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 III)
By Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos
The Prophet Isaiah presents this wonder of the Angels in a wonderful passage. The Angels said with puzzlement: "Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength?...Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress?" (Isaiah 63:1-2)
The Angels saw Christ coming up to heaven and expressed their puzzlement. Edom is the earthly. Bozrah means the flesh, and the redness of the clothing indicates the garment of dyed red. Here the clothing refers to the humanity of Christ, red is the color of the blood which flowed from Christ's side. Christ's body was ornamented by His Passion. So Christ's Body is red like the clothes of one who treads the winepress (Saint Nicetas). Clearly, then, the reference here is to Christ's Passion.
Saint Gregory the Theologian, referring to Christ's Ascension and interpreting this passage of the Prophet Isaiah, says: "Set forth the beauty of the array of the Body that suffered, adorned by the Passion, and made splendid by the Godhead, that which nothing can be more lovely or more beautiful." The body which Christ assumed was beautified, made splendid and adorned by the Passion and His Resurrection.
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 Nicodemos 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 windows 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).
To this question of the Angels Christ answers: "I speak of righteousness and saving judgment...I am full of trodden grape, and of the nations there is not a man with me; I trampled them in my fury, and dashed them to pieces as earth, and brought down their blood to the earth" (Isaiah 63: 1-3, Sept.).
The preaching of the Gospel is righteousness, and the way of salvation is saving judgment. Christ further assures the Angels that He alone has conquered death and the devil, without the help of anyone else. Clearly here the Divinity of Christ is also being pointed out, among other things, because as God He shattered death and by His blood gave life to men.
During His life Christ answered the Scribes and Pharisees who were complaining because He received sinners and ate with them, said that this is also what the good shepherd does when he loses one sheep, he leaves the other ninety-nine in the open country and goes to the mountains to look for the lost sheep. And when he finds it he puts it on his shoulders and rejoices. Then he comes home and inviting all his friends, urges them to rejoice with him, because he has found the lost sheep (St. Luke 15: 4-6).
This beautiful soteriological (salvific) image is used by Saint Epiphanios of Cyprus in his homily on Christ's Ascension to point to the work which He accomplished on earth. And indeed he presents Christ as saying to His Father, when He has ascended to heaven: "Father, I found the lost sheep which the deceitful serpent beguiled with crafty artifices, suggesting evil paths and corrupting the purity of its knowledge of God with the clay of polytheism".
Next he presents Christ as saying to His Father that He found this sheep choking in the mire of life and, after grasping it with the right hand of His Divinity, He washed it in the water of the Jordan, filled it with the fragrance of the Holy Spirit, and by His Resurrection has come offering this rational sheep as a worthy gift of His Divinity.
After presenting the offering of this logical black sheep by Christ to His Father, Saint Epiphanios also presents the devil's lamentation after his defeat by Christ, who "like a swift-flying hawk" has seized all those whom the devil held captive. And furthermore, when the devil sees our own body ascending to heaven and sin being dispersed like smoke by Christ's Ascension, he laments and wails, confessing that the son of Mary has deceived him. He did all these things to eliminate Christ, by slanders, persecution, and even the Cross, but in the end this had been at his expense. Now he sees him ascending in glory to heaven, while he has fallen with shame and disgrace.
The devil's pain is great as Saint Epiphanios presents it, because, as he confesses, when as Lucifer he sinned in heaven he was flung down to earth like a stone. He hid in the waters, but He came to earth and when He found him hidden in the channels of the Jordan, He caught him and chewed him like a dragon. He wants to rule the earth, but he hears the voice: "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein."
From these words it can be seen that Christ's Ascension completely destroyed the power of the devil, because the evil demon saw Christ's final victory, and even his faintest hopes were frustrated when he saw the human nature of Christ ascending to Heaven and being placed on the right of the throne of God. Therefore the feast of the Ascension is the fullness of the feasts of the Lord...
Since we are members of the Church in which the whole work of the Divine Dispensation is experienced, we have obligations. As citizens of the incorporeal we must be far removed from desires of the flesh. As members of holy humanity and temples of God we must live in holiness. Since God has granted us the royal house, the Church, instead of hell, we must make our peace with God (Proklos, Archbishop of Constantinople).
It is necessary to practice purity of the body and soul. A person must keep the eye of his soul as a watchful guard so that when the robber devil comes to pollute him with bodily sins, he will be ready to say: "I am not going to turn traitor to the Lord's possession" (Saint Epiphanios). That is to say, I will not betray the property which belongs to the Lord Christ...
Christ's Ascension is celebrated in hymns and spiritual chants, but at the same time in action and vision of God, which means with purity and illumination of the nous. Within this struggle and illumination the person rejoices at the great meaning and very deep content of the feast. Then he can rejoice exceedingly over this feast of the Lord.
This joy, which is not a sentiment, but comes from the experience of the dispensation and the theology, has two basic causes. The first is that by His Ascension "to the place where he was before", Christ showed that He was not merely a man or the son of Joseph the carpenter, but the Son of God (Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite). And the second is that the joy comes from lifting up and ascent of our nature (Saint Gregory Palamas). This of course is also closely connected with the ascension of every person who believes and is joined to Christ. Thus the Head of our body is on the throne of God. So also our limbs can awaken from the sleep of sin and be deified.
Christ's Ascension is the jewel of all the feasts of the Lord, the completion of all that Christ did for us, through the work of the Divine Dispensation. This consummate feast invites us to spiritual perfection and fullness, to participate in Christ's Ascension and the experience of our own ascension. (Source: The Feasts of the Lord: An Introduction to the Twelve Feasts and Orthodox Christology by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos)
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 His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God