A Joyous Icon of the Ascension of Our Lord
The Feast of Ascension has great importance to the Christian Church. The icon of the Ascension, in its turn, has the aim not only to directly show the biblical story of this event but also to reveal the profound meaning of the Ascension of Our Lord. First appeared many centuries ago, this religious icon has barely changed over the years. The depiction of God, ascended into Heaven and sitting on the throne of light, expresses endless glory and peace. That is why the icon is usually called “joyous,” meaning that Jesus is about to leave the limitations of earthly time and return to His Heavenly Home.
Heavenly peace and earthly confusion
The icon represents two centers: ascended God and His Mother Mary. Christ, who is enclosed into mandorla, holds a scroll in His hand and blesses all the faithful. Bright golden robes of Christ and a globe of light behind Him accentuate the grace and stately glory of the icon of the Ascension. The images of angels also stand out against the golden heavens.
The Theotokos is placed right below Christ, raising her hands toward Him. She has a peaceful look and appears to understand the mysterious blessing of her Resurrected Son. On the contrary, the apostles around her are shown in chaos, gazing at heaven without understanding the whole essence of the event. The angels said to the disciples, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The apostles do not understand the meaning of the words yet, unlike Mary, who is depicted in the lower part of the icon with a beautiful halo signifying the grace of God.
The symbol of the Church in the icon of the Ascension
The icon of the Ascension has never been understood in Orthodoxy as an accurate, formal illustration of the text of Holy Scripture. It is quite ahistorical. The iconography of this Feast always portrays the Theotokos at the center of the scene despite her absence in the New Testament accounts. Besides, Paul the Apostle is also depicted among the disciples, even though he did not yet believe in God at the time of the miraculous event.
The image of the Ascension is a symbol of the New Testament Apostolic Church founded by Christ and spread throughout the world through the preaching of the apostles and their successors. Therefore, such figures as Mary and Paul the Apostle are witnesses of this event and emphasize the meaning of the whole Christian Church.
This majestic icon expresses the sovereignty of God over the Church, who is its guide and power. However, the main sense of the icon is rendered through the great glory of the ascended God, which inspires all Orthodox Christian believers.