My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
THE DIVINE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
By Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos
Forty days after the Resurrection of 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 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, we shall also establish its great value.
First we must see exactly what Holy Scripture says about the divine Ascension. The Old Testament makes prophecies about this great event, and the New Testament presents it. We are not going to quote all the passages, but just the most indicative ones, because in the analysis which follows we shall also be looking at other passages which speak of Christ's Ascension.
Just as we have prophecies about all the happenings of the Lord in the Old Testament, this is true for the divine Ascension as well. The Prophet Ezekiel saw a vision, which certainly refers to Christ's Ascension: "Then the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted their wings and mounted up from the earth in my sight" (Ezekiel 10:18-19).
Prophecy relating to this great event of the Lord is reported chiefly in the Psalms of David. In one of them it says: "God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet" (Psalm 47: 5). And another Psalm says: "He bowed the heavens also, and came down with darkness under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub, and flew, He flew upon the wings of the wind" (Psalm 18: 9-10).
It is a well known, and something which we have also said in other analyses, that the revelation of God in the Old Testament are revelations of the Unincarnate Logos/Word. What was prophesied in the Old Testament was realized in the New Testament by the Incarnation of the Logos/Word of God. Thus Christ's Ascension is mentioned many ties in the New Testament. We shall look at this at three particular points.
First, in the teaching of Christ Himself. In His speech to the Disciples before His 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: 28). 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 3:13).
Secondly, we see the Ascension in the stories of the Evangelists, who refer to this event. Concretely, it is told by the Evangelist Mark (St. Mark 16:19) and St. 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 Acts of the Apostles, which we shall look at in what follows.
Thirdly, there are many apostolic passages which show the Apostles' assurance about this event. Especially in the early Church the Ascension constituted one of the characteristic points of the Symbols of the baptisteries, that is to say, they comprised the confession of faith before Baptism. The Apostle Paul, referring to the central points in Christ's work of absolution, the work of the divine Economy, also includes the Ascension: "God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by the Angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory" (1 Timothy 3:16). Referring to the power of the Father, he says that it "worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:20). Elsewhere we have said that the power of the Father is also the Son's power. After Christ cleansed us from sins "He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3), and indeed Christ gave the promise to all who were united with Him that they too would sit on the throne of His Father: "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne"(Revelation 3:21).
From these passages which have been cited It is very clear that the Church attaches great meaning to the event of the divine Ascension, because, as we shall see, Christ's Ascension expresses the deepest meaning of the spiritual life.
Before going on to the theology of the Ascension we should look at why Christ was raised up forty days after His Resurrection, because what happened in Christ's life is not without reason. All things have their reason and purpose.
Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite, calling on the witness of St. Macarios Chrysocephalos and St. Gregory of Agrigentum, says that Christ in His human nature had three births, the first from the Virgin Mary, the second by Baptism and the third by Resurrection. And with reference to these three births He was called first-born, because in the first He is First-Born among many brothers according to communion of the flesh, in the second He was called first-born of the new creation, and in the third, first-born of the dead. If we are attentive, we shall discover that forty days after these three births, after each of these three happenings of the Lord, there followed an important event. Forty days after His birth He was brought to the Temple, and we have the feast of the Circumcision. Forty days after His Baptism in the Jordan River He conquered the devil in those three temptations. And forty days after His Resurrection He ascended into Heaven and offered to His Father the first-fruits of our own nature.
To be sure, Christ could have raised human nature to Heaven immediately after His Resurrection, but He did not do it, lest the Resurrection should seem to be an illusion. After His Resurrection Christ showed Himself to His Disciples, performed miracles and thus strengthened their faith so that they became witnesses to His Resurrection. In this way, after undoing the suspicion that He was an illusion and referring to the things concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit and His Ascension, in the end He made them spectators of His Ascension (Saint Athanasios the Great). In this way we have a true witness of this divine happening.
Finally, Christ, in great charity and love is humbled and accepts the infirmity of human nature. Just as He has assumed all the so-called innocent passions, so also He accepts the infirmity of human nature and does everything, is humbled, in order to save man. (Source: The Feasts of the Lord: An Introduction to the Twelve Feasts and Orthodox Christology by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos).
(To be continued)
TODAY, June 9th: The Great Feast-Day of the Holy Ascension of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Divine Services: Orthros: 9:00 a.m. and Divine Liturgy at 10:00 a.m.
Point of information: Yesterday was the last day that we chant the Christ is Risen hymn as well as greet one another: Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God