Beloved brothers and sisters in Our Lord and Our Only True Savior Jesus Christ,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΟ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
ORTHROS OF THE FEAST
As the Angels, O Savior, wondered at Thy strange elevation, and the Disciples were amazed at Thy dread rising, Thou didst ascend in glory, being God, and the gates were lifted up for Thee. Wherefore, the heavenly powers were surprised, shouting, Glory to Thy condescension, O Savior, glory to Thy reign; glory to Thine Ascension, O Thou Who alone art the Lover of mankind.
On this day, the Thursday of the Sixth Week of Pascha, we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. After His Resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for forty days, appearing to His Disciples in various places. He ate, drank and conversed verifying and assuring His Resurrection. On the Fortieth Day after Pascha, Jesus appeared to His Disciples in Jerusalem. He gave them His commandment, to go forth and preach in His Name to all the nations. At the same time, He told them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait until they were clothed with the power from on high by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them. Having said this, Jesus led His Disciples to the Mount of Olives. Then He lifted up His hands and blessed them. And as He was speaking to them with words of fatherly blessing, Jesus departed from them and ascended into heaven, being received by a shining cloud, indicating His divine majesty. He gradually disappeared from the sight of the Disciples as they gazed at Him. And as they stood thus, two Angels in brilliant white robes appeared to them in the form of men and said to them: You men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, Who is taken from you into Heaven, shall come in like manner as you have seen Him go into Heaven. In these words is fulfilled and defined the doctrine concerning the Son of God and His Word, in the Confession of Faith. After our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled all this great dispensation for us, He ascended in glory into Heaven, and sat on the right hand of the Father. His Disciples returned from Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, rejoicing in the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit. O Christ our God, Who did ascend in glory, have mercy on us. Amen.
On the Feast of the Ascension, the Holy Orthodox Christian Church does not commemorate an historical event in the life of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. On this Holy Day, the Church celebrates Christ's physical departure from the world and His Glorification with God the Father.
For Forty Days after His Holy Resurrection, Christ remained on earth. Filled with the glory and honor of His Divinity, He appeared to His Disciples at various times and places. By eating and drinking with His followers and conversing with them about the Kingdom of God, Jesus assured them that He was truly alive in His Risen and Glorified Body. (The glorification of Jesus refers to His Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. When we speak of Christ's glorified body, we refer to its honor, splendor, majesty and visible radiance-it gave off rays of bright light!)
The time span of forty days is used symbolically in the Holy Scriptures and by the Church to indicate that an appropriate amount of time has passed for "fullness". (The rains of the Great Flood lasted for forty days. Christ prayed in the wilderness for forty days. We fast for forty days to prepare before the feasts of the Nativity and the Resurrection [Pascha].
The Ascension, is a sign and symbol of the Second Coming. Christ will return to the earth in the same manner as He left it. When Our Risen Lord returns again in Glory, God's will for mankind will be fulfilled.
Jesus Christ completed His earthly apostoli (mission) of bringing salvation to all people and physically ascended from this earthly world into the Heavenly one. Having completed His divine mission in this world as the Only-begotten Son and as the Savior, He returned to the Father in His Kingdom Who sent Him into the world.
At His Ascension Christ had the wounds of the Cross on His Body and He is on the Throne of the Fathers with these. Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite collected Patristic passages in which one can see why Christ after the Resurrection left on His Body the wounds made by the nails and the spear, while He could have healed them. He gave five reasons: first, to adorn and beatify his body. Just as the windows in houses are a decoration because they transmit the sun, so it is too with the body of Christ (St. Gregory Palamas). Second, He left the wounds open for Thomas to feel them and to theologize about the Resurrection, to confess that He is God and man. Third, to show the great love which He has for man, because He suffered and in fact boasts about these marks of the Cross. Fourth, He left the holes open so that we may take shelter in them in time of trial and be covered just as the pigeon runs to its nest when it is pursued by a hawk. Fifth, He left the wounds for the Jews to see and recognize on the Day of Judgment. In the Book of Revelation it says characteristically: "Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him" (Rev. 1:7).
Between the Ascension and Pentecost there was a period of prayer, supplication and stillness, hesychia of both body and soul. No one can partake of the Holy Spirit unless he is in a state of prayer and inner nepsis. Moreover, the practical life, which is the keeping of Christ's commandments, prepares the ground for what is called pure prayer, and prayer is the basic precondition for acquiring and partaking of the gift of the All-Holy Spirit.
What took place in the life of Christ should also take place in the life of the Christians. Moreover, the imitation of Christ is not just outward conformity to some precepts and external commandments, but participation in Christ. We must live Christ's Passion, Cross and Resurrection in our own life.
This also applies to His Ascension. The Holy Apostle Paul is clearly speaking about participation in Christ's Ascension, when he says: "For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the Archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever" (1 Thes. 4:16-17).
To be sure, in this passage the holy Apostle Paul is speaking of the people who will be living at the time when Christ comes with great glory, but the interpretation of the holy Fathers refers also to the Saints who will be taken up to meet the Lord when He comes, because they will be in a lofty spiritual state.
Saint Diadochos of Photiki says that what happened to Christ at His Ascension will also happen to the Saints. Christ assumed the human body and deified it, and so man too can be deified through the riches of God's grace. "For he who belongs to the incarnate God through the body can also belong to those deified by the riches of His grace, be made gods by the generous God." That is to say that people can be become gods, through the riches of the generous God.
We must go up to where Christ is and enjoy His Ascension, using action and vision of God. The action is purification of the heart by keeping the Gospel commandments, and the vision is illumination of the nous and its ascent to spiritual visions of God.
God is heavenly, and we must become heavenly. And just as we bore the image of the earthly, so we must also bear the image of the heavenly. When we discard our relationship with garments of skin, we must stand on the Holy Ground, each one demonstrating his own holy ground with virtue and an unfaltering inclination towards God. (St. Gregory Palamas).
[source: The Feasts of the Lord by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos]
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God