Beloved brothers and sister in Christ, Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Fourth Tone
Thou hast ascended in glory, O Christ Our God, and gladdened Thy disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit; and they were assured by the blessing that Thou art the Son of God and Redeemer of the world.
Kontakion Hymn. Plagal of Second Tone
When Thou hadst fulfilled Thy dispensation for our sakes, uniting things on earth with the Heavens, Thou didst ascend in glory, O Christ our God, departing not hence, but remaining inseparable from us and crying unto them that love Thee: I am with you, and no one can be against you.
THE GREAT FEAST OF THE HOLY ASCENSION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
The Lord Jesus passed forty days on earth after His Resurrection from the dead, appearing continually in various places to His disciples, with whom He also spoke, ate, and drank, thereby further demonstrating His Resurrection. On this Thursday, the fortieth day after Pascha, He appeared again in Jerusalem. After He had first spoken to the disciples about many things, He gave them His last commandment, that is, that they go forth and proclaim His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. But He also commanded them that for the present, they were not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait there together until they receive power from on high, when the Holy Spirit would come upon them.
Saying these things, He led them to the Mount of Olives, and raising His hands, He blessed them; and saying again the words of the Father's blessing, He was parted from them and taken up. Immediately a cloud of Light, a proof of His Majesty, received Him. Sitting thereon as though on a royal chariot, He was taken up into Heaven, and after a short time was concealed from the sight of the disciples, who remained where they were with their eyes fixed on Him. At this point, two Angels in the form of men in white raiment appeared to them and said, 'Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, Who is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven' (Acts 1:11). These words, in a complete and concise manner, declare what is taught in the Symbol of Faith concerning the Son and Logos (Word) of God. Therefore, having so fulfilled all His dispensation for us, our Lord Jesus Christ ascended in glory into Heaven, and sat at the right hand of God the Father. As for His sacred disciples, they returned from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, rejoicing because Christ had promised to send them the Holy Spirit.
It should be noted that the Mount of Olives is a Sabbath's day journey from Jerusalem, that is, the distance a Jew was permitted to walk on the day of the Sabbath. Ecumenius writes, 'A Sabbath day's journey is one mile in length, as Clement says in his fifth Stromatis; it is two thousand cubits, as the Interpretation of the Acts states.' They draw this conclusion from the fact that, while they were in the wilderness, the Israelites of old kept within this distance from the Holy Tabernacle, whither they walked on the Sabbath day to worship God. (Source: The Great Horologion)
According to Protopresbyter George Dion Dragas, "The Ascension as the pinnacle of the Feasts of the Lord: How bright and wonderful is this Feast! It is the pinnacle of all the Feasts of the Lord, because with it the sacred and saving purpose of the Divine Incarnation and Inhomination of the Word of God is completed. For what purpose did the Son and Word of God become man, and undergo the passion, the death, the resurrection...and the ascension? All these events took place so that the human nature might not remain below on the earth, but be raised to heaven, become deified and glorified according to the Creator's original design. This, then, was the purpose for which the Son of God condescended to assume within His Godly Person [hypostasis] our human nature, which had fallen from its original condition, in order to renew it with His Crucifixion and Resurrection and to raise it to the heavenly heights with His glorious Ascension, presenting it to God the Father as the super-brilliant trophy of His victory.
The Ascension as the triumph of the human nature. At the Ascension of Christ, God the Father accepted the first-fruits of our humanity, and was well pleased not only by the worthiness of Him Who offered it, but also by the purity of the Offering. This, then, is the perfect victory against sin. This is the triumph of the human nature. The human nature could not have descended to a lower point than that at which it arrived after the fall of Adam, but neither could ascend to a higher point than that at which the New (or Last) Adam raised it with His Ascension!
The Ascension as the final benefit offered by God to man. What mind could grasp the real dimensions of this event? The forsaken and feeble human nature, the nature which ran away from God and was exiled from paradise, the low, miserable, condemned and captured nature of human beings becomes today more glorious than that of the Angels, is made to sit with Christ at the bosom of the Father, and is worshiped by every visible and invisible creation! What language could praise the greatness of this celebration, or to present worthily the enormity of the Goodness of God to human beings? Today the entry into the longed-for paradise, the heavenly Jerusalem, is opened to Adam's exiled descendants. Today, the restoration of the new Israel in the Promised Land is accomplished.
The Ascension as the Final Victory of Christ for man: Today on the Mount of Olives, heaven and earth kiss each other, and Angels and human beings are united. Here the chorus of the Apostles greets their sweet Teacher with joy on His departure from them, and the orders of the Angels salute the King of the Heavens with ineffable elation and joy. Here the captivity, which the Victor of death took captive with His Ascension to the Heights, i.e., the souls of the righteous who have been redeemed, have their eyes on their Redeemer with feelings of exhilaration and joy. Here also, His Mother, the Most Pure Virgin, greets and send off her beloved Son Who is ascending into Heaven, where God the Father welcomes His Only-begotten Son and makes Him sit on His Right. Here too, at the great Mount of Olives, we are called to ascend with our minds and become eye-witnesses to the great and wondrous events which take place, having as our guide Saint Luke the theologian, who alone among the Evangelists narrates--with brevity but also with priestly and solemn fashion--the glorious Ascension of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Why did the Ascension take place 40 days after and not immediately after the Resurrection? The Leader of Life, Who loosed the bonds of death by His Resurrection, met with His disciples for 40 days and confirmed His Resurrection to them by means of several proofs. He did not ascend into Heaven on the day He rose again, because such an event would have raised doubts and questions. Had he done that, many of the unbelievers would be in a position to project the argument that the Resurrection was one more dream of pious aspirations which easily emerge and more easily disappear. For this reason, then, Christ remained for 40 days on the earth, and appeared to His Disciples repeatedly, showing them the marks of His wounds, explaining to them the prophesies which he fulfilled in his life and sufferings as man, and even eating with them.
Why did the Risen Christ eat broiled fish and honey? The Gospel for today's Feast tells us that the Risen Christ asked for and ate "a piece of broiled fish and form honey of a honeycomb" (St. Luke 24:42). Why is this detail mentioned? According to the Church Tradition this detail has a very important allegorical meaning. As regards the fish, we know that although it lives in the salty sea, it is not salty, but sweet. In the same manner Christ, Who lived in the 'salty sea of sin' of this world, "He did not commit any sin, and no guile was found in His mouth" (Isaiah 53:9). Also, Christ remained even more voiceless than the fish when he endured His Saving Passion and received unheard-of torture and unmentionable insult. As regards the honey and the beeswax, we know that the honey is sweet and the beeswax is illuminative, and for this reason they are considered to be symbols of the spiritual pleasure and illumination which the Risen Christ transmits to the faithful. Also, honey and beeswax symbolizes, the former, the cure of the great bitterness of sin which is symbolized by the gall that was offered to the Lord at His Passion and, the latter, the diluteness of the dense darkness of sin which was symbolized by the darkness which took place at the Lord's crucifixion.
Why did the Ascension take place on the Mount of Olives? Once Christ had confirmed His Resurrection from the dead to His Disciples through His sweet teaching and enlightened their minds and warmed their hearts by His presence, He led them on the Fortieth Day after the Resurrection to the Mount of Olives which lies east of Jerusalem. It was fitting for the Ascension to take place from this mountain, because according to an ancient tradition, it is here that the Lord will return bodily and with glory on the last day when He will judge the world. It is here that the Lord will return bodily and with glory on the Last Day when He will judge the world. It is here that the righteous will receive the great mercy and here also that the sinner will grieve with an inconsolable lamentation. These two opposite conditions of humanity are denoted by the name of this Mount, because its peaks are called Mount of Olives and its foot Valley of Wailing. This is also what was pre-signified by the oracle of the prophet Zachariah which explicitly states:
"Then they will look on Me whom they have pierced. Yes, they will mourn for him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for him as one grieves for a firstborn...And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east...Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the Saints with Him."
Why the Apostles and the Theotokos had to be present at that time? The Lord led His disciples on this Mount, and the Theotokos who gave birth to Him as man, so that they could see with their own eyes His Glorious Ascension. His Mother after the flesh had to present at that great Glorification of her Son, so that she who had been gravely wounded in her soul for His Passion above all others, might commensurably rejoice by seeing her Son ascending into Heaven with glory, being worshipped as God by the Angels and being seated on the Throne of the Most High above all principalities and authorities. The divine Apostles had to be there also, that they might become eye-witnesses of the Lord's Ascension, be informed that their Divine Teacher Who is now ascending into heaven had initially come down from there, and that He will wait for them there as the True Son of God and Savior of the world."
(To be continued)
Please note: I feel very strongly that most of our Orthodox Christians have a superficial knowledge of the Orthodox Christian Faith and Holy Tradition. Today we are constantly challenged as Christians and therefore it is imperative that each one's knowledge is strong and deep. Many of our faithful have no idea how very deep our Christian faith is and because of it there is little appreciation of what we possess. There is so much meat, so much substance to our Orthodox Christian Tradition but there is not enough interest to learn more. An example of this is the Feast of the Ascension. How many know its salvific importance to the human race?
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God