Orthodox America


  Ascension of Our Lord


     There is a certain feeling of sadness when we come to the end of the 40 days of Paschal celebration and sing for the last time "Christ is Risen". But just as we take leave of this bright festal period, we are met by another major feast: Our Lord's Ascension into heaven. Listening to the Kontakion of the Feast our hearts are filled anew with gladness as we hear the comforting promise of our Saviour: "I am with you and no one is against you."

 

     After Our Lord's Resurrection. when He appeared to Mary Magdalen, He told her: "Go to My brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God" (John 20:17). These words were not immediately fulfilled. There was still a great deal that the disciples did not understand, and for the next forty days Christ remained among them, teaching them about the Kingdom of Heaven and explaining the Scriptures. He commanded that they in turn go into all the world "and preach the Gospel to every creature," promising to help them in this difficult task by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit.

     It was during this time that the Lord also gave the Apostles power to absolve sin: "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them: and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John 20:23). In so doing Christ instituted the Sacrament of Confession, enabling all men to have that peace of heart which He bestowed upon His disciples soon after His Resurrection.

    On the fortieth day the Lord gathered His disciples on the Mount of Olives and bid them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father. "For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence."

 

    But the Apostles still hadn't fully grasped the true meaning of Christ's otherworldly message. Like all Jews, they expected that the Messiah would restore to them an earthly kingdom, for at that time Palestine was part of the Roman Empire under whose laws the Jews suffered unfair treatment and heavy taxation. "Lord," they asked in bewilderment, "wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" In answer the Lord told them that they should not be concerned with trying to figure out the affairs of this world, but should concentrate on their divine mission of being witnesses to Christ "unto the uttermost part of the earth." "All power is given unto Me," said the Lord, "in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen" (Matt. 28:1,9-20).

    Raising His hands, the Lord blessed His disciples and, as He did so, He was parted from them and carried up into the heavens to sit on the right hand of God. Even after a cloud had received Him out of their sight, the disciples continued to look steadfastly up into the sky. Suddenly two men in white garments appeared before them and said: "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven."

    This gladdened the disciples and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy to await the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. It was true they could no longer see their beloved Lord with their bodily eyes, but they knew that He had ascended to His Heavenly Father to prepare a place for them just as He had brayed: "Father! I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am" (John 17:24). And how could they be sad? Although their Divine Teacher was parted from them, at the same time He was invisibly with them, for so He had promised, "even unto the end of the world."

     This promise is given by the Lord to all those who believe in Him, all those who love Him. It is given by the Church in which the Lord is always present and which has life through His Spirit. From the heavenly heights to which the Lord gloriously ascended, He looks down upon us; He sees all our actions, our innermost thoughts; and He hears our prayers. It pleases the Lord when we turn to Him in earnest faith, asking for help, for consolation. While He was here on earth He shared our sorrows, our weaknesses. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, wept over the dead Lazarus, and mercifully received repentant sinners. Now, seated in heaven, He continues to have that same love and compassion towards us, as a father for his children. He is always ready to receive our prayers, to support our good intentions, and to forgive our sins if we sincerely repent of them.

    Let us, then, rejoice in our Lord's Ascension and, like the Apostles, prepare ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit which He promised would dwell in our hearts, strengthening us to be true disciples and to follow Christ into the heavenly habitations prepared for those who love Him.

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