28 May 2011
The Ascension of Jesus is professed in the Nicene Creed, which is spoken in the Christian liturgy, and in the West, by the Apostles' Creed. The Ascension implies Jesus' humanity being taken into heaven. The Feast of the Ascension, celebrated 40 days after Easter, is one of the chief feasts of the Christian year. The feast dates back to well before the 3rd century, as is widely attested.
The place of the Ascension is not distinctly mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. Luke 24:50 states that the event took place in Bethany while it appears from Acts that it took place on the Mount Olivet (the "Mount of Olives"). After the Ascension the apostles are described as returning to Jerusalem from the mount that is called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, within a Sabbath day's journey. Tradition has consecrated this site as the Mount of Ascension.
Before the conversion of Constantine in 312 A.D., early Christians honored the Ascension of Christ in a cave on the Mount of Olives. By 384, the place of the Ascension was venerated on the present open site, uphill from the cave.
The Chapel of the Ascension in Jerusalem today is a Christian and Muslim holy site now believed to mark the place where Jesus ascended into heaven. In the small round church/mosque is a stone imprinted with what some claim to be the very footprints of Jesus.
St. Helena erected over the site a basilica called "Eleona Basilica" (elaion in Greek means "olive garden", from elaia "olive tree," and has an oft-mentioned similarity to eleos meaning "mercy") in 392, which was destroyed by the Sassanid Persians in 614. It was rebuilt in the 8th century, destroyed again, but rebuilt a second time by the Crusaders. This final church was also destroyed by Muslims, leaving only the octagonal structure (called a martyrium—"memorial"—or "Edicule") which remains to this day.
The site was ultimately acquired by two emissaries of Saladin in the year 1198 and has remained in the possession of the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem ever since. The martyrium, though now only bare stone, enshrines the rock said to bear the imprint of the right foot of Christ as he ascended, and is venerated by Catholic Christians as the last point on earth touched by the incarnate Christ. The Crusader building was converted to a mosque but was never used by Muslims since the overwhelming majority of visitors were Christian. As a gesture of compromise and goodwill, Saladin ordered the construction of a second mosque and mihrab two years later next door to the chapel for Muslim worship while Christians continued to visit the main chapel. Though still under the control of the Muslims, this Chapel of the Ascension is currently opened to visitors for a nominal fee.
The Russian Orthodox Church also maintains a Convent of the Ascension on the top of the Mount of Olives.
In Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox theology, the Ascension is interpreted as the culmination of the Mystery of the Incarnation, in that it not only marked the completion of Jesus' physical presence among his apostles, but consummated the union of God and man when Jesus ascended in his glorified human body to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The Ascension and the Transfiguration both figure prominently in the Orthodox doctrine of theosis. The bodily Ascension into heaven is also understood as the final token of Christ's two natures: divine and human.
The Orthodox doctrine of salvation points to the Ascension to indicate that the state of redeemed man is higher than the state of man in Paradise before the fall.
Orthodox Christians understand Christ's physical presence to continue in the Church, which is the "Body of Christ".[1 Cor 12:12-27] Jesus' promise that he will be "with you always" is understood not only in terms of his active, divine grace, but also in the divine institution of the church (human sinfulness notwithstanding).
Christ's Ascension into heaven is understood as a necessary prerequisite for the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost,[Jn 14:15-20] [14:25-28] [15:26] and especially [16:7] The biblical texts regarding the Ascension also prophesy the Second Coming of Christ, stating that Jesus will return not only in the same glorious manner, but in the same place. In other words, the Second Coming and Last Judgment will take place on the Mount of Olives, with the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) below and to the left.
The Feast of the Ascension is one of the great feasts in the Christian liturgical calendar, and commemorates the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Ascension Day is traditionally celebrated on a Thursday, the fortieth day from Easter day. However, some Roman Catholic provinces have moved the observance to the following Sunday. The feast is one of the ecumenical feasts (i.e., universally celebrated), ranking with the feasts of the Passion, of Easter and Pentecost.
The Eastern Orthodox portrayal of the Ascension is a major metaphor for the mystical nature of the Church. In many Eastern icons the Virgin Mary is placed at the center of the scene in the earthly part of the depiction, with her hands raised towards Heaven, often accompanied by various Apostles. The upwards looking depiction of the earthly group matches the Eastern liturgy on the Feast of the Ascension: "Come, let us rise and turn our eyes and thoughts high..."