God Has Gone Up with a Shout

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

Ephesians 4:4-10

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Tomorrow marks the feast of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, 40 days after His resurrection. The icon of the feast notes the mystery of the event by placing Christ within a circle, known as a Mandorla, the traditional way to denote that something is beyond or normal vision or understanding. The Scriptures say that among the disciples who were present at His ascension, there were some “who doubted.”

It is a remarkable statement for those who presume an “objective” character to all forms of true knowledge. Obviously, the authors of Scripture did not share such a presumption.

Christ’s Ascension affirms that He has carried our humanity into the highest heaven and that it is seated “at the right hand of the Father.” It is a promise of a fullness to come and of the fullness which is made known to us, even now, in Christ Jesus.

The traditional greeting on the feast, taken from the Psalms: “God has gone up with a shout; the Lord with the sound of the trumpet.”

Indeed.

12 comments:

  1. I forget now which English composer wrote a wonderful motet around this feast, “God is Gone Up with a Merry Noise” — Thomas Tallis, it might have been, or Henry Purcell — but it’s worth a listen, if you can find it. I do not have it recorded, but I’ve sung it.

  2. Hello Father Stephen,
    It strikes me that some were there and doubted. Do you have any thoughts on what was going on or could direct me to some teaching on that? I’ve never heard that before. (Of course, there are many things I’ve never heard of, one of the many was Christ’s descent into Hades that you have pointed out)
    Thank you,
    Jamie

  3. Jamie,
    Most commentaries that I’ve seen on this aspect of the event are in works on iconography. The icon of the feast uses the “mandorla” as I mentioned which has a special significance – noting an event that transcends our ability to comprehend. I would recommend Leonid Ouspensky’s works on icons (The Theology of Icons) for good commentary. This same aspect (some doubted) seems to also surround Christ’s resurrection appearances. It is a reality that transcends what you and I think of as reality. And this same greater reality is what we also perceive by faith – it is the Kingdom of God.

  4. Thank you Father Stephen. As I’ve reflected on this today, I’ve realized why the fact that there were some who doubted struck me so much. I think that I would like to believe that if I was there I would not doubt, that i couldn’t doubt. But that is not the case. It is true that doubt can and has existed in many instances where Christ is present in my life. I pray that my faith will continually grow so that I can perceive more of the Kingdom of God.

  5. Fr. Stephen wrote in part: “The icon of the feast uses the “mandorla” as I mentioned which has a special significance – noting an event that transcends our ability to comprehend.”

    That is one of the most fascinating things I have come across recently, Father, and it points to what must be a richness in iconography that, as as a member of Western Chrisitanity, I had never appreciated.

  6. Man, talk about the finite capabilities of apologetics!

    I have heard Fr. Thomas Hopko menion the mandorla several times. Were it not for my faith and trust in Orthodoxy, I would wonder if the talk was more of that old liberalism speak.

    This puts a whole new twist on, “If I could have only been there.”

  7. Dean Arnold wrote in part: “Were it not for my faith and trust in Orthodoxy, I would wonder if the talk was more of that old liberalism speak.”

    Were it not for the fact that this appears to be an ancient tradition, I might also have similar concerns. As an inquirer, however, I find that one of the appealling things about Orthodoxy is the insistence that there are limits to what writing and speaking can achieve. Fr. Stephen (or someone else more knowledgable) can correct me if I am wrong, but it appears that Orthodoxy will from time to time remind us that human words are not always sufficient to apprehend the Divine Word. Iconography (and, in particular, this particular tradition within iconography) thus appears to me (as an outsider) to remind us of this limitation on one type of knowledge (the type probably favored in the West) and further reminds us of the need to cultivate others.

  8. “Though some doubted” in Matthew’s Gospel serves the same purpose as the final verses of John 20 concerning the appearance to +Thomas: To assure us, in our times of doubt, that we are not alone, but rather in the “glorious company of the apostles”.

  9. I have enjoyed the Glory to GOD writtings and this too. I have a question Father, were did you get these two Icons. The Face of CHRIST, and this one. Mary

  10. Mary,
    Google images or something similar. I avoid images that are clearly marked copyright. These days the same image will occur in so many places (accessible from google) that it’s often hard to tell their original source.

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