Thou hast ascended in glory, O Christ our God,
Granting joy to Thy disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Through the blessing they were assured
That Thou art the Son of God,
The Redeemer of the world!
Jesus did not live with his disciples after his resurrection as he had before his death. Filled with the glory of his divinity, he appeared at different times and places to his people, assuring them that it was he, truly alive in his risen and glorified body.
To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
It should be noted that the time span of forty days is used many times in the Bible and signifies a temporal period of completeness and sufficiency (Gen 7:17; Ex 16:35, 24:18; Judg 3:11; 1 Sam 17:16; 1 Kg 19:8; Jon 3:4; Mt 4:2). On the fortieth day after his passover, Jesus ascended into heaven to be glorified on the right hand of God (Acts 1:9-11; Mk 16:19; Lk 24:51). The ascension of Christ is his final physical departure from this world after the resurrection. It is the formal completion of his mission in this world as the Messianic Saviour. It is his glorious return to the Father who had sent him into the world to accomplish the work that he had given him to do (Jn 17:4-5).
... and lifting his hands he blessed them. While blessing them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. ... (Lk 24:51-52)
The Church’s celebration of the ascension, as all such festal celebrations, is not merely the remembrance of an event in Christ’s life. Indeed, the ascension itself is not to be understood as though it were simply the supernatural event of a man floating up and away into the skies. The holy scripture stresses Christ’s physical departure and his glorification with God the Father, together with the great joy which his disciples had as they received the promise of the Holy Spirit who was to come to assure the Lord’s presence with them, enabling them to be his witnesses to the ends of earth (Lk 24:48-53; Acts 1:8-11; Mt 28:20; Mk 16:16-14).
In the Church the believers in Christ celebrate these very same realities with the conviction that it is for them and for all men that Christ’s departure from this world has taken place. The Lord leaves in order to be glorified with God the Father and to glorify us with himself. He goes in order to “prepare a place” for and to take us also into the blessedness of God s presence. He goes to open the way for all flesh into the “heavenly sanctuary ... the Holy Place not made by hands” (see Hebrews 8-10). He goes in order send the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father to bear witness to him and his gospel in the world, making him powerfully present in the lives of disciples.
The liturgical hymns of the feast of the Ascension sing of all of these things. The antiphonal verses of the Divine Liturgy are taken from Psalms 47, 48, and 49. The troparion of the feast which is sung at the small entrance is also used as the post-communion hymn.
Thou hast ascended in glory O Christ our God, granting joy to Thy disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. Through the blessing they were assured that Thou art the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world! (Troparion)
When Thou didst fulfill the dispensation for our sake, and didst unite earth to heaven, Thou didst ascend in glory, O Christ our God, not being parted from those who love Thee, but remaining with them and crying: I am with you and no one will be against you! (Kontakion)
From the series "The Orthodox Faith, Volume II - Worship" by Fr. Thomas Hopko.
Copyright © 1981 Department of Religious Education - Orthodox Church in America.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
The feast of the Ascension is at the same time a last vision of the victory of God in Christ, of the victory of Christ over sin, over mortality, over death itself, but at the same time the feast of the Ascension is the final revelation of the greatness and the virtual, the potential greatness and holiness of man. St. John Chrysostom in one of his homilies says to us, “If you want to find out how great man is, do not look towards the palaces of kings or the seats of the mighty, raise your gaze towards the throne of God and you will see sitting at the right of power a Man, Jesus Christ.” He is there clothed in our humanity, a Man at the heart of the Divine mystery, a Man in the glory of God, and this is a final perfect vision of what we are called to believe about ourselves, and what we are called to strive for. When God created man He did not create him, as at were, as the last term of evolution, He did not take the most evolved and perfect of the creatures He had made before him and made of him a human being. He took the clay of the earth, He took dust and He fashioned man, and thereby He made him absolutely basic to all creation, lower man could not be, he belongs to the earth, to the ground, to the dust, to the soil, to the clay. All other beings had evolved beyond this. But what God did also at that moment was to breath into him His own breath. And so man because of his earthen origin, of his earthen parentage belongs to the whole creation and not only to one or another species, and at the same time he belongs to the realm of God whose breath is within him, and as one of the ancient writers of Christendom, St. Maximus the Confessor wrote in the VI century, he belongs simultaneously to the earth and to Heaven, to the material world and to the spiritual world, no, more than this, to the world of God, to the divine world. And indeed St. Peter points out this vocation of man by saying that we are all called to become partakers of the divine nature. How wonderful it is to be totally, ultimately akin with the primeval matter of this world, to belong to that matter out of which all things were fashioned, to be at the root of things, to belong together with the smallest atom and the greater galaxy and all the beings whom God has called into existence and at the same time to be akin to God and by vocation to be so united with God that we should become partakers of the Divine nature. And this has begun, it has begun, it has happened in Christ — God became man, the fullness of God abided in the flesh. He did not simply indwell him as a human being can indwell a room, no, He pervaded all his humanity and made this humanity of Christ to be what true humanity is.
Yes, indeed, Christ is the only true man, the only perfect, the only real man, because as long as we are not at one with God, not only in prayer and sacrament but in the total union of divinity and humanity, we are below our vocation. And it is so wonderful to think that when God created man, He projected His vision of man and this vision became a real human being.
In one of his novels Charles Williams describes a wonderful painting, a painting of a beam of wood in the light that streams from a corner of the painting. And he says that it was not wood lit up by light, no, what one could perceive in this painting was light that had become colour and colour that had become wood. That is the way in which God has created us, He poured His Divine wisdom and this wisdom took shape, colour, line and clothed itself in matter and became man. But more than this happened — in the Incarnation God united Himself to the created world. Man before that had been the work of His hands, now in Christ God communed to being a creature simultaneously God and simultaneously possessed of a created human body. How wonderful it is, how wonderful to have a God who humbles Himself in an act of perfect love, which is gift, which is surrender, which is communion, and a God who takes us up and reveals to us depth and greatness, which we could not suspect in us, indeed, which we would not dare believe are in us. Who could dare say that his vocation is to be what Christ was — a man in the image of God incarnate?
And yet again a saint of the early centuries, St. Irenaeus of Lyon who lived at the break of the first and the second centuries says to us that we are called so to be united to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith, through faithfulness, through communion of prayer and of life with Him that we should become to such an extent, so perfectly members of His body, limbs of Christ that in the Only-Begotten Son who He is the whole of mankind and each of us should become for the Father his only-begotten son, no longer adopted children but children who through adoption became one with the Only-Begotten and became themselves what the Only-begotten Son of God is.
And Christ lived, God in Him worked our salvation, Christ chose so to love mankind as to be solid with mankind in the face of the divine judgment and condemnation of sin but also He chose to stand at one with God, with mankind that had turned away from the living God, renounced, betrayed him, rejected him, and so as a man among men taking upon Himself together with us our mortality without our sin He had to die upon the cross alone, separated from God because He had chosen to be inseparable from men and at the same time rejected by men who had themselves rejected God because He had chosen to be God’s presence in the midst of the created world — “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” — and at the same time dying on the little hill without the walls of which one of the Anglican hymns speaks. And He descended into hell because He died our human death and He had to go where all humans had to descend, who had lost God irremediably on earth to the place which in Hebrew is called sheol, the place of the final absence of God. And hell opened itself wide to triumph over Him who had triumphed over hell on earth, and lo, he seized what he thought was of the earth and he was confronted with Heaven, with God who had come to the place of the divine absence, who filled it, who harrowed hell, so that hell no longer exists, that hell of the Old Testament that was eternal and final separation. And He met all those who had died and He brought them all into newness of life, and He himself having won His victory rose again because His immortal body filled with Divinity could not be separated from His immortal soul at one with God, soul and body rose from the dead, Man victorious over sin, over mortality, over death was revealed in all His glory and ascended into Heaven, God in Christ carrying to the heart of the Trinity that body of the Incarnation from which He will never be separated bringing us, us all in Him to the heart of the divine mystery.
This is the feast which we keep today — the revelation of our human vocation. But also we sing the fact that this human vocation is not simply ahead of us, it is revealed as human reality in Christ and what happen to Christ is what will happen to us when God will have finally won His victory over us, over Satan, over evil, over death and mortality, and when God shall be all in all, and when we will know Him, and this is the promise given us by Paul, when we will know Him as He knows us — in perfect communion, perfect oneness, fullness of eternal life, the fullness of those who will have become partakers of the Divine nature, who will truly be as Christ calls us brothers and sisters of the Son of God become the Son of man. Amen.