Beloved brothers and sisters 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
By Protopresbyter George Dion Dragas
How did this utterly unfamiliar and unique event of the Ascension of Christ occur? They had already arrived at the middle peak of the Mount. The city of Jerusalem stretched in front of them. The hole where the Cross had stood was still open. So was also the entrance to the Grave of the Savior, since the great stone that had been used to seal it was still lying on the ground. And then, the Savior turns His back to the ungrateful city of Jerusalem and His glance looks to the East, as David joyfully sings I one of his psalms: "Sing to the Lord who is going up to the heaven towards the East" (Psalm 67:34). And as He takes leave of His disciples, He raises His pure hands and blesses them for the last time--those hands with which He recreated the man whom he created at the beginning, and which He stretched on the Cross out of love for humanity and united those that had been severed, i.e., those which had been made foreigners. Just as the eyes of the disciples could not be satisfied enough in seeing the Divine and sweet face of the Lord, suddenly He began to ascend into heaven. Their glance remained nailed, as it were, on that paradoxical and inexplicable display of the bodily Ascension of the Lord, until He was concealed by the luminous cloud.
How utterly unfamiliar and unique was the majesty of this Ascension? Prophet Elijah had also ascended into heaven, as Holy Scripture relates; but this Ascension took place by means of a fiery chariot and fiery horses, because Elijah was a mere man and needed help in order to ascend above the earth. Christ, however, was the God-man and ascended by Himself, by virtue of His own omnipotence. As regards that cloud, it had to do with the Holy Spirit, just as it happened with the Transfiguration of Christ. Just as Christ's descent and becoming man were brought about through the Holy Spirit, according to the message of Archangel Gabriel ("The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you," (Saint Luke 1:35), so now He "co-ascends" with the Holy Spirit because He follows Him and coexists with Him, being coessential ("homoousion") with Him, and being worship and glorified together with Him.
Why were those two anthropomorphic and white-dressed Angels sent? While the holy Apostles were gazing with astonishment at the heavenly sight, two men appeared to them dressed in white garments. These two men were Angels, who had assumed a human form in order to avoid scaring the disciples. They were dressed in white so that their chastity might be manifest, as well as the enlightening and joyous message which they were sent to deliver. They were sent by Christ on His Ascension, in order to console them at the moment of their sorrow for His departure, but also to enlighten them that they Lord Who is now invisible is seated at the Right Side of God the Father and that He will descend to the earth once again in order to judge all human beings, the living and the dead.
What is the message of the Angels dress in white? "Men of Galilee," they told them, "why do you stand with your gaze nailed on the sky? This Jesus, Whom you see today being taken up, will return to judge the world, and His return will be the same with His Ascension." In other words, He will come from heaven wearing the same immaculate body, which He assumed from the blood of the Pure Virgin, and which will bear upon it the marks from the wounds which He received at His Passion. Right now it is only you disciples who see Him ascending to heaven; but when He returns, all the races of the earth will see Him descending from there with glory upon the clouds. His glorious condescension will become the cause of blessedness and joy for those who lived righteously. For the sinners, however, it will be the cause of sorrow and calamity.
What was the impact of the Ascension for the Apostles and the small flock of the first Church? Having heard this message, the Apostles worshiped the Savior on His Ascension and, then, joyfully returned to Jerusalem. Their joy was great, because they had definitely learned that their Divine Teacher was True God Who Ascended into heaven, not because He abandoned the earth, but in order to unite it with heaven. Their joy was also great because they received the blessing of their Savior on His Ascension. It was with this blessing that the numerically small Church of the disciples greatly increased its numbers in a relatively short space and, having received the grace of the Holy Spirit, was established as the Great Church throughout the earth.
What was the impact of the Ascension on the orders of the Angels in Heaven? While these things occurred on the earth because of the Ascension, the Angels mounted a great celebration in heaven. The Angels which served the Savior on the earth and now accompanied Him on His Ascension called out the orders above to open the heavenly gates for the King of Glory to enter in. As David sings, "Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of Glory may come in!" (Psalm 23:7). Since through His saving Passion Christ the Savior became more glorious and highly exalted--as the Apostle Paul actually puts it, "Having humbled Himself and having become obedient unto death, indeed a death by crucifixion, God exalted Him highly and granted Him the Name which is above all" (Phil. 2:9)--for this reason the gates of heaven ask to become higher in order to welcome Him more fittingly. Also, because the glory of the Victor of hades and death, which could not be contained by the small space of the earth, but filled the heavens, the Angels ask that they too be expanded on his appearance! At the same time, the heavenly hierarchies of the Angels, seeing the human body to be transferred above them, were seized by shock and amazement; because, just as a human being is seized by amazement of fear on seeing an Angel on the earth, so the bodiless Angels, seeing a body raised on a cloud, seek with amazement to learn about this paradoxical display, and to be twice assured about the identity of this King of Glory. Hearing, then, that He is the Lord, powerful in battles Who fought the devil and defeated him and Who is now ascending into Heaven, they wonder how this superbly luminous body is dressed in royal purpose and ask, "Who is this that comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bosor, who is glorious in his apparel" (Isaiah 63:1)? In other words, who is this earthly person, who comes wearing a flesh which is like a superbly bright, royal purple dress? Because, Edom means earthly and Bosor means flesh, and the point of reference here is the glorified body of Christ the King which appeared to be red in His Ascension into heaven due to the marks of the wounds on His immaculate side, His hands and His feet
THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST FOR THE CHRISTIANS:
a) Christians ought to be united with Christ, loving Him and keeping His Commandments. Since the joy for the gifts of Christ granted to us is true, and the hope that we too will enter into that dwelling place of Light and live the blessed life is also assured, we ought to be united with Him already in this life, knowing that Christ is the source of Light and Life. There is no other way for us to achieve this, except to love Him with all our soul, and to keep His saving Commandments. When we do this we become God's dwelling place and begin to experience the true joy of life, recognizing the benefits of His grace and realizing that our joy will be completed when we too participate in His Ascension and the glory of His presence and co-reign with Him forever. And this is not all, because we will also sit on the throne of His Divine Majesty, as this was explicitly revealed by the truthful mouth of our Savior, which said: "To him who overcomes, I will grant him to sit with me at my throne, just I have overcome and am seated with my Father at his throne" (Rev. 3:21). This is the glory that we will receive if we conquer the passions. We will rise and arrive where the Savior led today His nature, which is related to us, namely, His human bodily existence.
b) Christians ought to live on earth as citizens of heaven. Who, then, would deny, that even if we had a thousand souls and lives, and had to suffer a thousand deaths, we should accept these with absolute eagerness, in order to enjoy even one day of that ineffable glory? Which earthly benefit could constrain our hearts on this earth, which our Savior left, since our citizenship is in heaven and since the ineffable glory awaits us there? Our Lord Ascended into heaven, and we here can follow Him, remaining united with Him through faith and virtue...we are called to leave earthly things on the earth, so that we can be more transportable in our journey above. This means that we are called to leave earthly things on the earth, and to take off our coats of skin, which we put on account of our sin. As the Prophet Elijah threw off his woolskin when the time came for him to ascend to heaven, so should we shake off every agonizing, material endeavor and be detached from a servile attachment to the earth, so that we can easily ascend to the heavenly places. How can we worthily prepare ourselves to rise to the clouds and to go out to meet with our Lord, when He comes with all His Royal Glory? On that great and celebrated Day, all human beings will be resurrected. Not all of them will be caught up in the clouds of Saints to go out to meet the Lord in the air. This will happen only to those who kept the Commandments of Christ and loved Him with all their heart (I Thess. 4:16-17); because only these will be prepared to enjoy such a glory, and only to them will be granted to enjoy that eternal and ineffable blessedness.
...We should thank our Savior because He gave us the opportunity to celebrate His Ascension and to beseech Him from the depths of our heart to make us worthy to celebrate the Holy Pentecost as well and be renewed with the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is with this grace that we shall be able to continue the struggle for virtue and to do the works which are worthy of our heavenly calling, and finally to enter the great joy of the coming of our Lord.
(To be continued)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God