In an early second century Apocalypse, the Ascension of Isaiah, we discover that Christian prophecy was alive and well despite its exclusion from mainstream Christian circles, proving that visionary ascent was not neglected in the wilderness, because wisdom, as it ascended through seven heavens, beheld the glory of the throne in the midst of all seven of them. Glory lay at the heart of all seven heavens, envisioned as the throne of God, giving to wisdom seven unfolding realms of glory that bore witness, through ascension, to the glory of ineffable completeness. Seven was the sacred number of completeness and the seventh heaven was where the throne, robe and crown of glory were finally and completely revealed. Throne vision gave to early Christian prophecy its imaginal coherence as well as its ascetical clarity, remaining an enduring inspiration at the heart of Orthodox Christian wisdom ever since. This wisdom was associated with the Prophet Isaiah because early Christian prophecy arose in the prophetic circles that remembered the Prophet Isaiah as their revered elder. Biblical ‘sons of the prophets’ were among the generating fathers of early Christian monasticism, which was why early Christian prophecy was alive in those circles long after prophecy was quenched elsewhere.
The Patristic tradition of purification, illumination and glorification was nourished by the wisdom of Isaiah, whose disciples faithfully practiced purification of the heart and enlightened glorification, preserving profound insight into the glorification of the suffering servant, the Beloved of God. This was the tradition that inspired countless saints and apostles of Holy Orthodoxy, handed on by elders to saints at the heart of wilderness wisdom. The angelic dimensions of early prophetic tradition are evident in the Ascension of Isaiah, whose vision of Christ, the Beloved of God, includes the vision of angels surrounding his throne of glory at the centre of all seven heavens. Indeed, because angels surround him and his throne of glory in every heaven, Christ not only appears as an angel among angels and as a man among men, but his glory unambiguously reveals he is the Son of God. Christian angelophanies are doxological theophanies, not because there is confusion between angels and God but because there is indivisible communion between angels and God, communion to which Christian prophecy bears direct witness. Angelic wisdom beholds the glory of throne, robe and crown, as symbols of the completeness of glory revealed in the seventh heaven.
Hesychast tradition never completely lost wisdom’s vision of the completeness of glory, because in generation after generation, saints became elders who bore witness to the glory that wisdom discerns. The glory of the Beloved outshined the glory of angels, although, like them, he ascribed all glory to God. Prophecy generated a rich angelic mythology that continues to inspire the Christian imagination right down to our own time. Sometimes confused with heretical docetism, or heretical gnosticism, by those who fail short of glorification, the Ascension of Isaiah is early second century Christian prophecy that is assuredly mystical but not gnostic. The sacred number seven was decisive for the Johannine Gospel and Apocalypse, although they, like other Christian texts, happily contract seven heavens to one. Sevenfold completeness embraces oneness, so there is no hard division here. Wisdom descends to cure vainglory by restoring glory to God, ascending through seven heavens to subject fallen powers to God. Glorification lives these seven mysteries of glory in both descent and ascent, as crucial today as they always were. The vision of Isaiah’s Ascension continues to inform the Christian imagination, even though its wisdom and glory transcend imagery, as it renews prophecy and inspires pure prayer.