The Divine Ascension

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Having mounted upon heaven's clouds, O Christ, Thou didst leave peace unto those upon the earth; and Thou didst ascend and sit at the Father's right hand on high, since Thou art one in essence with Him and the Spirit, Lord; for though Thou hadst appeared in the flesh, Thou hadst never changed. Wherefore Thou now waitest till the last consummation, when Thou shalt return to judge all of mankind upon the earth. O Thou Most Righteous Judge and Lord, since Thou art a Most Merciful God, do Thou spare our souls and do Thou grant to us, Thy lowly servants, the pardon of our failings and our sins.


By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

The Lord's events are not separate from one another, nor are they rationalized. All the feasts of the Lord are saving events of the Divine Economy, for it was by them that Christ arranged the salvation of the human race. Christ became man, He taught, He suffered, He was Resurrected and Ascended into heaven. There is a remarkable oneness among them. The Ascension is the last feast of the Lord, it is the end of the Annunciation and the Nativity.

Yet in the holy Fathers there is a slight parallel, by economy, among the feasts. We say by economy, because if Christ had not become Incarnate, the Resurrection and the Ascension would not have taken place. And if He had not risen from the dead, the Incarnation would have appeared to be in vain.

Saint Epiphanios, Bishop of Cyprus, analyzing the greatness and the value of the feast of the Ascension, says that many people who do not know the greatness of this feast regard it as lower than the others. However, just as the head is the jewel of the body, so also the feast of the Ascension is an embellishment of all the feasts. It is the fullness of all the feasts of the Lord. A first feast is the awe-inspiring and wonderful Nativity of Christ in the flesh. Second is the feast of the Theophany, which has a greater vision of God than the first. The third feast is the Resurrection, which was shown to be more glorious than the preceding ones, because death was conquered, but even this did not have the fullness of joy, because Christ was still on earth. However, the feast of the Ascension filled the world with rejoicing, because when Christ opened the heavens, He showed us an extraordinary sight, "our flesh lifted up on the kingly throne" at the right hand of God the Father. So the value of the Ascension is in the fact that the human flesh which was deified by its union with the Divine Nature of the Logos (Word), is seated on the kingly throne, at the right hand of God the Father.

By His Incarnation Christ deified human nature, but men did not have much knowledge of the greatness of His glory, and that is why they misunderstood Him, slandered Him and finally crucified Him. But when Christ Ascended into heaven, then men gained perfect knowledge of Christ. Thus the Incarnation, with the Ascension which followed, filled the world with the knowledge of God (Saint Diadochos of Photike).

But Saint Athanasios the Great, referring to the two feasts of the Lord, those of the Resurrection grants to men the prize of victory over death, while Christ's Ascension lifts man up to heaven, and since it changes man's way of life on earth, it makes heaven accessible to him. Therefore victory over death is one thing and another is the ascent of human nature to the Throne of God. This is precisely why through this event one can see the superiority of the Ascension, or to express it better, the perfection and fullness of the Divine Economy.

Saint Gregory Palamas says that the Resurrection is connected with all men, but the Ascension only with the Saints. This is said from the point of view that by His Resurrection Christ conquered death and gave the gift of Resurrection to all. All will be resurrected on the day of Christ's Second Coming, both the righteous and sinners, but not all will be taken up. Only the righteous, the deified will be found worthy of this great experience. The Apostle Paul confesses: "And those who have died in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thes.4:16-17).

Thus all will be resurrected, but only the righteous will be taken up, will be caught up in the clouds to meet Christ coming from Heaven. This shows a greater communion and unity with Him. That is why, from the soteriological point of view, the Ascension is regarded as a greater feast, precisely because he who has a share in the Ascension has a share in deification (theosis).

By the feast of the Ascension we are celebrating the enthronement of our nature in heaven. By the Resurrection and Ascension of human nature we are at the same time also celebrating the beginning of the resurrection and ascension of every believer. Therefore, when a person takes part in Christ's Ascension, he is no longer a man of the earth, like the first man, but a man of heaven, like the second man, Christ (Saint Gregory Palamas).

The icon of Christ's Ascension is splendid. The Disciples were astonished and watched with joy and wonder as He ascended into heaven. Saint Luke reports; "Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up...and while they looked steadfastly towards heaven as He went up..." (Acts 1:9-10).

According to Saint Athanasius the Great, the Disciples did not see Him when He ascended to Heaven, but were gazing steadfastly, which means that "the intent eye was fixed in the direction of the all-seeing eye." It is essentially a matter of a continuous gaze. Their gaze was riveted, we would say, on Christ, Who had been received into heaven.

While the Disciples had their gaze fixed on heaven, the Angels said that just as Christ comes up to heaven, so also He will come down: "who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). This means that the Disciples, also at the time when they did not see Christ, were fixed on heaven in ecstasy and amazement.

Saint John Chrysostom says that the two Angels appeared and spoke to the Disciples for two basic reasons. First, to comfort the Disciples grieving at the separation. Also the fact that Christ said that he would come again belongs to the same perspective. Secondly, to teach that Christ had ascended to Heaven, and this because the space of the sky is the highest and the eyes of the Disciples could not penetrate it and see where He is re-established. Furthermore, so that the Disciples would not think that He had gone up "as if to heaven" like the Prophet Elijah, but "into heaven".

At His Ascension Christ had the wounds of the Cross on His Body and He is on the Throne of the Father with these. Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite collected Patristic passages in which one can see why Christ after His Resurrection left on His Body the wounds made by the nails and the spear, while He could have healed them. He gave five reasons. First, to adorn and beautify His Body. Just as the windows in houses are a decoration, because they transmit the light of the sun, so it is too with the Body of Christ (St. Gregory Palamas). Second, He left the wounds open for Thomas to feel them and to theologize about the Resurrection, to confess that He is God and man. Third, to show the great love which He has for man, because He suffered and in fact boasts about these marks of the Cross. Fourth, He left the holes open so that we may take shelter in them in time of trial and be covered, just as the pigeon runs to its nest when it is pursued by a hawk. Fifth, He left the wounds for the Jews to see and recognize on the day of Judgment. In the Book of Revelation it says characteristically: "Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him" (Rev. 1:7).

Every person when he leaves this world is accustomed, on the one hand, to give advice to the persons he loves, and on the other hand, to give his blessing. This is just what we see in Christ as well. He gave them a clear promise and commandment, but He also blessed them.

Among other things He said: "I am going to send you what My Father has promised: but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high" (St. Luke 24:49). We find the same information in the Acts of the Apostles: "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). He also gave them a Commandment: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised" (Acts 1:4).

From these things it seems clear that they received the commandment to return to Jerusalem after His Ascension, and not to leave it until they should receive the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. When they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, they should preach to all the world and be His witnesses.

(To be continued)

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George