Accordingly, dearly-beloved, throughout this time which elapsed between the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension, God’s Providence had this in view, to teach and impress upon both the eyes and hearts of His own people that the Lord Jesus Christ might be acknowledged to have as truly risen, as He was truly born, suffered, and died. And hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at His death on the cross and backward in believing His Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy.
Shall we ever behold this glory of our Lord? We shall behold it, for in His last, great prayer, the Lord prayed about this to His Father: I will, He prayed, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me (Jn. 17:24). The angels appeared to the Apostles after the Lord’s Ascension, witnessing that the Lord will come to all of us on the last day in the same appearance as the Apostles beheld Him ascending into Heaven (cf. Act. 1:2).
In this world, outward triumph means nothing—most important is inward triumph. Outward triumph will be given to Christ’s Church at the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our example of spiritual, inner victory is the life of our Savior. Outwardly He was defeated, crucified like an evil-doer and thief. But He accomplished the main thing for which He came into the world—His triumph over death; and any other triumph is meaningless in comparison.
It is especially important to remember this at the Feast of the Ascension, for the Ascension is not only the triumph of God, but even more the triumph of Man. We do not glorify God by belittling man and denying humanity its proper glory. Humanism, with its emphasis on the splendour of the human person, at least gets that right.
The Mount of Olives is one of the holiest places on the earth. It is first mentioned in the Bible over a thousand years before the birth of Christ, in the Second Book of Kings, where one finds described the expulsion of King David from Jerusalem and his withdrawal to the Mount of Olives for prayer (II Kings 15:23, 30-32). It was here also that the Prophet Ezekiel beheld a vision of the cherubim and the glory of the Lord (Ezek. 11:22-23).
Finally, in 1865, Fr. Antonin was appointed to Jerusalem and became head of the Mission, or the "pilgrimage organization" as they used to call it. Its task was to care for and feed the huge number of Russian pilgrims in the Holy Land who, every year, right up to World War I, arrived in the tens of thousands.
"Millions of the creatures crawled along the ground, making a great din," wrote one of the sisters of the convent, "a clear and obvious punishment from God, the like of which none of us has ever witnessed before. Every day for a month we have struggled against the all-devouring locusts, beating and burning them."
The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ is celebrated each year on the fortieth day after the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha (Easter). Since the date of Pascha changes each year, the date of the Feast of the Ascension changes. The Feast is always celebrated on a Thursday.
We know perfectly well that it is one of the very great Christian feasts, and yet, despite ourselves, it seems like a parting, a separation, and that after it, our Lord is not with us in quite the same way any longer. The disciples did not react like this. They could have been overwhelmed with grief, but, on the contrary, they ‘returned to Jerusalem with great joy’. We, too, can try and enter into this joy of the Ascension. Why does the Ascension bring joy to Christians?
Summer is almost here. It’s a good time to just take a deep breath, and relax. You know, go to the beach if you live close to it, have a barbeque, invite some friends over. I remember doing this on a grand scale as a child growing up in New Jersey. But how often do most of us do this anymore? We’re so busy, we’ve forgotten that true rest and relaxation, the kind that really restores you, is vital to our survival.
Words cannot describe the joys and beauties of our home which is heaven. All the beauty we have on earth is just a reflection of heaven. Think of the fairest scenes you have ever seen on earth; of rolling landscapes, of calm lakes and of winding streams, of fragrant meadows and of attractive gardens. Beautiful are the scenes of earth: yet this earth compared to heaven is a prison and a place of probation. No wonder people will cry out, "If our prison is so beautiful, what must heaven our palace be like!”
Ordinary human consciousness, drawing only on the experience of earthly existence and its physical laws, can no more comprehend Christ’s Ascension than it could His Incarnation or His Glorious Resurrection from the dead. Even the disciples who saw the empty Tomb, who saw the Risen Christ, who witnessed His Ascension, had mixed feelings about everything they had seen. They vacillated between exaltation over the miracles they had witnessed and misunderstanding and doubt.
The Lord ascended to Heaven in order to prepare for us, too, the path to the Heavenly Mansions, to open the Gates of Paradise, and Himself to be our Guide. Heaven that had been closed to men before the Resurrection now at the Ascension was opened by Christ the Savior.
The entire Christian mystery is expressed by this double movement of descent and ascension, the incarnation and glorification of the eternal Son of God. As Orthodox spiritual and liturgical tradition affirms, this movement was undertaken not for Christ’s own sake, but for ours. Through His incarnation, the Son of God took upon Himself our very life and being, the specific conditions of our human nature, in order to restore that nature to its original perfection, and to open the way for us to ascend with Him to the heights of heaven, there to share with Him His own glory and majesty.
We often fall into despondency, into a certain doubt, the feeling that we have parted with Christ and He has departed from us. But the Divine grace of the Holy Spirit, promised by our Savior, is always present with us; it does not depart from us unless we lose this joy and hope that filled the apostles.
The Ascension Orsha Convent is one of the oldest monastic communities in the Tver region. It was founded as a monastery for men at the turn of the thirteenth century. It was famous for the strict ascetic life of its monks. Among its founders was St. Sabbatius (Savvaty) of Orsha.
Christ would have liked to abide visibly with the apostles forever, but the world, hating Christ, was unable to contain His sojourn with it. The world, hating Christ, could condemn Him again and again to death. The world could no longer behold Christ because of its wickedness, which the Holy Spirit, having come into the world, was to convict.
The resurrection would have had no value, had there been no ascension. Even Pentecost was only given to us so that we might be able to participate, actually and personally, in the act of the ascension, which was accomplished by the Lord Jesus in His body. Therefore, today we find ourselves in the midst of heavenly joy. Man is seated, in the person of the Lord Jesus, in heaven, at the right hand of God the Father. This is true joy and there is no greater joy than this joy.
Thus did the One ascend to Heaven Who held heaven within Himself. He who carries hell within himself will end up in hell, but he who bears heaven within his soul will ascend to heaven. And truly, no one can ascend to heaven other than those who have heaven within; and no one can end up in hell besides those who have hell within.
The "two men in white apparel," who immediately after the ascension of the Lord appeared to the Apostles and asked them why they stood gazing up into heaven, were without doubt themselves inhabitants of heaven; therefore it is not to be supposed that this was displeasing to them, or that they desired to direct the gaze of those men of Galilee elsewhere. No. They desired only to put an end to the inert amazement of the Apostles when saying: Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?
If, during the course of six weeks, the Holy Church has been teaching us to preserve this peace which Christ granted on the first day of His Resurrection, saying: "Peace be unto you" (Jn. 20:19), then now this feeling of peace should fill our hearts. You see, this feeling of peace appears in all of us as an expectation of joy. People search for some kind of rest, some kind of comfort. For this they travel from place to place in order to find peace. And yet this peace is within them, only in an unrevealed state.