Beloved brothers and sisters,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
DOXOLOGY TO THE THEOTOKOS
O Mary, Mother of God, we too send a doxology and a hymn of praise to You, who are the Most revered treasure of the whole world, the ever-burning lamp, the crown of virginity, the scepter of Orthodox Christianity, the space in which He Who is altogether uncontainable was contained within You, who are both Mother and Virgin. You are the person for whom heaven rejoices, the Angels delight, the demons are banished and Satan is vanquished and fallen. Through you, O Theotokos, man, who had fallen into the depths of the abyss, is now able to once again rise to heaven. Through you all of creation has come to the knowledge of the Truth. Through you all of the nations can be guided to salvation. Through you the Only-Begotten Son of God and our Savior Jesus Chris has shown a great Light upon us who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. O Virgin Mary and Mother of God, who are full of grace, intercede for us now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
THE HOLY AND GREAT FEAST OF THE DIVINE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos
Forty days after His Resurrection Christ ascended into heaven, where He had been previously, according to His own words to the Disciples before His Passion: "Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? (St. John 6:61-62). Of course this does not mean that Christ, as God, was not in heaven during the time of His Incarnation, but that He would go up even with His human flesh. Moreover, His coming down from heaven is meant as divine condescension and not as a change of place.
In the time between His Resurrection and Ascension He appeared many times to His Disciples, to whom He revealed the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, according to the words of Saint Luke: "to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3).
The feast of the Lord's Ascension has great meaning and importance for the Christian and spiritual life, because it is connected with the deification (theosis) of every person. In what follows, presenting the central Christological points of this Great Feast of the Lord.
Speaking to His holy Disciples before His Holy Passion He said the following: "I came forth from the Father and have come into the world, Again, I leave the world and go to the Father: (St. John 16:P28). And in another situation Christ gave assurance: "No one has ascended to heaven but the One Who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man Who is in heaven" (St. John 3:3).
We see the Ascension in the stories of the Evangelist St. Mark (Mark 16:19) and by Saint Luke, both in his Gospel (St. Luke 24:50-53) and in the Acts of the Apostles, which he himself wrote: (Acts 1:3 and 9-11). The details of the event of the Ascension and of the way in which it happened are described in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which we shall look at in what follows.
Saint Athanasios the Great, referring to the two feasts of the Lord, those of the Resurrection and the Ascension, says that the feast of the Resurrection grants to men the prize of victory over death, while Christ's Ascension lifts man up to Heaven, and since it changes man's way of life on earth, it makes Heaven accessible to him. Therefore victory over death is one thing and another is the ascent of human nature to the throne of God. This is precisely why through this event one can see the superiority of the Ascension, or to express it better, the perfection and fullness of the Divine Economy.
Another difference between the Resurrection and the Ascension is that the Disciples did not see the beginning of the Resurrection, but only the end, for no one saw Christ at the moment when He came out of the tomb, but He was only seen afterwards, when He manifested Himself to them. By contrast, at the Ascension, the holy Disciples saw its beginning, that is to say, they saw Him taken up to heaven, and they looked towards heaven to be informed of its end (St. Macarios of Philadelphia).
From the teaching of the holy Fathers of the Church whom we have quoted it is shown clearly that the essence and meaning of the feast is not only Christological, but also anthropological. By His Ascension Christ lifted up our own human nature into Heaven.
Moreover, the whole purpose and work of the Divine Economy lies in "not leaving us down on the earth, but raising us up to Heaven, for our true salvation is there, and there we wish to receive back the very sweet vision of our dearest Lord" (Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite).
By the feast of the Ascension we are celebrating the enthronement of our nature in heaven. By the Resurrection and Ascension of human nature we are at the same time also celebrating the beginning of the resurrection and ascension of every believer. Therefore, when a person takes part in Christ's Ascension, he is no longer a man of the earth, like the first man, but a man of Heaven, like the second man, Christ (Saint Gregory Palamas).
Christ is the first and only one Who has gone up to Heaven with the body which He assumed from the Panaghia. On this subject we have assurance from Christ Himself, Who said: "No one has ascended to Heaven but the one Who came down from Heaven, the Son of Man who is in Heaven" (St. John 3:13). The word 'no one' does not permit of any doubt, because it came from the undeceitful mouth of the Lord. To be sure, according to the interpretation of the Fathers of the Church, the Panaghia too ascended to heaven with her body, but his happened after Christ's Ascension, precisely because it was from her body that Christ became Incarnate. But even in this case the body of the Panaghia receives deification (theosis), while Christ's Body is a source of uncreated grace.
While the Disciples had their gaze fixed on heaven, the Angels said that just as Christ comes up to heaven, so also He will come down: "Who was taken up from you into Heaven, will so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into Heaven" (Acts 1:11). This means that the holy Disciples, also at the time when they did not see Christ, were fixed on heaven in ecstasy and amazement.
Saint Athanasios the Great, analyzing further these words of the Angels, says, that the Angels in reality made it known to the Disciples that Christ would come again with His same Body, since He remains Godman through the ages For He did not receive a body from the Panaghia simply for use but for His Eternal possession. He is not "embodied" temporarily, but He is "Incarnate" always. Christ remains Godman forever.
The words of the Archangel refer to the Second Coming of Christ in Glory to judge the people. Referring to His Second Coming, Christ Himself said: "When the Son of Man comes in His Glory, and all the Angels with Him..." (St. Matthew 25:31). Moreover, the teaching of the holy Apostle Paul that the Saints will be invited and taken up to receive Christ Who will come with much glory has reference to this point. Therefore n the Creed we confess: "And He shall come again with glory..."
At His Ascension Christ had the wounds of the Cross on His Body and He is on the Throne of the Father with these. Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite collected Patristic passages in which one can see why Christ after His 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 beautify His Body. Just as the window in houses are a decoration, because they transmit the light of the sun, so it is too with the Body of Christ (Saint 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 (Apocalypse) it says characteristically: "Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him" (Revelation 1:7).
The holy Disciples obeyed Christ's command and, after worshiping Him, "they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they were continually in the temple, praising God" (Acts 24:52-53). Indeed, as it says tin the Acts of the Apostles, they went up into the upper room and "they all joined together persevering in prayer and supplication, along with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with His brothers" (St. Luke 24:52-53).
The Disciples left the Mount of Olives with great joy. Although they had been deprived of Christ, they were exceedingly glad, precisely because they had the assurance that they would receive the Holy Spirit, and then they would be members of His Body. Actually, being deprived of Christ in the flesh was a blessing, because they gained another communion and unity with Him. Moreover, Christ has assured them: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (St. John 12:32). Thus the Disciples' joy had two reasons: First, the hope of partaking of the Holy Spirit and second, the fact that they were granted to be personal eye-and ear-witnesses of such great mysteries.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God