Dear Parish Faithful,
CHRIST IS RISEN!
Pascha - The Thirty Ninth Day
Today is the "Leavetaking of Pascha" but also the "Forefeast of the Ascension." I am prone to saying on an annual basis "that Pascha comes in with a roar and goes out with a whimper." How far and long ago it may seem that we experienced that explosion of joy at the Paschal Liturgy following Holy Week. And how quickly that experience disappears! I often find myself asking the pastoral question once Great Lent is over: Did we "redeem the time" and by the grace of God and our efforts allow Great Lent to bear fruit in our lives? Or were we deceived by the evil one and squander the precious time of Great Lent? Perhaps the same kinds of questions are fair now that the forty-day paschal season has ended: Did we "redeem the time" and by the grace of God and our efforts allow the Paschal Season to bear fruit in our lives? Or were we deceived by the evil one and squander the precious time of the Paschal Season? These are both forty-day periods of liturgical time and together combine for an extended period (Holy Week connects them) that without a doubt is at the very center of our lives as Orthodox Christians. Without any real elaboration here, I come up with an over-all question or two: What impact did either Great Lent or the Paschal Season - or again both combined - have on our lives? Does the Death and Resurrection of Christ shape our worldview and the manner in which we live our lives?
Regardless of how we answer these questions, the coming Feast of the Ascension allows us to be positive and hopeful, for in this celebration we experience both glorification and a "taste" of heaven. In words that I hope will inspire all of us to embrace this Feast with sincerity and awareness, Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes the following about the Lord's Ascension:
There is a thrill of joy in the very word "ascension" that issues a challenge, as it were, to the so-called "laws of nature," the perpetually downward-leading, downward-pulling, and enslaving laws of gravity, weight, falling. Here, in contrast, all is lightness, flight, an endless soaring upward. The Lord's Ascension is celebrated forty days after Pascha, on Thursday of the sixth week after the feast of Christ's Resurrection.
The feast of the Ascension is the celebration of heaven now opened to human beings, heaven as the new and eternal home, heaven as our true homeland. Sin severed earth from heaven and made us earthly and coarse, it fixed our gaze solidly on the ground and made our life exclusively earthbound. Sin is the betrayal of heaven in the soul....
... heaven is the name of our authentic vocation as human beings, heaven is the final truth about the earth. No, heaven is not somewhere in outer space beyond the planets, or in some unknown galaxy. Heaven is what Christ gives back to us, what we lost through our sin and pride, through earthly, exclusively earthly sciences and ideologies, and now it is opened, offered, and returned to us by Christ. Heaven is the kingdom of eternal life, the kingdom of truth, goodness and beauty. Heaven is the total spiritual transformation of human life; heaven is the kingdom of God, victory over death, the triumph of love and care ... And therefore, heaven permeates our life here and now, the earth itself becomes a reflection, a mirror image of heavenly beauty. Who descended from heaven to earth to return heaven to us? God. Who ascended from earth to heaven? The man Jesus.
Fr. Alexander writes of "flight, and endless soaring upward ..." Perhaps that may be claiming a great deal more than what we are prepared for. However, the opportunity for lifting up our minds and hearts to "Our Father who art in heaven ..." through the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ is always an open possibility when we are present at the Divine Liturgy. For the Feast of Ascension itself, we will serve the Vesperal Liturgy this evening beginning at 6:00 p.m. If you come, you offer yourself and your families that blessed possibility. The Lord can "lift us up," but we need to give Him the opportunity.