The Divine Ascension of Our Lord, Redeemer and God Jesus Christ (Part III)

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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!

(Last day that we chant the hymn Christ is Risen!)

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THE DIVINE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
By His Eminence Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, HIEROTHEOS

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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 (worship of many pagan gods).

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 to 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...

"...The Disciples obeyed Christ's command and, after worshipping Him, "they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they were continually in the temple, praising God" (Acts 24:52-53). Indeed, as it says in the Acts of the Apostles, they went up into the upper room and "they all joined together persevering in prayer and supplication, along with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with His brothers (St. Luke 24:52-53).

Interpreting these passages, in which we can see both Christ's Command and the Disciples' obedience to it, we can observe some interesting points.

First. The Disciples left the Mount of Olives with great joy. Although they had been deprived of Christ, they were exceedingly glad, precisely because they had the assurance that they would receive the Holy Spirit, and then they would be members of His Body. Actually, being deprived of Christ in the flesh was a blessing, because they gained another communion and unity with Him. Moreover, Christ assured them: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (St. John 12:32). Thus the Disciples' joy had two reasons. First, the hope of partaking of the Holy Spirit and second, the fact that they were granted to be personal eye - and ear-witnesses of such great mysteries.

Second. Between the Ascension and Pentecost there was a period of prayer, supplication and stillness, heyschia of both body and soul. No one can partake of the Holy Spirit unless he is in a state of prayer and inner nepsis. Moreover, the practical life, which is the keeping of Christ's Commandments, prepares the ground of what is called pure prayer, and prayer is the basic precondition for acquiring and partaking of the gift of the All-Holy Spirit.

Third. The Disciples are constantly gathered together, persevering, with the Panagia (Theotokos), Christ's Mother, in their midst. This shows the value of the worship of the Church, because at its center is the person most beloved to Christ and to the Christians, the Panagia (Ever-Virgin Mary). The Theotokos (Mother of God) did not claim any authority or any function in the Church, but She was at the center of the worship, the most precious treasure which the Church had and has.

Fourth. We should always obey Christ's Commandments, because they have a good and holy result. If the Disciples had not returned to Jerusalem, if in their distress they had departed each to his own home, they would not have been granted the Great Gift of receiving the Holy Spirit and of becoming members of the Body of Christ. Thus they did not simply keep the Commandment, but they were protected by it.

What took place in the life of Christ should also take place in the life of the Christians. Moreover, the imitation of Christ is not just outward conformity to some precepts and external commandments, but participation in Christ. We must live Christ's Passion, Cross and Resurrection in our own life.

This also applies to His Ascension. The Apostle Paul is clearly speaking about participation in Christ's Ascension, when he says: "For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the Archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the cloud to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever" (1 Thes. 4:16-17).

To be sure, in this passage the Apostle Paul is speaking of the people who will be living at the time when Christ comes with great glory, but the interpretation of the Holy Fathers, as we saw it also in the preceding analyses, also refers to the saints who will be taken up to meet the Lord when He comes, because they will be in a lofty spiritual state.

Saint Diadochos of Photiki says that what happened to Christ at His Ascension will also happen to the saints. Christ assumed the human body and deified it (theosis), and so man too can be deified through the riches of God's grace. "For he who belongs to the incarnate God through the body can also belong to those deified by the riches of His grace, be made gods by the generous God". That is to say that people can become gods, through the riches of the generous God.

We must go up to where Christ is and enjoy His Ascension, using action and vision of God. The action is purification of the heart by keeping the Gospel commandments, and the vision is illumination of the nous and its ascent to spiritual visions of God...

"...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 our own ascension. (Source: The Feasts of the Lord. An Introduction to the Twelve Feasts and Orthodox Christology.)

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Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Χριστός Ανέστη! Αληθώς Ανέστη!

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and God Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George