Praying with Icons. Windows into Heaven. Growing in Our Friendship with Christ.

The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, is celebrated forty days after Easter.  According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is seated at table with the remaining eleven disciples. He instructs them to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news.” Then Jesus was taken up or ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father.       

After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples, guided by the Holy Spirit, indeed “went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16: 20).

Ascension. Arise. Climb.

I confess. I’m afraid of heights. It wasn’t always like that. As a teenager I used to love spending time with my dad on various carpentry projects he did for neighbours. The projects sometimes included shingling roofs of houses and garages. At the time, I thought nothing of scrambling up the ladder and onto a roof. Heights didn’t bother me then.

Things changed when I got older.

            As a young priest, an incredible opportunity presented itself. At the time, Saint George’s Ukrainian Catholic Parish in Edmonton was working on an ambitious iconography project. World renown iconographer Heiko Schlieper was chosen to paint the interior of the church, telling the story of our salvation through icons.

            On one of my visits to Saint George’s Parish to check on the progress, the late Father Volodymyr Tarnawsky, the parish priest of the time, invited me to take a closer look at Mr. Schileper’s latest work:  he was painting an icon of Christ the Pantocrator in the main dome of the church. Like an excited school boy, I quickly ascended the scaffolding up towards the dome, but half ways up my knees began to shake.  Father Tarnawsky encouraged me on upwards, assuring me that I would never have such an opportunity in my life again. I replied, “It looks fine from here.” He smiled but I knew he was thinking “chicken.”

            One of the characteristics of Eastern Christian church architecture, including Ukrainian Catholic churches, is the huge domes. Upon entry into one of these churches, your eyes are immediately drawn up into the heights of the dome. Not only your eyes but your entire being as well. It’s as if your spirit, your very soul, is lifted from earth into the heavens. And that’s exactly what the architect intends, not just the human architect who designed the church, but God, the Divine Architect.

            You see, the story of Jesus’ Ascension is also our story. Where Jesus is, he wants us also to be, with his Father in heaven. So forty days after his resurrection, Jesus becomes a source of strength for the disciples. He encourages them by telling him that he would always be with them, in his Word, in the Eucharist, and through the Holy Spirit. With Jesus’ work on earth complete, he returns to the Father. The disciples must now continue his work, telling others – you and me – of the love and mercy of the Father, and that our home on earth is not our final destination, rather that our faith journey leads us on a path of ascension, aspiring to new heights, towards our true home in heaven, with God.

            “When you had fulfilled your plan for us and united things on earth with those in heaven, you ascended in glory, O Christ our God, in no way distant, but remaining inseparable, You cried to those who love you:  I am with you and there is none against you” (Kontakion of Ascension).

            With Jesus, I no longer have to be afraid of heights!   And neither should you.

Praying with Icons. Windows into Heaven. Growing in Our Friendship with Christ.