In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The feast of the Ascension of the Lord is one of the decisive links in our eternal human destiny. This destiny begins on the day that God calls the world from non-being into being with his mighty creative word. This world is placed before the face of God and by the creative word is called not only to temporal life but to remain eternally in the joy and glory of its Lord.
The destiny of the world and of man begins with God’s loving offer of the bliss of friendship with Him till the end of time. And when man fell away from God, when through the treachery of man the whole world was given over to suffering, God did not withdraw his love and abandon us. Never, neither in the hours of paradise nor in the dark years and centuries of the fall, was God a stranger to the world. He was constantly acting within it, arousing in men’s hearts all that was good and true, sending His guardian angels, His prophets and the messengers of His word, – and when the time was ripe the Lord Himself entered the life of the world. When God became incarnate He entered into the historical destiny of man so that there is no dividing line between this historical destiny and God’s eternal life. But the Lord not only entered the historical destiny of man by His incarnation, He united with Himself, with His divine nature, all that He had created – our human flesh which He put on not for a time but forever, our earth, our sky – and demonstrated its wonderful quality and glory. All that He created is capable not only of meeting God, but of being spirit-bearing, God-bearing.
The created world was not destroyed by its contact with the eternal, by the burning, divine union, but on the contrary was revivified, transfigured and assumed the true rights of the created, entered the true destiny of creation. But even this was not enough. After Christ had defeated death by His death, He ascended into heaven, and, ascending into the depths of divine incomprehensibility, the Lord took our human nature – the flesh received from the Virgin, the material of the created world – with Him into the Mystery of the Trinity. St John Chrysostom trying to describe the greatness of man says: “If you want to know how great man is do not turn to royal palaces, but raise your eyes to the throne of God and you will see, on the right hand of God the Father, the Son of Man clothed with our flesh.”
Here is the deepest and most glorious manifestation of man’s greatness and of his glorious calling. Christ ascended into heaven on the day of a blessed and wonderful parting which turned out to be no separation, because by ascending into heaven He did not get farther away from us, for heaven is not the sky, not a certain distance, but the mystery of God’s omnipresence, the glory that He had even before the world was. And when Christ says: “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me,” He is not only telling us that in our temporal existence we must tear ourselves away from all self-love, accept the whole weight of our earthly life and follow Him, firstly among the people, thence to Gethsemane and the trial and thence to the cross, He does not even say that whosoever follows Him thus shall rise again on the last day; He opens to us even greater possibilities. We are called upon to follow Him and according to His own word, to be where He is, in the eternal glory of the divine life.
In another ten days it will be Pentecost. We expect that having through Baptism become, to some extent at least, the Body of Christ and having received communion from Him over the years, we may now receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Through this gift our renewed humanity may be ignited with the fire of eternal life. Let us prepare ourselves reverently and attentively, so that the life-giving and transfiguring presence of the Holy Spirit may be renewed within us. Let us come to church on that day ready to begin a new life in Christ and in the Spirit and become truly, in reality, not just in our dreams, what St. Ignatius of Antioch calls the living body of Christ, the ‘total Christ’ in which the fullness of the Spirit resides. And by accepting this spirit of Christ and of Sonship, let us become, as with even greater daring St. Ireneus of Lyons says, “the Only begotten Son of God in the Only-begotten Son”.
May the blessing and mercy of the Lord be with us all. Amen.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
Apolytikion of Holy Ascension in the Fourth Tone
O Christ our God, You ascended in Glory and gladdened Your disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. Your blessing assured them that You are the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world.
Kontakion of Holy Ascension in the Plagal of the Second Tone
O Christ our God, upon fulfilling Your dispensation for our sake, You ascended in Glory, uniting the earthly with the heavenly. You were never separate but remained inseparable, and cried out to those who love You, “I am with you and no one is against you.”