The Feast of the Ascension: ‘Who is this King of Glory?’

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May your celebration of the Feast of the Ascension be one full of grace and truth unto the increase of your hope and thus also your faith and charity!

I didn’t understand the great importance of this Feast prior to reading a work  concerning the Angels, Angels and their Mission, a few years ago. My understanding of the Feast paled in comparison to the beautiful explanations provided in the work, specifically those of the Church Fathers. I will try to convey the striking beauty of the Ascension of Christ into Heaven.

The book introduces the Fathers with these words, concerning the mystery of the Ascension of Our Lord:

Just as, at the Nativity, we see the Word descend, surrounded by the angels of heaven, and meet the guardian angels of earth, so now we see Him rise, accompanied by the angels of earth, and meet the angels who guard the gates of heaven. But these do not recognize Him, because He appears united to the human nature that He assumed and bearing the marks of His Passion. Thus, they question the angels who are accompanying Him to find out who He is.

The author adds, “The Ascension is not only the elevation of Christ in His Body into the midst of the angels; to be more theologically precise, it is the exaltation of human nature, which the Word of God has united to Himself, above all the angelic orders that are superior to it. This is a complete reversal of the regular order, and it affords the angels an “unheard-of ” spectacle.”

In the words of St. John Chrysostom:

Today we are raised up into heaven, we who seemed unworthy even of earth. We are exalted above the heavens; we arrive at the kingly throne. The nature that caused the Cherubim to keep guard over paradise is seated today above the Cherubim. Was it not enough to be elevated above the heavens? Was it not enough to have place among the angels? Was not such a glory beyond all expression? But He rose above the angels, He passed the Cherubim, He went higher than the Seraphim, He bypassed the Thrones, He did not stop until He arrived at the very throne of God.

Saint Irenaeus describes the scene, for me the most beautifully, as he expounds upon Psalm 23: 7-10:

David says somewhere that He was to be lifted up into heaven. “Princes, raise up your gates; rise up, gates of eternity, and the King of Glory shall pass through.” The gates of eternity are heaven…Seeing Him approach, the lower angels cried out to those who were above them, “Open your gates; rise up, ye gates of eternity; the King of Glory will enter.” And when the angels from above asked in their astonishment, “Who is He?” those who saw Him cried out anew, “It is the Lord, strong and mighty. It is the King of Glory.”

Saint Athanasius also highlights the dialogue between the choirs of Angels during the Ascension of Our Lord:

The angels of the Lord who followed Him upon earth, seeing Him arise, announced His coming to the Virtues of heaven, so that they might open their gates. The Powers were filled with amazement at seeing Him in the flesh. That is why they cried, `Who is this?’ – astounded by this mysterious order of salvation. And the Angels rising with Christ answered them, `The Lord of Powers, He is the King of Glory who teaches the great mystery to those who are in heaven: that the King of Glory has won the victory over the spiritual enemy.

The author’s intention in writing was that, “The entry of the Incarnate Word into heaven appears much like an unforeseen revelation made to the heavenly Powers.” How suitable it would be to meditate upon the celestial amazement at the Mystery of the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven.

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