THE ASCENSION

          When Mary Magdalene stood weeping beside the empty tomb, she showed, as St. John Chrysostom says, the enduring love which she felt for Jesus.  Her patience was rewarded.  She was the first to see Him risen from the dead.  She knew Him only when He said her name.  Jesus told Mary to go to the disciples and say:

           “I am ascending to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God” (John 20:17).

           Jesus appeared to the disciples on a number of occasions before He took them out to the Mount of Olives where He blessed them and commanded them to be His witnesses, first in Jerusalem, then, in “all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

           Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of their sight.  The two men in white robes told the disciples not to keep gazing up into heaven, after the Jesus they loved, because Jesus would return in the same way as they had seen Him leave.

           The Ascension was the final Resurrection appearance to the Disciples and Mary, the Mother of God, and it marked a new beginning in all their lives.  The Disciples went back to Jerusalem “with great joy” and “devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary, the Mother of Jesus.”

           The Disciples elected Matthias to bring their number up to twelve again.  They were waiting, as Jesus had told them to; they were waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus had told the Disciples that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would not come until He ascended to His Father (John 16:7).

 Jesus left us with many promises, three of which are associated with the Feast of the Ascension:

          1.   Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit.

          2.   Jesus promises to remain with us even to the end of time.

          3.   Jesus promises to return in glory at the second coming.

 For Jesus is our forerunner into heaven, He takes our human nature into the Godhead, in His steadfast love.

 


DID YOU KNOW?

 Christ’s Second Coming is also known as Parousia or the Eschatological Times.

 An icon of Mary praying with her arms outstretched as in the icon of the Ascension is called the Oranta.

 Ascension is 40 days after Easter.

 The waiting period between Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit is 10 days.

 


THE ICON

 

 

           A bright cloud accompanies each Theophany or divine appearance.  At the Ascension, Christ disappears in the cloud and the angels tell the apostles that He will return the same way for His Second Coming.

           The cloud is a Mandorla.  It consists of concentric circles that become darker and darker as they get closer to Christ.  This shows the reality that the closer one gets to Mystery, the less one really understands.

           From the cloud, Christ blesses the Apostles and Mary.  Even though He is Ascending to heaven, His blessing remains with us forever.  In His left hand, He holds a scroll which represents His teachings.

         Mary is in the centre of the Apostles.  Her hands are raised in prayer in the ancient form called ‘orans’.  This gesture indicates Mary’s role as intercessor on our behalf before her Son.  A straight line from the Ascended Christ to Mary can be drawn to connect heaven with earth.

          The group of Apostles with Mary, the Mother of God, represents the Church.  St. Paul appears with the Apostles although he would not have been present.  This shows that the Church of the future also participates in this event.

          The hills in the background, the movement of the Angels, Mary’s hands raised in prayer and the Apostles looking up give the icon the upward movement of the feast day.

 


  

           BLESSED VIRGIN MARY – “ORANTA”  In the sanctuary of St. Sophia Church in Kyiv there is an outstanding mosaic, an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary called the “Oranta”, the Praying Madonna.  It is the most beautiful mosaic of all the mosaics in St. Sophia.  The royal robe of Mary symbolizes the Church of Christ.  She prays with extended hands for the well-being of the people, particularly for the family of the Ktitor (founder) of this splendid temple, Prince Yaroslaw the Wise.  Above the head the inscription in Greek reads: “God is in the midst thereof, she shall not be moved. God helps her day by day.”

          This inscription relates very closely to the “Oranta” because Prince Yaroslaw the Wise, during the consecration of the “Golden Gate” and the Church of the Annunciation beside this Gate built in 1037, solemnly dedicated the whole Ukrainian nation under the protection of the Blessed Mother of God and at the same time proclaiming her as the Queen of the Ukrainian people.

          This icon is also called “The Immovable Wall” because the Mother of God “Oranta” survived fires and destruction throughout the centuries and remained undamaged on the wall of St. Sophia to this day. And for this reason there is a popular belief amongst the Ukrainian people that just as the magnificent icon “Oranta” withstood all attempts of destruction, it will continue to remain untouched until our people will once again see that glorious era as existed at the time it was placed in the sanctuary wall of St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv.