foot is located belongs to Muslims, any pilgrim can visit this place.