I am with You Always

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”   (Matthew 28:18-20)

O wonder! The Lord bade me stay my mind in hell and not despair. So close is He to us: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” and “I will deliver thee; and thou shalt glorify me.” (St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 431)

Ascending to God

In this way we live in God. We remove our life from this visible world to that world which is not seen by exchanging, not the place, but the very life itself and its mode. It was not we ourselves who were moved towards God, nor did we ascend to him; but it was He who came and descended to us. It was not we who sought, but we were the object of His seeking. The sheep did not seek for the shepherd, nor did the lost coin search for the master of the house; He it was who came to the earth and retrieved His own image, and He came to the place where the sheep was straying and lifted it up and stopped it from straying.

He did not remove us from here but He made us heavenly while yet remaining on earth and imparted to us the heavenly life without leading us up to heaven, but by bending heaven to us and bringing it down. As the prophet says, “He bowed the heavens also, and came down” (Ps. 18:10).

(St Nicholas Cabasilias, The Life in Christ, p. 50)

The Ascension: God’s Sovereignty Over All

The exalted Jesus participates in God’s unique sovereignty over all things.

At a very early stage, which is presupposed and reflected in all the New Testament writings, early Christians understood Jesus to have been exalted after his death to the throne of God in the highest heaven. There, seated with God on God’s throne, Jesus exercises or participates in God’s unique sovereignty over the whole cosmos. This decisive step of understanding a human being to be participating now in the unique divine sovereignty over the cosmos was unprecedented. The principal angels and exalted patriarchs of Second Temple.

Jewish literature provide no precedent. It is this radical novelty which leads to all the other exalted christological claims of the New Testament texts. But, although a novelty, its meaning depends upon the Jewish monotheistic conceptual context in which the early Christians believed it. Because the unique sovereignty of God over all things was precisely one of the two major features which characterized the unique identity of God in distinction from all other reality, this confession of Jesus reigning on the divine throne was precisely a recognition of his inclusion in the unique divine identity, himself decisively distinguished, as God himself is, from any exalted heavenly servant of God.

(Richard J. Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament, Kindle Location 302-309)

The Ascension (2017)

“After His resurrection from the dead Jesus appeared to men for a period of forty days after which He “was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk 16.19; see also Lk 24.50 and Acts 1.9–11).

The ascension of Jesus Christ is the final act of His earthly mission of salvation. The Son of God comes “down from heaven” to do the work which the Father gives Him to do; and having accomplished all things, He returns to the Father bearing for all eternity the wounded and glorified humanity which He has assumed (see e.g. Jn 17).

The doctrinal meaning of the ascension is the glorification of human nature, the reunion of man with God. It is indeed, the very penetration of man into the inexhaustible depths of divinity.

We have seen already that “the heavens” is the symbolical expression in the Bible for the uncreated, immaterial, divine “realm of God” as one saint of the Church has called it. To say that Jesus is “exalted at the right hand of God” as Saint Peter preached in the first Christian sermon (Acts 2.33) means exactly this: that man has been restored to communion with God, to a union which is, according to Orthodox doctrine, far greater and more perfect than that given to man in his original creation (see Eph 1–2).

Man was created with the potential to be a “partaker of the divine nature,” to refer to the Apostle Peter once more (2 Pet 1.4). It is this participation in divinity, called theosis (which literally means deification or divinization) in Orthodox theology, that the ascension of Christ has fulfilled for humanity. The symbolical expression of the “sitting at the right hand” of God means nothing other than this. It does not mean that somewhere in the created universe the physical Jesus is sitting in a material throne.”  (Fr. Thomas Hopko, Doctrine and Scripture, Vol. 1, pp. 106-107)

Lifting Adam From Earth to Paradise

In one of the hymns from the Feast of the Ascension we catch sight of the theological importance of this Feast of the Lord in God’s plan for the salvation of humanity.  Christ the incarnate God refashions human nature, lifting humanity up from the depths of sin, bringing human nature to the throne of God.

After the humans sinned, they were driven from Paradise and returned to the earth from which they had been fashioned.  Christ becomes incarnate on earth to restore humanity to God.

The hymn  in part reads:

O GOD, YOU HAVE REFASHIONED THE NATURE OF ADAM WHICH HAD FALLEN INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE EARTH.  YOU HAVE LED IT UP TODAY ABOVE EVERY PRINCIPALITY AND POWER, FOR IN YOUR LOVE FOR IT, YOU HAVE SEATED IT TOGETHER WITH YOURSELF!  SINCE YOU HAVE TAKEN COMPASSION ON IT YOU UNITED IT TO YOURSELF AND HAVING BEEN UNITED WITH IT, YOU SUFFERED WITH IT. AND A PASSIONLESS ONE, YOU SUFFERED PASSION TO GLORIFY IT WITH YOURSELF!

Salvation is the restoration of humanity in our relationship with God.  We experience a reunion with our Creator.  In the Ascension, however this event is to be understood historically and factually, God fully accepted human nature and reunited us humans to Himself in Christ. God suffers in the flesh to redeem human nature and to bring us back, body and spirit into God’s presence.  God redeems human nature to save each of us – body and soul.

Ascension Sadness

A joyous and peace-filled Ascension Day to all!

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“The Lord did not ‘leave us comfortless,’ as  a dying mother leaves her orphaned children, but gave us the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and He draws us to love God with an insatiable love, and to yearn after Him and seek Him day and night with tears. O how ill it goes with the soul when she loses love and assurance! In sadness of heart she raises her cry to God: ‘When shall I see the Lord again, and rejoice in His peace and love?’” ( St Silouan the Athonite, p 324)

The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ (2016)

We read about the events of the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven in Acts 1:1-12.  In this text the Evangelist Luke, the author of the book of Acts, writes:

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.

Fr. Lev Gillet comments on the Ascension:

“Jesus does not return to his Father in isolation. It was the incorporeal Logos that descended among men. But today it is the Word made flesh, at the same time true God and true  man, that enters the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus takes there with him the human nature in which he is clothed. He opens the gates of the Kingdom to humanity. We take possession, in some way by anticipation of the blessings which are offered to us and possible for us. Places are reserved for us in the Kingdom provided we continue faithful. Our presence is desired and awaited there. So the ascension renders the thought of heaven more present and more alive for us. Do we think enough of our permanent dwelling-place? For most Christians heaven is envisaged as a kind of postscript, an appendix to a book of which life on earth constitutes the actual text. But the contrary is true. Our earthly life is merely the preface to the book. Life in heaven will be the text – a text without end.” (A Monk of the Eastern Church in The Time of the Spirit: Readings Through the Christian Year, p 162)

Ascension (2013)

Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord which commemorates the events described in Acts 1:1-12.  Forty days after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, He ascended before their very eyes into the heavens.  Very early on in church history the Christians celebrated the Ascension as one feast together with Pentecost as part of the closure to the Paschal feast.   Though our minds are shaped by a ‘historical’ reading of Scriptures and a liturgical calendar which somewhat follows the events in Christ’s life as they might have happened historically, the early Christians did not concern themselves with keeping the Ascension 40 days after Pascha, but celebrated it together with Pentecost.  Eventually the Christians embraced or ‘invented’ the historical way of keeping events in Christ’s life and thus was born a separate Feast of the Ascension forty days after Pascha and a calendar year of liturgical celebrations.  Archimandrite Job Getcha writes in his book about the Church’s liturgical life and development says:

“Indeed, in the early centuries, the entire fifty-day paschal period was a time of rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ, during which fasting and kneeling were suppressed.  The integrity of this period was fractured, out of concern for historicity, by the introduction of the feast of Ascension on the fortieth day.   (footnote:  “Epiphanius of Salamis… writes: …during the 50-day Pentecost, during which we do not bend the knee or fast…”)        . . .     As we have already seen, the fiftieth day after Pascha, at least in Jerusalem, originally marked the completion of the paschal season, as Egeria witnesses in her description of the feast of Ascension-Pentecost…   By the first half of the fifth century, however, the Armenian Lectionary already indicates two distinct feasts.”    (THE TYPIKON DECODED, pp 263, 275)

How the feast has been kept has changed over time, but its significance as an event in the salvation of the humankind has been recognized and honored by Christians through the centuries.

St. Thalassios the Libyan (7th Century) writes:

“God, who gave being to all that is, at the same time united all things together in His providence. Being Master, He became a servant, and so revealed to the world the depths of His providence. God the Logos, in becoming incarnate while remaining unchanged, was united through His flesh with the whole of creation. There is a new wonder in heaven and on earth: God is on earth and man is in heaven. He united men and angels so as to bestow deification on all creation.” (The Philokalia: Volume Two, pg. 312)

Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow (d. 1867) writes:

“The effect that Christ’s Ascension had on the Apostles, according to the testimony of the evangelist Luke, may seem surprising: ‘They returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy.’  We might have expected them to be dismayed at their separation from their Master and Savior, yet they are full of joy… Why is this?  They rejoice because now their faith is made perfect and their minds are open to the understanding of the mysteries of Christ.  They believe, and they know that as Christ, by His Resurrection, broke the gates of hell and led the faithful out, so, by His Ascension, He opens the gates of Heaven and leads the faithful in.”   (Michael Quenot,  THE RESURRECTION AND THE ICON, p 189)

The Ascended and Recognizable Christ

“There is still more. Jesus appears several times in the form of a stranger in order to point out that, henceforth, when the historical Christ has ascended into Heaven, it is with human features easily recognized by us that His divine nature will be clothed. Already He declares to His disciples long before His death that He was hungry and thirsty, that He has been naked and sick, a stranger and a prisoner, in those whom we have fed and given to drink, clothed and looked after, received and visited – and in those who were in need of these things and whom we did not help. ‘As long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me.’ God and His creatures will never be identical. We are not Christ by nature, but we are by participation and by grace. We are His members. It is under this form that Jesus becomes visible and tangible to us. To this generation which declares itself realistic and is unwilling to adore a phantom, Jesus says: ‘See My hands and feet.’ Today on this earth, He has no other feet than those of men. If you are unable to climb directly to Jesus through prayer, leave your house and at once you will find Him in the street in the form of the man and woman who are passing by.”  (Lev Gillet, Jesus a Dialogue with the Savior, pgs. 178-179)

The Ascension (2012)

A blessed Feast of the Ascension to all who celebrate it this day.

Christ ascended in glory, granting joy to all of us, His disciples.

“‘To see heaven open’:

 … these four words signify the very mystery of Christ, of the Christian faith and hope.  

‘For we have the certainty that heaven, which opened three times in the unfolding of the mystery of salvation, remains henceforth open forever.  Nothing and no one can reconstruct the barrier that the sin of the first man erected between God and man.  No one can excavate again the abyss which Jesus has filled between heaven and earth.'”  

(Maxime Egger in THE COMPASSION OF THE FATHER, p 32)