The Ascension

by the Late Very Rev Nicon D Patrinacos

The Acts of the Apostles records the Ascension of Christ in a very simple narrative. "He was lifted up before their eyes in a cloud which took Him from their sight" (1:9). Our Church celebrates this event of Christ's glorification. It celebrates all that Christ has done and accomplished for us. The Kontakion of the Feast summarizes all of Christ's work:

When You fulfilled the plan of salvation for us and united all things on earth to those in heaven, O Christ our God, You ascended in glory, never leaving us but remaining ever-present. For You proclaimed to those who love You, "I am with you and no one else has power over you".

The icon of the Ascension is an icon of joy. It celebrates the meaning of this event for the Church and the world. The Ascension took place on the Mount of Olives. Thus, the mountainous background of the panel, dotted with images of scattered olive tress. The figure of Christ ascending in glory is surrounded by a circular nimbus composed of various bands of colour, symbolic of the heavens. This nimbus itself is supported by angels whose presence is yet another indication of the glory and divinity of Christ. It recalls the Old Testament image of God enthroned upon the Cherubim.

In the foreground of the icon, the image of the Theotokos is seen surrounded by two groups of Apostles. Of prime importance is her position directly below Christ. This entire grouping, the Theotokos and the Apostles, stands as an expression of the establishment and role of the Church. The icon includes not only those who actually witnessed the Ascension; it also includes the Apostle Paul (who historically could not have been there) at the head of the group or to the right. What is intended is that the Church witnesses to this event.

The Theotokos, she whom carried Christ within her and was therefore the temple of the Incarnate Son of God, stands here as personification of the Church, the Body of Christ, whose head is the ascending Saviour. The gesture of her hands, uplifted in faith and prayer, expresses the role of the Church, ceaselessly interceding for the salvation of the world. The direction of movement of this group, their gestures, the focus of their eyes and postures, everything is directed upwards: towards the Source of Life of the Church, its head Who abides in heaven. For:

He led them our near Bethany, and with hands upraised blessed them. As He blessed, He left them, and was taken up to heaven. They fell down to do Him reverence, then returned to Jerusalem filled with joy.
There they were to be found in the temple constantly, speaking the praises of God (Luke 24:50-53).


You ascended in glory, O Christ our God, and delighted the Disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit; through this blessing they were assured that You are the Son of God the Redeemer of the world.

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