The Ascension

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By: Archbishop Dmitri
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The Ascension

by Archbishop Dmitri

 Holy Scripture contains abundant evidence of the final event in the earthly life of the Saviour, the As­cension. It was foretold in the Old Testament: “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men…” (Psalm 67/68:18). St. Paul -specifically refers this prophecy to Christ’s ascension, and explains the second part of the verse as an allusion to His descent into “the lower parts of the earth,” to free those held in captivity. (Eph. 4:8-10)

The Lord Himself told His disciples before the Passion that He would return to the Father, and that this return would prepare the way for their ascension. “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you. I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (Jn. 14:2,3) And further. He says: “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more…” (v. 19) “Now I go my way to Him that sent me…” (16:5) “I leave the world, and go to the Father.” (16:28) Finally, in the high priestly prayer, He says to the Father: “I come to thee.” (17:11,13)

In two of the Gospels, Mark and Luke, and in the Books of Acts, there are narrations of the event itself. “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” (Mk. 16:19) “And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” (Lk.24:51) “And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” (Acts1:9)

In Matthew, while the ascension itself is not mentioned, it is clearly implied, both by the atmosphere of a last conversation and the promise to be with the disciples until the end of the world. (28:20) In John, while the Lord had made the same promise not to leave the disciples “comfortless” (lit. “orphans“) (14:18), He only makes a reference to His coming again. Yet this indicates His leaving the world. (21:22)

In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, we find this: “Being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand…” (Acts 2:33,34)

Neither is there any lack of reference to the event and its significance in the Epistles. For example, in Ephesians, Paul, speaking of the power of God, says: “…the working of His mighty power, which wrought in Christ, when he raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places.” (1:19,20)

In Hebrews, the Apostle makes a point of the fact that it is as High Priest and Intercessor for us that Christ has entered into heaven. “After He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, [He] sat down on the right hand of God.”  (10:12) “[He is entered] into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” (9:24)

The Fathers of the Church make many references to the Ascension, and testify to the Church’s belief in every century in the literal departure in glory from the world, as recorded in Mark and Luke. For example, St. Cyril of Jerusalem says: ” But when Jesus had finished His course of patient endurance, and had redeemed mankind from their sins, He ascended again into the heavens, a cloud receiving Him up: and as He went up Angels were beside Him, and Apostles were behold­ing … He has ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives on the East. For having gone down hence into Hades, and come up again to us, He ascended again from us into heaven, His Father addressing Him, and saying, Sit thou on My right hand, until I make thine enemies Thy footstool, Psalm 109 (/110): 1.” (Cateche­tical Lectures, IV, 13,14)

St. Gregory the Theologian makes a point of the fact that Christ was true man in His Ascension. (Oration xii, On Pentecost)

It would be worthwhile to quote from other Fathers. They, too, relate the event itself and its significance quite consistently. Yet, the liturgical texts and the scriptural lessons prescribed for the Feast reveal per­haps with greater clarity the place the Ascension has in the Church’s understanding of the work of Christ.

In the second Old Testament reading at Vespers, we find: “Behold the Lord hath made it to be heard in the ends of the earth, tell the daughter of Zion: Behold thy Saviour cometh: behold His reward is with Him, and His work before Him … Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra … I, that speak justice, and am a defender to save. Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread in the winepress? … in His love, and in His mercy He redeemed them [of the house of Israel]; and He carried them, and lifted them up …” (Is. 62:10-12; 63:1-3,7-9 [LXX])

Here we see prophesied the Saviour’s return to the Father after having accomplished His work of redemption, the crucifixion with the shedding of His blood, and His preparing in the Ascension the entry of all into the Kingdom of heaven.

Christ, the Son. who is eternally with the Father, enters into heaven taking His glorified human nature with Him. “The angels wonder as they see a man more exalted than they. The Father receiveth into His bosom Him who is eternally with Him…” ( First Sticheron on Lord, I have called, at Vespers)

“From the Fatherly bosom thou wast inseparable, O sweet Jesus, and on earth thou didst behave like a man. Thou hast ascended in glory from the Mount of Olives; and by thy pity thou didst raise our fallen nature and seat it with the Father … “(Glory… Now… on Lord, I have called, at Vespers)

The Saviour ascended in glory from the Mount of Olives to fill all things with His glory and to send the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. “Thou didst ascend in glory from the Mount of Olives, 0 Christ God, at thy disciples’ side, and didst sit down at the right hand of the Father, O thou who dost fill all with thy Divinity, sending to them thy Holy Spirit, the Illuminator, Strength­ener, and Sanctifier of our souls.” (Third Sticheron. of the Aposticha, Vespers)

The human nature that the Lord took to heaven was glorified or deified, pointing to the deification of those who will be saved in Christ. “The eternal Word before all the ages, who took a human nature and deified it in a mystical way, today doth rise ascending…” (Second Kathisma, Matins)

In the Ascension, our Lord Jesus Christ reconciled what had been separated by man’s sin, our human bodies with the celestial. “…Having united things on earth with those in heaven, thou didst ascend…” (Kontakion of the Feast) “O Christ, thou didst take upon thy shoulders the nature that had gone astray and didst present it to God the Father…” (Troparion in the Seventh Ode, Matins) “Our nature, fallen of old, has been elevated above the angels, and it is seated upon the divine Throne, in a way that passeth all understanding”. (Troparion in the Eighth Ode, Matins)

The Ascension completes the work of the Son inau­gurated by His incarnation: having taken upon Himself our fallen human nature, “[He] took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men …He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name.” (Phil. 2:7-9)


From The Doctrine Of Christ, A LAYMAN’S HANDBOOK By  Archbishop Dmitri