My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
On this day, Thursday of the Sixth Week of Pascha,
the Holy Orthodox Church Commemorates the Holy
ASCENSION into the Heavens of Our Lord and God
and Savior JESUS CHRIST.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Fourth Tone
THOU has ascended in glory, O Christ Our God, and gladdened
Thy Disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit; and they were
assured by the blessing that Thou art the Son of God and
Redeemer of the world.
Kontakion Hymn. Plagal of Second Tone
WHEN Thou hadst fulfilled Ty dispensation for our sakes, uniting
things on earth with the Heavens, Thou didst ascend in glory, O
Christ Our God, departing not hence but remaining inseparable
from us and crying unto them that love Thee: I am with you, and
no one can be against you.
On this Thursday, of the Sixth Week following Pascha, that is, FORTY DAYS SINCE THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST FROM THE DEAD, we celebrate the Lord’s Ascension at Jerusalem. "Although many resurrections and ascensions have occurred," says Saint Gregory Palamas, "yet we celebrate none of them as we do the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension. Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension are the resurrection and ascension OF OUR HUMAN NATURE, AND NOT JUST OF OUR HUMAN NATURE, BUT OF EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES IN CHRIST AND SHOWS HIS FAITH IN WORKS."
Prior to His Ascension, the Lord said to His Disciples: "BUT YE SHALL RECEIVE POWER, AFTER THE HOLY SPIRIT IS COME UPON YOU; AND YE SHALL BE WITNESSES TO ME BOTH IN JERUSALEM, AND IN ALL JUDAEA AND SAMARIA, AND UNTO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH" (Acts 1:8). And having said these things, while they looked, He was taken up; and from "before their eyes," a cloud took Him up from under (Acts 1:9). Saint John Chrysostom reminds us of what is written in the Scripture: "Thick darkness was under His feet" [Psalm 17:10]. And, "Clouds and darkness are round about Him" (Psalm 96:2). The Hosts on high recognized the Only-Begotten of the Father. The Angels, in human form, asked, "Why do ye stand gazing so intently into the heavens’ heights?"
Indeed, while the Disciples were gazing intently into the heavens as He went, then behold two men stood by them in white raiment, who also said, "One Who was taken p from you into the heaven, SO SHALL HE COME IN THE MANNER YE BEHELD HIM GOING INTO THE HEAVEN" [Acts 1:10]. Saint Gregory Palamas observes that "with a radiant cloud for a chariot, He ascended in glory." He entered the Holy of Holies not made by hands and sat down on the right of the Majesty in the heavens. The Apostles continued looking steadfastly toward heaven. They learned authoritatively from Angels that He WOULD COME AGAIN FROM HEAVEN IN THE SAME WAY WITH EVERYONE WATCHING. The Lord Himself foretold this, and earlier Daniel had seen it and declared: "I beheld in the night vision, and lo, One coming with the clouds of heaven as the Son of Man" (Daniel 7:13). The Lord Himself said, ‘And then shall THE SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN APPEAR IN THE HEAVEN, AND THEN THE TRIBES OF THE EARTH SHALL MOURN, AND THEY SHALL SEE THE SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE HEAVEN WITH POWER AND GREAT GLORY" (Matthew 24:30)…
The Lord went up in jubilation, with the voice of the trumpet, TO RAISE THE FALLEN IMAGE OF ADAM, AND TO SEND THE COMFORTING SPIRIT TO SANCTIFY OUR SOULS" (Pentecostation, Doxastikon of Vespers Aposticha). He Who existed before all ages, and Who took man’s nature on Himself, and divinized it mystically, was taken up on this day.. For He hd resurrected with Himself "ADAM’S FORM WHICH LAY PROSTATE IN THE UTTERMOST HOLDS OF HEADES’ VAULT." CHRIST RAISED UP HUMAN NATURE WHICH FELL INTO CORRUPTION. IN His Ascension He EXALTED US AND GLORIFIED US TOGETHER WITH HIMSELF. "So our nature, which fell of old, hath been raised up higher than the Angels, and hath been placed on the throne of God in a manner surpessing understanding." Christ brought our nature to His Father. Indeed, riding on a cloud, He came to the Father’s bosom, which He had in no wise left. Christ, being clothed with Adam’s nature, didst ascend and sit on the right of the Father, being of equal ranks with Him. Human nature ASCENDED TO THE HEAVENS. IT IS NOW MADE ONE WITH THE LOGOS/WORD, ALMIGHTY GOD. We praise Christ Who by His descent destroyed the adversary, and Who by His ascent raised up man."
The LORD REMAINS INSEPARABLE FROM US. HE FULFILLED THE "DISPENSSATION ON EARTH FOR OUR SAKES, UNITING THING ON EARTH WITH THE HEAVENS." He said to us, "I AM WITH YOU ALL THE DAYS UNTIL THE COMPLETION OF THE AGE" (Matthew 28:20). Now the Lord hastened up into the heavens, "There, the bountiful Giver of gifts, distributed gifts to His Apostles, calling to them as a father, and srengthening them."
The Disciples then "returned to Jerusalem from "the ount which is called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem, being a sabbath’s day journy (Acts 1:12).
As to the iconography for this feast, "Christ’s glory is represented as a mandoria, oval, composed of several concentric circles, the symbol of the high heavens. The presence of Angels supporting the mandoria is not out of necessity, since the Savior ascended by His own Divine power and had no need of their assistance. The Angels and the mandoria are merely the expression of His glory and greatness…Although the Mother of God is not directly mentioned in the Scripture during this episode, IT IS AFFIRMED BY TRADITION AND IN THE TEXTS OF THE DIVINER SERVICE, AS IN Ode Nine of the Orthros (Matins) Canon, that our Lady was with the Disciples a special position, being place directly below our Savior. Her importance is often emphasized by her standing on higher ground. Her severe immobility to the apostles animated gesticulations neeeds to be mentioned. This link between the Ascension of the deified human body of the Savior and the coming Pentecost–the beginning of teh divinization of man through the descent of the Holy Spirit–is emphasized by the whole divine service of the festival. The place of this group–the Church–in the foreground of the icon is a graphic expression of the signficance and role of the Scripture attribute to the establishment of the Church in the last commandments of the Savior. In fact what is meant here is, indeed, the Church IN ITS FULL COMPLEMENT–AND NOT ONLY THE PEOPLE WHO WERE HISTORICALLY PRESENT AT THE ASCENSION, WHICH IS SHOWN BY THE PRESENCE OF APOSTLE PAUL. AS TO MOTHER OF GOD, SHE IS THE PERSONIFICATION OF THIS CHURCH–THE BODY OF CHRIST, WHOSE HEAD IS THE ASCENDING CHRIST. SHE IS IN A GESTURE OF PRAYER, UPLIFTED HANDS, EXPRESSING HER ROLE AND THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH. (Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church)
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in the Divine Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George