Metropolitan Moses - Homily on Ascension Thursday
- During the Great Lent, we observed forty days of purification in applying ourselves at the works of faith, fasting, prayer and repentance, to prepare to worship the Crucifixion, death and life giving resurrection of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Now, after celebrating the feast of our Savior’s lifegiving resurrection, for forty days we have been savoring the great mystery of the Pascha of Christ. The word “Pascha” signifies “passing over” and the mystery of our Savior’s passing over from death unto life should inform and impact all aspects our life. We must pass over from the old man to the new, pass over from living a life that is rooted in the flesh to living a life that is elevated to the spirit, pass over from concern only for this life to anticipation of the age to come.
Throughout the forty day period after the resurrection, our Savior strengthened the Apostles, “To whom also He shewed himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
That is, our Savior established them in faith that He, the awaited Messiah, is God made manifest in the flesh Who was crucified and died and arose for us on the third day. And now, having experience the Holy resurrection of our Christ and savored this feast for the past 40 days, we go from glory to glory and celebrate the Ascension into the Heavens of our Lord in His human nature. As God, He was never absent from the Heavens, but in the flesh that He assumed for us He now ascends, placing our human nature at the right Hand of the Father.
In the appointed gospel reading for the feast, our Savior grants peace to the Apostles, calming their troubled hearts, showing them His hands and His feet, saying, “handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have” (Luke 24: 39).
By this touch the disciples were made steadfast. As it is written in the first epistle of Saint John, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life. For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us” (1 John 1:1-2).
Next our Savior asked them for something to eat, not that His glorified body needed food, but rather, all things that could have been done were done that we woul know that in truth He, the God-Man arose in that very body that suffered, a glorified, spiritualized body, but a body none-the-less.
"And He said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures" (Luke 24:44-45)
By pointing out that the recent events of His life were prophesied in the Old Testament He established them in the doctrine that His Passion and death was not from weakness, but voluntary, and that only through Him, the Messiah, can anyone understand the writings in the Old Testament. On a personal level, this also expresses the spiritual truth that, without the grace of God, we cannot come to an understanding of spiritual things or even perceive His providence for us.
"And [He] said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus ought Christ to have suffered, and rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24: 46-49).
The Apostles knew that they soon would be parted from our Savior and He sought to console them with the promise of the Holy Spirit. In addition, the interveaning days of separation from Christ caused them to earnestly prepare for the gift of the overshadowing of the Comforter.
"And He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into Heaven. And they worshipped Him" (Luke 24:50-52)
That nature that had fallen miserably from Divine vision and put on coats of skin, that is, the passions, is now led up to the heaven of heavens. As it says in the very first hymn for Great Vespers, “…the angels marvel as they see a man more exalted than they.”
Our Savior has indeed Ascended, but for any of us to participate in that Ascension in our own person, we must respond. We have a choice. We can choose to take the words of our Savior seriously and conform our will to His will and Ascend in glory or we can choose some other path.
The Pharisees and Scribes heard the words and saw the miracles of our Savior, yet, because they sought not the Glory of God, but rather the glory of men they utterly fell away from God’s Glory. Today the leaders of so-called world Orthodoxy exhibit a similar desire for the things of the world and union with the world, which is the precise reason for their indifference to our Savior’s clear message concerning the singleness of Truth. Ecumenism summed up is “politics trumps the word of God.” Our Lord Christ clearly taught, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14: 6). He also clearly taught that there is one exclusive way to enter in to Life, saying, “Amen, amen, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep All that ever came before Me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10: 7-9).
Our Savior desires that all be saved and for this reason He forewarned us concerning the false teachers and shepherds that arise in every generation with the words,
“Amen, amen, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).
Remember this image every time anyone tries to justify the heresy of ecumenism to you. The faithful rational flock of Christ must discern between “thieves and robbers” and authentic shepherds of the sheep.
But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers (John 10: 2-5).
It is only through The Door, the God-Man Christ, do we enter into glory and participate in His Holy Ascension.
Henceforth let us mind not the things of earth, but the things on high as Saint Paul enjoined us. This remembrance of the things on high, the promise of the Jerusalem above is a great remedy for all spiritual ills. The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life war against us (1 John 2:16), but if we remember our true homeland and our heavenly calling we can easily regard the things of this world as cheap.
Let us imitate the holy disciples who were continually in the temple, having their mind on heaven, abiding in prayer and supplication. This is the life that all true followers of Christ have been called to, having our mind on our heavenly Master, awaiting His coming. If we live to see the Second Coming or if we are taken from this life before that time, in either instance we will most assuredly encounter our holy Savior. Let us remember our His Admonition, “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning, and ye your selves like unto men that wait for their Lord, when He will return” (Luke 12:35). This has been the attitude of the saints through out the ages.
In the account found in the Acts of the Apostles concerning the time immediately after our Saviors Ascension it is recorded that the believers all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication (Acts 1:14).
Let us remember this unanimity of the holy disciples and as they continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, let us preserve this unity with regard to one another, ever looking to our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, Who made us sons of God by adoption, partakers of His Body and Blood, fellow members of His Body, and joint heirs of the of the heavenly Kingdom. Which may we inherit by His gift and grace. to Whom be glory honor and worship with His unoriginate Father and All Holy and Good and Life Creating Spirit. Amen.
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