Heaven and Earth are united on this Feast of Christ’s Ascension. Forty days after the Resurrection, the Lord took the eleven disciples to Galilee, to the Mount which He had appointed, there some worshiped Him yet some doubted. Then, He said unto them: All authority is given to me in Heaven and on Earth. Go therefore, and Baptize all the Nations in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the Age. These are the last earthly words of the Savior to the Disciples. They are poignant words, because in them is summarized the purpose of the Church in the world: to initiate man into the mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection in the name of the Holy Trinity by the threefold immersion in the Baptismal waters; and to furthermore preserve man in the Teaching of Christ: this is the Orthodox Faith. This is the Gospel, and the Sacramental Life of the Church—most crucially as it is lived by the Church through the Holy Liturgy, wherein we live Christ’s Life. We live Christ’s Life in and through the Holy Mysteries because Christ has not abandoned His Church: His Ascension to the Heavens, where He sits at the right hand of the Father and from whence He shall come again to judge the World and all those who lived in the World—this is the mystery we grasp on this Feast. And we also grasp another, loftier mystery. We—mankind—are now seated at the right hand of the Father in the person of His Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. So I repeat it again: The heavenly and the earthly are united on this Feast of Christ’s Ascension. They are united and can never be separated. By Christ’s assuming flesh in the Incarnation, He deified our mortal nature. He assumed the totality of what it is to be human: mind, flesh and body, spirit and soul and heart.
On this Feast of Christ’s Ascension, by this unification of mankind to God in Paradise from which we previously fell, opposites are united and borders are shattered. The Lord Ascended from whence He came; originally being immaterial, He descended and took on matter and flesh from the Most Holy Theotokos at the Annunciation. And yet now, the tasks of Christ are complete. On Ascension, Christ completes the circle of His Bodily presence in the World. Mankind’s Salvation is accomplished through the spotless Incarnation and the Honorable Passion, Crucifixion, Burial and Descent into Hades, and Resurrection. St. Leo the Great, Pope of Rome wrote: Christ’s Ascension is our uplifting, and the hope of the Body is raised. The Ascension is our uplifting, for Christ having placed man over His shoulders, raised our fallen nature to the God Father. The Ascension is our hope. We also hope to ascend on the last day, Resurrected and Glorified, to be with Christ reigning in glory. The Ascension is the purpose of Christian existence. Christians act and live by the hope obtained via Christ’s Bodily Ascension. This is the hope that you receive when you look into the starry sky on a clear night. Man prides himself on his own ascensions, on space exploration, and in the 1960’s, on the first moon landing. Yet, how these things pale in comparison to the Lord’s Ascension, wherein verily Christ made a path from earth to heaven for each soul, for everyone who seeks Him with zeal and sincerity! This is what you should call to memory each night as you look heavenwards; that Christ made a path for you there, and that in your time, for as long as He keeps you in the world, you have but to live the Holy Gospel in obedience to the Holy Orthodox Faith.
If you do so, you will also Ascend. You will ascend in virtue and sanctity. Perhaps you will not ascend in earthly power, or wealth or glory. These are all tokens of this fallen world which exist and then cease to exist. And as for man his days are as the grass, as the flower of the field so shall he blossom forth. The wind shall pass over it, and no longer will it know the place thereof. We have a limit, an expiry date. Christ showed us a different way; a way of the heart wherein man ascends to God and is united to Him by love and sincerity. This is the love and sincerity which we have towards those weaker than us whom we are called to defend. The love we show them and the sacrifices we make on their behalf—these are the heavenly qualities, which are not-of-this-world. They are not of this world for their origin is in God, and we receive them ever so gently as part of our DNA one could say, for we are His children. He is our Father and every virtuous act of our lives can only be ascribed to the grace He provides.
With Christ’s Ascension, a heavenly calling has been issued for each one individually, and for the Church collectively. I speak here not of the Church in an institutional sense on the diocesan or parish level. Here, I speak of the Church—the Only Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church confessed in the Creed as manifest in Holy Orthodoxy, as she exists in this Age, subsiding within the diocesan and parish level. Christ is leading the Church invisibly and He, like a good vinedresser, is pruning Her. Every branch which bears no fruit, He will cut it off and throw it into the fire, as He Himself testified. St. Innocent of Kherson, within his homily on the saving Feast of the Ascension taught: Whoever truly believes in his heavenly calling cannot be earthly. In all the circumstances of his life, the true Christian remembers that he is an heir to Heaven, the co-inheritor of Christ, and he acts in accordance with his calling. Logically, we are called to action and vigilance in our thoughts and deeds, but also in our sacramental life—the sacramental life Christ entrusted to the Holy Apostles at the Ascension. That is, we must be cautious in how we live the Liturgy and how we approach Holy Communion. Do we approach with sincerity of Faith and Love, as we mystically are enveloped by the Communion of the Lord’s Body and Blood which enables us to live a minor Ascension in this earthly context and reality?
At His Ascension Christ made a promise: He promised that the Holy Spirit will descend upon the Apostles not many days from now. This is the Feast of Pentecost (which we will discuss extensively at the appropriate time). The Troparion of Ascension speaks of this: Thou didst make glad the disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit. They were confirmed by the blessing that Thou art the Son of God, the Savior of the World. The Feast of the Ascension, therefore, is also a confirmation that, as Christ’s Church, we are in the period of toil and acquisition. This period began on Ascension and it will finish at the end of the Age, when Christ shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. This is a period of toil; it is recounted as one continuous day wherein we labor to do the works of God. As Christ told the disciples at Jacob’s Well: One labors while it is still day, night is coming wherein no man can work. The night mentioned here is the spiritual night which will overtake mankind at the end of the Age before Christ’s Glorious Second Coming. And according to our stance during these dark times, so will we be judged. We labor for the glory of Christ and the glory of His Church, and we labor because we wish to speak to anyone willing to listen to the Gospel of Christ, which is expressed only in the Truth of Holy Orthodoxy. As Fr. Lazarus Moore of blessed memory once wrote to Fr. Georges Florovsky, also of blessed memory (I paraphrase), “There are many good Christian missionaries in India usually of the Protestant persuasions, but they gather people to Christ only to see them scatter shortly afterwards.”
These converts to Christianity scattered because it is only the purity of Orthodoxy which binds us to the Gospel of Christ. This labor of going forth into the world to reclaim it for Christ was actualized on the first Pentecost by the holy Apostles. The Church increased on that day. Thousands came to believe in Christ by the divine words preached by the Holy Apostle Peter to the multinational and multilingual multitude gathered. Just ten days prior, these fishermen from Galilee stood perplexed, staring at the heavens as they sought to catch a final glimpse of Christ Ascending. The Acts of the Apostles begins with this narration. The Apostles, walking with the Resurrected Lord are still grounded in earthly cares. Lord, they ask Him, when will You restore the Kingdom of Israel? The Lord circumvented the question and revealed to them the Mystery of Pentecost, that they themselves would spread the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. This occurred due to the Ascension by which Christ united the earthly with the heavenly, which then enabled the Holy Spirit, the Comforter the Spirt of Truth to descend upon the Disciples and to baptize them in His noetic fire, enabling them through the gifts received to make disciples of all nations.
The Lord took them to the Mountain from which He was about to Ascend. Some still doubted Him. They beheld the impossibility of the task at hand. When Christ Ascended, the perplexed Apostles stared. They assumed He would restore fallen Israel and reign from Jerusalem forever. What was all this about drawing all nations, becoming fishermen of men? How could these eleven men draw all nations to Christ? Truly, an impossible situation! Suddenly, two men appeared and said: Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday He will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” The work which Christ and the Apostles began—these seemingly ignorant and humble men of Galilee—this very work continues. The Apostles ordained bishops and priests, and we their successors and you, God’s people, are given this precious task of reclaiming the world for Christ as we enlarge the Orthodox Faith one soul at a time. Who can stop us in this labor which Christ has assigned to us, His faithful Church? As the Kontakion of Ascension informs us, absolutely no one. Continuing with us inseparably through time, the Lord calls to us: I am with you and no is against you.