Dear brothers and sisters, greetings on this glorious feast, which is not simply a celebration of the Ascension of the Saviour into Heaven, but a heavenward-calling for us all.
“…Amid ineffable splendour the Father raised Him to Himself to heaven, to that place which no created being had trod, but whither He had, through His own action, invited all rational beings, angels and human beings, to that blessed Entry, in order to delight in the divine light in which was clothed that Man who is filled with all that is holy, who is now with God in ineffable honour and splendour.”
With these words, St Isaac the Syrian makes clear for us the truth that the Ascension is an invitation to the faithful to join the angelic ranks by entering the Kingdom of Heaven with Christ, whose humanity was no mere temporary appearance – left behind after he had finished with it – but has been glorified and clothed with light and has entered into the glory of Heaven.
In the third ode of the first canon of the feast, we chant, “Thou didst raise up human nature which had fallen into corruption, O Christ, and in Thine Ascension Thou didst exalt us and glorify us together with Thyself.” and preaching on the feast, Saint John Chrysostom says that our human nature “went higher than the angels, raised over the archangels, over the cherubim and seraphim and never stopped until sitting on the throne of God.”
This is the great wonder of the feast… that our humanity has been enthroned on high, as the second canon of the eighth ode recounts: “Our nature, which fell of old, hath been raised up exceedingly higher than the Angels, and hath been placed on the throne of God in a manner transcending understanding.”
In the Ascension, the ineffable and immeasurable incarnate-love of God, has embraced our humanity in a manner hard for us to begin to understand, unless we open our hearts and minds to this Ascension of our humanity is the fulfilment of the Incarnation, as well as the fulfilment of our salvation, as Christ our Great High-Priest, having fulfilled the sacrifice sits down at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 10:12).
The ‘mission’ of the Christ-Child – the God-Man – born in the stable and laid in the manger, was not to simply conquer death and subjugate hell by the Cross; not simply to manifest the death of death in His third-day resurrection; but to translate our redeemed humanity to eternal life in the Holy Trinity.
In the Nativity, when we chanted “God is with us”, we recalled the prophecies of the Incarnation and the Lord as Emmanuel, ‘God with us’, and that indwelling was made real and an existential reality by the union of divinity and humanity in the womb of the Virgin.
In a reciprocal movement in the Saviour’s Ascension, we now witness that humanity is already indwelling eternally in the Trinitarian life of God, and that Christ has gone ahead of us, having been “raised in glory and entered into the Holy of the Holies not made by hand and sat on the right side in heavens, on the same throne of divinity, so that our nature, with which He mixed, should share in it”. (St Gregory Palamas)
Having gone before us, taking our humanity into heavenly life, He beckons us “to that blessed Entry” of which St Isaac speaks.
For us, this remains a calling to the life of the age to come, and a physical reality which even the saints await, as their mortal remains abide with us on earth. But, by her Dormition and bodily Assumption, the Mother of God has already entered into this glorious reality, and her life remains a model and a roadmap, by which we may tread the path to the Kingdom and mount heavenwards – in holiness of life, in purity, and in perfect obedience to the will of God, whose divine intention is that we too should partake in His glory. The labours to obtain this glory are to be done HERE AND NOW, in living the ascetical life – not just the calling of monks and nuns, but of every Christian.
When St Paul says of himself, “…it is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), he is showing us the way to heaven, to follow the Ascended Lord: LIFE IN CHRIST.
“And so, brethren, if you wish to attain the Kingdom of Heaven, you cannot bypass the path taken by Jesus Christ. Indeed, all the prophets, the Apostles, the martyrs, the saints and countless other righteous ones walked along this path. There is no other…
Therefore, brethren, if you wish to attain the Kingdom of Heaven, follow the path which Jesus Christ took, and He, the all-merciful one, will help you every step of the way.”
(The Way Into the Kingdom of Heaven: St Innocent of Alaska)
The journey is steep, and the ascent is arduous, but seeing our courage, our godly-desire and longing for Him and the Kingdom, the Ascended Saviour will take us by the hand, leading us through grace into the love of the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Again, I wish you a joyful feast!
In Christ – Hieromonk Mark
“Having come down from Heaven unto the things of earth, O Christ, as God, with Thyself, Thou didst resurrect Adam’s form, which lay prostrate in the nether holds of Hades’ vault; in Thine Ascension to the heights Thou didst lead it up unto the Heavens and Thou didst seat it upon the throne of Thy Father, since Thou, the Friend of man, art merciful.”
(Matins sedalen, Tone 5)