Ascension Icon: Look Upward With Christ
A Life in Christ is Looking Up, being Upward and Upright
The icon illumination of the Ascension, a most popular theme depicted by Armenian painters of icons, shows the Lord going up to heaven in a cloud. Surrounding Him on Mount Olivet, all who were there were gazing and looking upward, watching Him as He vanished out of their sight. They were the eyewitnesses of this continuing chain of post-Resurrection miracles - from His Tomb to Heaven. Both words from the scriptures and this painted illumination-icon, present the Savior as the king seated as on a throne and engulfed in a mandorla/cloud of light, and carried up by the angels into Heaven. From that day until today at every Divine Liturgy/ Soorp Badarak, we also become witness to the Ascension proclaiming in the Nicene Creed: “and [He] ascended into heaven with the same body and sat at the right hand of the Father.”
Below the Ascending Lord, grouped together are the twelve Apostles and the Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary all who personify 'The Earthly Church' which Christ is blessing with his right hand and would soon establish on earth with His Holy Spirit on Pentecost. As she is today in the Church, the Holy Mother, at the center, has her hands also open, in the theologically described gesture of orans /praying for us and showing prayer as the constant action of the Body of Christ. The Church is always looking up - as the Psalmist writes: “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains from where shall my help come. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)
See the Apostles with the Holy Mother gazing upward. The icon portrays "upwardness" as not only a physical direction or position of the body, but also a spiritual condition of the heart, soul and mind. Being upward is living a life toward a higher level; a God-pleasing life. Like those in the icon we should always be in that upward mode, looking up, with faith; anticipating the second coming of Christ and waiting for His return. The two angels standing on each side of the Blessed Mother announce to the Apostles:
“While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11)
The richness of the narrative portrayed in this icon shows Christ the King, on the Day of His Glory, giving us a 'heads up' and telling us to always be vigilant; living an upbeat life, to be positive, hopeful, of upward movement, because our day of going up will come and when it does we must be worthy as well to be taken up by the angels.
We as the Church, living in the Mystery of God's presence may find at times a bit daunting to achieve worthiness in the sight of God, and even difficult to understand perfection, but with hope, every day Christ opens up roadways for us to the entrance of eternity as we remember His words: “I am going to prepare a place for you…and I will return to take you back with me.” (John 14:3)
When our call to Heaven comes, as it will, the Lord will carry us into the blessedness of God Our Father's Holy Presence- opening the way for all who look up and live an upward and God-pleasing lives. Jesus Christ is our hope to inherit the paradise of heaven. There is a place for us all in heaven if and when we follow Him every day of our lives and the Ascension is our road to return home. We CANNOT find heaven unless we enter through Christ, who is the Door.
The Feast of our Lord's Ascension is part of the Good News of HOPE that lies at the heart of our faith in Him.
For Noah after the flood, - It took 40 days and then some for him and his family to enjoy God’s promise of Peace; and being faithful they were saved.
For the Jews, - It took 40 years lost in the wilderness to find their promise land.
Even for the Armenians on Musa-Dagh, - it to took 40 days until salvation from oppression and death arrived. Our hope in the Lord made it happen.
From our Ascension Day Badarak:
Like the angels, we now sing the sacred melody [megheti]
… Today the Only Begotten One, first born from the Father, goes up to heaven in the form of Adam [man]
… O Holy God Jesus, who ascended in the glory of the Father have mercy on us. Amen.