Homily on the Divine Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ (St. Gregory of Nyssa)

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


By Saint Gregory of Nyssa

Saint Gregory of Nyssa's brief homily on the Divine Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ is perhaps the most ancient witness of this feast's existence, and he does not hesitate to call it the "Great Celebration". The literal reading of the title is "Concerning that festive day which is said to be consecrated in the of the Cappadocians: the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ." On the other hand, there is little allusion to Christ Ascension into heaven; the homily turns out to be more a commentary on Psalms 22 and 23. Because of this, it is not difficult to see that Saint Gregory's sermon was most likely composed about the same time as his Commentary on the Inscriptions of the Psalms.

With the theme of Christ's Ascension in mind and despite the fact that it is scarcely mentioned, Saint Gregory brings his readers' attention at the end of his homily to this mystery which allows us "to obtain citizenship (politeia) with God in Christ Jesus our Lord." He earlier refers to such politeia which is "in accord with virtue" and which allows us to ascend "that mountain of His royal dwelling." Here the practice of virtue, ascent, and restoration all combine in order to describe that citizenship won by the passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ.

How agreeable a companion is the Prophet David in all life's ways! Not only has he wonderfully joined to it every spiritual stage of life but has included every type of advancement! He has played with those who infants according to God, struggled with men, instructed youths, supported those in old age and performed every type of service for all sorts of people. He was a weapon for those engaged in combat, an instructor for athletes, offered a wrestling school for persons occupied with contests, was a crown of victory, supplied joy for those at table and consolation for persons in grief. Everything according to human life was included to partake of this grace. What power of prayer had David dispensed? What cheer at feasts did the Prophet not adorn? We must now see that the Prophet enhances our great celebration in yet another way while he has provided us in an appropriate manner with joy by referring to the Psalms (cf. Ps. 22). Through one sheep he bids that God nourish you, to lack no good thing, to reside in green grass, to have the water of rest, nourishment, shelter, a path, road and the Good Shepherd Who generously takes care of all of your needs (cf. St. John 10:11).

In every circumstance, he instructs the Church because you must first be a sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd through instruction in the good to keep the divine laws of doctrine and be led to the fountain. In this way, you may be buried with Him (cf. Romans 6:3-4) through Baptism in death and not fear such death. This is not death itself but its shadow and symbol. "If I walk in the midst of the shadow of death I will not fear evil because you are with me" (Psalm 22[23]):4). Then the Spirit consoles with a rod (for the Spirit is the Comforter) and sets a mystic table before the demons who afflict men through idolatry. The table of the Spirit is inimical to theirs. The Spirit next anoints the head with oil and offers wine to gladden the heart (cr. Psalm 103:15) with the sober inebriation for the soul, situating our thoughts in eternity instead of temporal concerns. A taste of inebriation brings an abrupt halt to life's incompleteness through sudden death and extends our residents in God's house to the length of days.

Such a greater, more perfect joy has been bestowed upon us in one of the Psalms which rouses the soul (cf. Psalm 23). If possible, we will briefly explain its meaning to you. "The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord" (vs. 1). Oh man, what can be new if our God has been seen on earth and lived with men? Because the earth is His creation and He made it, it is not unusual nor unbecoming to see the Lord come to what is His own" (cf. St. John 1:11). He was not in a strange world but in the earth which He had established upon the foundation of the seas and fixed a good passage for the rivers. What was the reason for His presence? Having cast the ruin of sin away from you, He ascended the mountain of His royal dwelling in His chariot and then opened up a way of citizenship for you in accord with virtue. You cannot ascend that mountain unless you are innocent in the company of virtues and are washed from every evil deed, pure in heart without vanity in your soul nor inflict your neighbor with grief. The blessing of this ascent is a prize, and the Lord bestows His mercy which He had stored up. "This is the generation seeking Him" through virtue ascending on high and "seeks the face of the God of Jacob" (Psalm 23:6).

(To be continued)


"Glory be to GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos


With sincere agape in Our Lord's Resurrection,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George