Orthodox Byzantine Chants
Holy Mount Athos
The image of Christ’s Ascension is majestic. The disciples remained stunned by amazement and watched joyfully and with bewilderment the Ascension of the Lord into heaven.
Saint evangelist Luke writes in this respect: And after he said this he was taken up before their very eyes… and they were intently looking up into the sky, as He was going… (Acts 1,9-10).
According to the words of saint Athanasios the Great, the disciples did not see Christ ascending to heaven, but looked all the time carefully, which means that „they gazed continuously upwards, towards Christ”. Therefore it was a continuous focus of their look. We could say that they stood pinned to the place and watched Christ who was ascending to heaven.
Above the feeling of magnificence of the image with Christ who was ascending to heaven, this focused look has also the meaning that those who are true Christians have permanently the eye of their soul, namely their thought – turned to the sky.
In this context we must analyze the urge ”let us lift up our hearts”, said by the priest or ”let us lift up our mind and hearts”, from the holy liturgy of Jacob, brother of the Lord. These words are relevant because, as Saint Apostle Paul says, our homeland is not on earth, but in heaven. Our citadel is in heaven, from where we wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philip 3, 20). On another occasion Saint Paul recommends:
”Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Col. 3,2). This focus of the sight towards Christ and the elevation of the mind up to Him is in connection with the hesychia of the mind, namely with the hesychast life, which means the detachment of the mind of any wordly desire and its reference only to Christ. Of course in accordance with the hesychast and neptic theology, this means the return of the mind in the heart, through Christ; in this way, the thought ascends to God. Therefore it is not a deflection of the natural course of the mind, but a purification and an enlightment of it.
While the disciples were looking into the skies, the Angels, about whose participation at the Ascension we will discuss below, said that in the same way Christ ascended to heaven, he will descend: This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven. (Acts 1,11). This means that, though they did not see Christ anymore, the disciple remained with their look focused to heaven, in ecstasy and bewilderment.
Analyzing more carefully these angelic words, saint Athanasios the Great says that actually the Angels revealed to the disciples that Christ remains God-Man for ever and He will come back with His Body, because he did not take flesh from The Holy Mother of God only for using it, but for remaining for ever in creation. He did not incarnate only for a while, but for ever. Christ remains God-Man for ever.
The word of the Archangel refers at the Second Coming of Christ in His glory to judge the living and the dead. Referring at His Second Coming, Christ Himself said: ”When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him…” (Matthew 25. 31). Actually, the teaching of Saint Apostle Paul relating to the fact that the saints would be taken and lifted up for welcoming Christ, Who will come with plenty of glory refers exactly at this coming. That’s why in the Creed we confess:
”And He shall come again with glory”.
The words used by the Angels for referring at the Second Coming of Christ are found in the Old Testament as well, in the form of a prophecy.
The prophet Daniel says: ”In my vision at night I looked and there, before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heanven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.” (Daniel 7, 13). At this coming refer as well Christ’s words: ”and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. (Matthew 24,30).
From the moment of Christ’s Ascension till that of His Second Coming there is no empty space, for between these two moments exists the Church, through which we become members of Christ’s Body and through which we are in communion with Him.
Those who are an organic part of the Church and true members of Christ’s body, will be able to live, according to the level they reached, both Christ’s Ascension and the glory of His Coming.