He Ascended on High

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

Ephesians 4:4-10

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



15 responses to “He Ascended on High”

  1. Deb Seeger Avatar

    I realize this is lifting one line out of the entire passage thus removing it from the context but sometimes it is essential to examine segments with a magnifying glass. “……But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift……” Would you interpret this to mean some are given more grace than others? Perhaps explaining why some people seem to have more troubles as they were given more grace to endure while others seemingly have so few trials in life and thus little need for abundant grace? So to put it back into contents, He is God and can do whatever He deems right and just as His ways are not ours and His wisdom superceeds all that any human can devise. What an awesome God who gave His life for us in our state of rebellion/sin to make a way of redemption for us.

  2. Maura Avatar

    Deb, when I read your question I was reminded of what Simone Weil wrote:

    “..it is possible for each one of us to live our lives in such a way that block the very pores of our soul so completely that the grace of God, which falls on every one, cannot seep into us, and so we remain ‘free’ of His Grace, and therefore we remain…dead.”

    Father Stephen, Bless! I’m just one of your lurkers who is venturing out; would you comment on this?

    I hope this is not going off topic: Ascension is one of my most favourite Feasts of the Church…

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m not certain whether I would say God gives more grace to some than others. It does seem certain that some yield themselves more than others. And having said that, I think it remains a mystery because none of knows the truly secret things of another person. “For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? ” (1 Cor. 2:11)

    And God alone knows the end of a man. The passage where I drew the quote is in a section in Ephesians where St. Paul will speak about different gifts being given to the Church, in terms of ministries. Is an Apostle greater than a Prophet? How would we measure such a thing?

    There is, of course, St. Paul’s passage that speaks of stars differing from one another in glory. I hesitate myself to draw conclusions. I should probably just say, “I don’t know anything about that.” 🙂

  4. Deb Seeger Avatar

    🙂 ….. wisely put, Fr Stephen….. I don’t know anything about that, either …. but the foot is not suppose to say it is either more important or less important than an eye for we all work as one body. So, if one does get more grace than another, it is really none of our business. We are responsible to do what has been shaken down, pressed together and given unto us without measure. (slight compilation of several verses).

    The older we get the less we know. But I am the NEW thirty. 🙂

  5. William Avatar

    I wonder if “according to the measure of Christ’s gift” means a measure of fullness. I, too, don’t know anything about that, but I’m just thinking about Christ gift of himself, which is the fullness of “all in all.”

  6. anonymousgodblogger Avatar

    And what about this verse in John 3? “For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for he giveth not the Spirit by measure.”

    Also, the idea that grace isn’t a “thing,” but that God never gives anything other than Himself?

    A thimble and a gallon jug are different sizes, but can both be filled to capacity by the same ocean. Maybe that’s partly what “according to the measure of His gift” refers to?

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    I don’t know about the size of the human person. According to the Fathers it is potentially infinite.

    But I would readily agree, Grace is not a thing. Grace is nothing other than the life of God Himself.

  8. anonymousgodblogger Avatar

    Potentially infinite?!
    How can this be? I thought only God is infinite.
    Where could I learn more about this?

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    Dogmatically the teachings of St. Maximus Confessor speak of the union of the created and the uncreated. Theosis is fairly much what it means, only by partaking of God’s energies not His nature (according to dogma).

    More to the point of your question. Though we use the word “person” a great deal, we use it loosely and incorrectly. We certainly are “persons” in the sense that Christ is the 2nd Person of the Trinity. But the fall has left us fragmented and we do not know fully what it means to exist as a person (or “hypostatically”). This existence becomes ours increasingly as we draw close to God and are changed “from glory to glory…etc.”

    But “person” by definition can only exist in freedom and in love. In freedom, it has no limits. By freedom we can love the whole of the universe, and in that sense transcend it. St. Nicolai of Zicha said, “Man is not that which can be buried in the ground but that which the universe cannot contain.”

    We are created to be far more than we would ever dream…but this is not contrary to Scripture.

    The writings of the Elder Sophrony, but his own writings, or his grand nephews work on his life and theology (I love therefore I am) or the recent works by Archimandrite Zacharias would be places to start. It is a slow, meditative read, requiring a lot of thought and assimilation, but is thoroughly consistent with the teaching of the faith. I simply stated it a bit bluntly, forgive me.

    We, of course, could never be “infinite” in any sense that God is infinite. Indeed it would be more correct to say that God is beyond infinite by nature. Our infinity would be through participation in the Divine Energies (an important Orthodox distinction). It is understood that the great ascetics when they have reached a certain state within God and pray for the whole world (repenting on its behalf) they are aware of the whole world – they contain it within themselves. It is not an idea they pray for but what has become for them an existential reality through the gift of God’s Spirit at work in them. Elder Sophrony calls this “hypostatic” prayer or “Adamic” prayer. We pray for the whole Adam.

    Orthodoxy is very much not about prayer about ideas or theoretical things. Prayer is not a rational activity in which we inform God about this or that. It is an offering and a sacrifice of ourselves to God (Romans 12). In the case of great saints (Paul is a good example) we pray and offer ourselves, not just our ourselves but as everything that has now been encompassed in the freedom of our person.

    I pray for my wife and children differently than I pray for many others. I pray for my congregation differently than I pray for others. I’m have barely begun to pray.


    How else would saints be in more than one place at the same time (a not uncommon phenomenon even in their lifetimes on earth).

    How else would we dare invoke their prayers from any corner of the world? And how could they know me to pray for me?

    How else could they fulfill the fullness of the stature of Christ – this cannot be less than infinite. The life into which we are invited by Christ is beyond anything we can currently begin to understand. It certainly isn’t the cartoon heaven that many try to sell as “salvation.” It’s just better.

  10. John Avatar

    One consequence of the Ascension that I’ve never had clarity on is it’s effect on the aspect of God’s “impassibility”- the unchanging, and unchangeable quality of His nature. How could the post-Ascension Trinity not be different in it’s essential nature from the pre-Incarnation Trinity?

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    He suffered in His human nature, which is hypostatically (personally) united to the Divine. There is the doctrine of the sharing of the particulars (the Divine shared in the Human, the Human the Divine, this is the communicatio idiomatum). But Christ remains unchangeably Divine in His Divine Nature. The Human Nature of Christ, though Divinized in its union, does not become the Divine Nature.

    The Union is always called the Hypostatic Union, i.e., the union of natures is brought about by the Person of Christ. Thus the Divine Nature remains unchanged.

    But because the Person is both Divine and Human, when He suffers, Christ as God can be said to suffer.

    Forgive me, these are great mysteries, and I should not be able to answer them so easily. This is what you will find written. But there is truly a great mystery involved.

  12. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    Hi Father Stephen,

    The philosophical notion of the impassibility of God is somewhat difficult for me. For the scriptures certainly speak of God as if he were profoundly wrenched and affected by man’s rebellion – from the violence of man before Noah to the idolatry of Israel before the exile. Indeed, one might even say that Christ’s suffering on the cross is (among other things) an embodiment of the “longsuffering” of Israel’s God through their long history of rejecting their rightful king. It seems to me that man, being an icon of God, must be able to interact with God in some sense on the divine playing field, such that the imagery of “I regret that I have made man”, “you have striven with God and men and have prevailed”, etc. are true mystery rather than mere metaphor.

    Does that make sense at all?

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is problematic to speak of our “effecting” God, i.e. making Him mad, sad, etc. These expressions in Scripture certainly have a meaning but something other than the pure anthropomorphism of the text. The fathers are generally clear on this.

    Fr. Thomas Hopko, following a more Syriac reading, tends to read those passages stronger (the impassibility of God being a larger concern to Greek culture than to Semitic culture) but I don’t think I would go as far as I’ve heard him go.

    For me, to say something is a metaphor is not a weak statement, but quite strong, not excluding mystery. I am not a nominalist. 🙂

  14. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    Just as long as the impassibility of God is also a metaphor. 😉

  15. anonymousgodblogger Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for your discusssion of the person, the soul, and the infinite!

    A lot to ponder…

    With appreciation,


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