Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Ascension - The Meaning and the Fullness of Christ's Resurrection

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

"I ascend unto My Father, and your Father, and to my God, and Your God.” (JN. 20:17)

Today is the fortieth day after the glorious Resurrection of Christ, and that is, of course, Ascension Thursday. We celebrated the Feast with the Vesperal Liturgy yesterday evening, and we had a great representative body of parishioners present for the Feast, including some of our parish teenagers. I hope that one and all have a joyous and blessed feast day. 
The Risen Lord is also the Ascended Lord and, therefore, in the words of Fr. Georges Florovsky: In the Ascension resides the meaning and the fullness of Christ’s Resurrection.”  
I would refer everyone to the complete article by Fr. Florovsky, a brilliant reflection on the theological and spiritual meaning of the Lord’s Ascension. This article is accessed from our parish website together with a series of other articles that explore the richness of the Ascension. In addition to Fr. Florovsky’s article, I would especially recommend The Ascension as Prophecy. With so many fine articles on the Ascension within everyone’s reach, I will not offer up yet another one, but I would like to make a few brief comments:

Though the visible presence of the Risen Lord ended forty days after His Resurrection, that did not mean that His actual presence was withdrawn. For Christ solemnly taught His disciples – and us through them – “Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (MATT. 28:20) The risen, ascended and glorified Lord is the Head of His body, the Church. The Lord remains present in the Mysteries/Sacraments of the Church. This reinforces our need to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist, through which we receive the deified flesh and blood of the Son of God, “unto life everlasting.”

Christ ascended to be seated at “the right hand of the Father” in glory, thus lifting up the humanity He assumed in the Incarnation into the very inner life of God. For all eternity, Christ is God and man. The deified humanity of the Lord is the sign of our future destiny “in Christ.” For this reason, the Apostle Paul could write: “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (COL. 3:3) In his homily on the Ascension, St. Gregory Palamas (+1359) draws out some of the implications of this further:

In the same way as He came down, without changing place but condescending to us, so He returns once more, without moving as God, but enthroning  on high our human nature which He had assumed. It was truly right that the first begotten human nature from the dead (Rev. 1:5) should be presented to God, as first fruits from the first crop offered for the whole race of men.  

On account of our sins He was led to death, and for us He rose and ascended, preparing our own resurrection and ascension for unending eternity. For all the heirs of everlasting life follow as far as possible the pattern of His saving work on earth.

Those who live according to Christ imitate what He did in the flesh. Just as He died physically, so in time everyone dies, but we shall also rise again in the flesh as He did, glorified and immortal, not now but in due course, when we shall also ascend, as Paul says, for "we shall be caught up," he says, "in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (I Thess. 4:17). 
(The Saving Work of Christ - Sermons by St. Gregory Palamas, p. 113-114)

The words of the “two men … in white robes,” (clearly angels) who stood by the disciples as they gazed at Christ being “lifted up,” and recorded by St. Luke (ACTS. 1:11), point toward something very clear and essential for us to grasp as members of the Church that exists within the historical time of the world: 
 “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 
The disciples will remain in the world, and must fulfill their vocation as the chosen apostles who will proclaim the Word of God to the world of the crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. They cannot spend their time gazing into heaven awaiting the return of the Lord. That hour has not been revealed: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority” (1:7). The “work” of the Church is the task set before them, and they must do this until their very last breath. They will carry out this work once they receive the power of the Holy Spirit – the “promise of my Father” - as Christ said to them (LK. 24:49). Whatever our vocation may be, we too witness to Christ and the work of the Church as we await the fullness of God’s Kingdom according to the times or seasons of the Father.

In our daily Prayer Rule we continue to refrain from using “O Heavenly King” until the Day of Pentecost. We no longer use the paschal troparion, “Christ is Risen from the dead …” but replace it from Ascension to Pentecost with the troparion of the Ascension:

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.

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