My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Our Only True God and Savior Jesus Christ,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
THE DIVINE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
By His Eminence Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, HIEROTHEOS
In the Gospels we often see Christ blessing the people. A characteristic case is the blessing which He gave to the children. It says, "And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them" (St. Mark 10:16). In this sense all the miracles which Christ performed have the element of blessing, but chiefly those which He did by laying His hands on the limbs of their bodies, as in the curing of Peter's mother-in-law (Saint Peter the Apostle was married) when "He touched her hand, and the fever left her" (Saint Matthew 8:15).
Thus when Christ was ascending to heaven, He blessed the Disciples, sending them His grace. It is characteristic to be emphasized that He did not bless them and then go up into heaven, but He was blessing them as He ascended. "As He blessed them He parted from them and was taken up into heaven". He began to bless them and continued blessing the Disciples as He went up to heaven, giving them power for success in doing the Commandments. By this He showed that He would always continue blessing His own, granting them His abundant and infinite grace (Macarios Chrysocephalos).
This image is presented in holy iconography by Christ enthroned blessing the people. Essentially it is a matter of the truth that Christ is King and Lord of heaven and earth, it is He Who sends grace and blessing to people. He is the only Blessed One, Who by His blessing, strengthens and makes worthy of the blessing those who are blessed. The Prophet King David says: "You open your hands, they are filled with good" (Psalm 104:28).
In addition to these interpretations, the fact that Christ ascended to Heaven blessing His Disciples, also has the meaning that He will always be with them. He Himself gave the assurance: "lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (St. Matthew 28:20).
"...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.
Saint Athanasius the Great, analyzing further these words of the Angels, says that the Angels in reality made it known to the Disciples that Christ would come again with His same Body, since He remains Godman through the ages. For He did not receive a body from the Panagia (the Mother of God) simply for use but for His Eternal possession. He is not "embodied" temporarily, but He is "incarnate" always. Christ remains Godman for ever.
The words of the Archangel refer to the Second Coming of Christ in glory to judge the people. Referring to His Second Coming, Christ Himself said: "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with him..." (Saint Matthew 25:31). Moreover, the teaching of the Apostle Paul that the saints will be invited and taken up to receive Christ Who will come with much glory has reference to this point. Therefore in the Creed (the Symbol of Faith) we confess: "And He shall come again with glory...").
The Angels' words referring to the Second Coming of Christ, were prophesied in the Old Testament. The Prophet Daniel says: "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days, and was led into his presence" (Daniel 7:13). And it is precisely to this coming that Christ's words refer: "They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory" (St. Matthew 24:30).
Between the time of the Ascension and that of the new coming of Christ is no emptiness, because there is the Church in which we become members of the Body of Christ and partake of It. Besides, as far as one is an organic member of the Church and a True Member of the Body of Christ, one can also experience His Ascension, as well as participate in the glory of His Coming.
Christ is perfect God and perfect Man, True Godman. Since by His incarnation He did not lose His Divinity and His presence with His Father, this is why the Angels always accompanied Him. In all the Lord's events we have the manifestation and presence of the Angels. Angels sang praise at His incarnation, Angels ministered to Him after His victory over the devil in the desert, Angels strengthened Him as He prayed in Gethsemane, Angels were present also at Christ's Ascent into Heaven.
During the event of the Ascension it is said that while the Disciples were looking at Christ ascending to Heaven, "a cloud hid Him from their sight". Then two men "dressed in white" stood beside them and said that Christ would come back again in the same way (Acts 1:9-11). Thus we have plenty of Angels at Christ's Ascension, even with the type and shape of the cloud as well as the type of men who were wearing white clothing. Saint John Chrysostom says that this is natural, because if all the air is filled with Angels, it must have been filled much more with the Angelic powers on the day when Christ ascended into heaven.
The Angels are spiritual creatures who were made by God and have a double function. The first is to glorify God unceasingly, as we see in many texts of the Old Testament, and the second, to help people to be saved. The word 'angel' (Gk. Αγγελος or aggelos) from the verb to announce and indicates those who make things known, who convey the message of man's salvation. The presence of the Angels at Christ's Ascension was prophesied in the Old Testament. The Prophet Ezekiel saw a splendid sight: "While I watched, the Cherubim spread their wings and rose from the ground, and as they went the wheels went with them" (Ezekiel 10:19). And the Prophet King David writes: "He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind" (Psalm 18:10)...
"...Apart from the Cherubim which took the form of a visible cloud and carried Christ, there also appeared two men dressed in white. But why did the Angels appear as men? Of course Angels do not have human bodies, but are ethereal beings. However, they appeared in the form of man so that the Disciples would not be afraid (Makarion Chrysocephalos). The fact that they wore bright clothing, "dressed in white", indicates "their clarity...and outstanding purity". It also means pleasure, because the brightness of their clothing proclaims the joyfulness of the angels (Makarios Chrysocephalos). Actually, the Angels are second lights, which receive light from God. The white clothing indicates the grace of God in which they are wrapped.
Saint John Chrysostom says that the two Angels appeared and said to the Disciples what we mentioned before, for two basic reasons. First, to comfort the Disciples grieving at the separation. Also the fact that Christ said that He would come again belongs to the same perspective. Secondly, to teach that Christ had ascended to Heaven, and this because the space of the sky is the highest and the eyes of the Disciples could not penetrate it and see where he is re-established. Furthermore, so that the Disciples would not think that He had gone up "as if to heaven" like the Prophet Elijah, but "into heaven."
(To be continued)
DIVINE SERVICES ON WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY OF THIS WEEK:
WEDNESDAY: (APODOSIS (Leave-taking) OF HOLY PASCHA)
Orthros (Matins) ................................................9:00 a.m.
Divine Liturgy.................................................................10:00 a.m.
Last day that we chant Christ is Risen)
THURSDAY: HOLY ASCENSION
Orthros (Matins) .....................................9:00 a.m.
Divine Liturgy.......................................................10:00 a.m.
(The Holy Ascension is one of the major feast days of our Church)
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN!
ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God