The Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven is one the key events of the New Testament. After the Ascension of Our Lord the visible earthly presence of Christ gives way to His invisible presence in the Church.

The account of Jesus ascending bodily into the clouds is given fully in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24: 50-51) and the Acts of the Holy Apostles (Acts. 1: 9-11). A brief account of this event is given in the ending of Gospel of Mark. (Мк. 16: 19).

Church of the Ascension of the Lord on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

According to these accounts, after His Raising of the dead, the Savior repeatedly presented himself to his disciples and gave many convincing proofs of his bodily Ascension, edifying their faith and preparing them for accepting the promised Holy Spirit. Finally, having ordered them not to leave Jerusalem and wait for the gift His Father had promised (Luke. 24: 49; Acts. 1: 4), the Lord Jesus Christ led his disciples out of the town to Bethany, on Mount of Olives (Acts. 1: 12) and, raising His hands, blessed them and then began to move away from them and ascend to heaven. The Acts of the Holy Apostle state that as Christ was taken up to heaven, He was hidden in a cloud. Suddenly two men dressed in white stood before them and announced about His Second Coming. The apostles bowed to Him and happily returned to Jerusalem (Luke 24: 52) where in a few days the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts. 2: 1-4).

Ascension of Christ. A miniature from the Rabbula Gospels, 586 (Larent. Plut. I 56. Fol. 13v)

Ascension of the Lord. Icon, 8th – 10th centuries (St. Catherine Convent on Sinai).

Before the late 4th century, the feasts of the Ascension of Christ and the Pentecost were not celebrated separately, with the Pentecost having been understood as a special period of the liturgical calendar rather than a holiday.

The earliest surviving image of the Ascension of Christ is a relief on the wooden doors of the Church of Santa Sabina in Rome (ca. 430) depicting the figure of Christ standing with a scroll in his hand, surrounded by the symbols of the Evangelists; below Him is the figure of the Holy Virgin, with two apostles holding an encircled cross above Her. This image of the Mother of God is traditionally interpreted as the symbol of the Church (N.V.Pokrovsky). The account of the Ascension of the Lord in the New Testament and the depictions of this event in the Christian iconography are distinguished by one important feature indicating that the iconography is based on a liturgical tradition glorifying the bodily ascent of Christ to heavens.

Ascension of the Lord. A fresco in the Church of the Transfiguration on Nereditsa, 1199

The later depictions of the Ascension of Christ included an image of the Holy Virgin portrayed in the central part of the composition; Her presence during the Ascension is testified by the Holy Tradition – in the holy fathers’ writings and liturgical texts of the feast of the Ascension of Christ. In the Russian iconography, the Ascension of the Lord is represented in fresco-paintings (the Church of the Savior in the Mirozh Monastery, the mid-12th c.; the St. George Church in Staraya Ladoga, 1160s; the Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord on Nereditsa, 1199, demolished).

Zhanna G. Belik,

Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.

Olga E. Savchenko,

research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.