My beloved spiritual children 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.
THE DIVINE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST (Part II)
By Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos
The Lord's events are not separate from one another, nor are they rationalized. All the feasts of the Lord are saving events of the Divine Economy, for it was by them that Christ arranged the salvation of the human race. Christ became man, He taught, He suffered, He was resurrected, and ascended into heaven. There is a remarkable oneness among them. The Ascension is the last feast of the Lord, it is the end of the Annunciation and the Nativity.
Yet in the Holy Fathers there is a slight parallel, by economy, among the feasts. We say by economy, because if Christ had not become Incarnate (taken flesh), the Resurrection and the Ascension would not have taken place. And if He had not risen from the dead, the Incarnation would have appeared to be in vain.
Saint Epiphanios, Bishop of Cyprus, analyzing the greatness and the value of the feast of the Ascension, says that many people who do not know the greatness of this feast regard it as lower than the others. However, just as the head is the jewel of the body, so also the feast of the Ascension is an embellishment of all the feasts. It is the fullness of all the feasts of the Lord. A first feast is the awe-inspiring and wonderful Nativity of Christ in the flesh. Second is the feast of the Theophany (Epiphany), which has a greater vision of God than the first. The third feast is the Resurrection, which was shown to be more glorious than the preceding ones, because death was conquered, but even this did not have the fullness of joy, because Christ was still on earth. However, the feast of the Ascension filled the world with rejoicing, because when Christ opened the heavens, He showed us an extraordinary sight, "our flesh lifted up on the kingly throne" at the right hand of God the Father. So the value of the Ascension is in the fact that the human flesh which was deified (theosis) by its union with the divine nature of the Logos/Word, is seated on the kingly throne, at the right hand of the Father.
By His incarnation Christ deified nature (theosis), but men did not have much knowledge of the greatness of His glory, and that it is why they misunderstood Him, slandered Him, and finally crucified Him. But when Christ ascended into heaven, then men gained perfect knowledge of Christ. Thus the Incarnation, with the Ascension which followed, filled the world with the knowledge of God (Saint Diadochos of Photike).
But 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 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 (Saint Macarios of Philadelphia).
Of course again we must observe that all the happenings of the Lord are unique and no one can evaluate one above the other. However, with respect to man's participation in them, we see some differences. For, with regard to advance in spiritual life and degree of imitation of Christ, there is an ascent upward. First we are born with Christ, then we suffer with Christ, then we conquer the power of the devil, and are resurrected, and lastly we can even experience deification (theosis). It is precisely the feast of the Ascension which the Holy Fathers connect with the deification (theosis) of man.
In this perspective Saint Gregory Palamas says that the Resurrection is connected with all men, but the Ascension only with the Saints. This is said from the point of view that by His Resurrection Christ conquered death and gave the gift of Resurrection to all. All will be resurrected on the day of Christ's Second Coming, both the righteous and the sinners, but not all will be taken up. Only the righteous, the deified will be found worthy of this great experience. The Holy Apostle Paul confesses: "And those who have died in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thes. 4:16-17).
Thus all will be resurrected, but only the righteous will be taken up, will be caught up in the clouds to meet Christ coming from Heaven. This shows a greater communion and unity with him. That is why, from the soteriological (salvific) point of view, the Ascension is regarded as a greater feast, precisely because he who has a share in the Ascension has a share in deification (theosis)...
The Greek word for 'ascension' is 'analipsis'. This word is used to point to the ascent of the Godman to heaven where He sits with God the Father. He was always sharing the throne with His Father, but now He is Incarnate sharing the throne. Observing Christ's Ascension to heaven, we are looking at a "peculiar racecourse", because the Creator of the world borne up in a human chariot (Saint Epiphanios of Cyprus)...
Christ is the first and only one who has gone up to heaven with the body which he assumed from the Panagia (Ever-Virgin Mary). 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 words "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 Holy Fathers of the Church, the Panagia (The All-Holy Mother of God) too ascended to heaven with her body, but this 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 Panagia receives deification (theosis), while Christ's Body is a source of uncreated grace...
The holy icon of Christ's Ascension is splendid. The Disciples were astonished and watched with joy and wonder as He ascended into heaven. Saint Luke reports; "Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up...and while they looked steadfastly towards heaven as He went up..." (Acts 1:9-10)...While the Disciples had their gaze fixed on heaven, the Angels, about whom we shall say what needs to be said later on, 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 Disciples, also at the time when they did not see Christ, were fixed on heaven in ecstasy and amazement.
(To be continued)
"Since then Christ's Ascension is our uplifting, and the hope of the Body is raised, whither the glory of the Head has gone before, let us exult, dearly beloved, with worthy joy and delight with thanksgiving. For today, not only are we confirmed as possessors of Paradise, but we have also in Christ penetrated the heights of heaven. We have gained still greater things through Christ's unspeakable grace than we had lost through the devil's malice" (Saint Leo the Great).
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
GLORY BE TO GOD FOR ALL THINGS!
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God