Ascension of the Lord

`Let us lift our hearts up`! (Holy Liturgy)

Today, my beloved ones, is a day of celebration. Each feast settled by our Holy Church has its own aim. As a traveler walks in the summer under the burning rays and when he sees a tree, stops and rest under his shadow, this is how we are in this life. We live in a desert world, missing great, high feelings. We suffer because of so many troubles. And every feast is a tree full of dew and good fragrance which gives us spiritual peace and power to continue our difficult life journey.

The feast from today is a royal feast. It is the crown of all the feasts dedicated to the Lord. If the Birth of Christ is the beginning and the root, the feast of today is the culmination, the completion. Let us take a look upon this wondrous event we celebrate today.

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After His Ressurection, our Lord remained 40 days here on earth. But He did not stay during this time without working. He showed up in many places and in different moments to his disciples and apostles. What for? Every time the Lord appeared  before His disciples He gave them first His blessing and peace `which is beyond all imagination` (Philippians 4,7) and for which our Church prays without cease. Then He taught them the highest lore about the Kingdom of heaven, He told them that they should not remain in Jerusalem but scatter in all the corners of the world and preach the Gospel. And in the end He prophesied that His Kingdom which is spiritual could never be undermined or destroyed by any devil or power. By these apparitions all His disciples even the most incredulous, Thomas, became fully aware that the Lord is risen.

For the last time the Lord appeared in front of His disciples on the Mountain of Olives, outside Jerusalem. There on a peak they saw Him for the last time.

They were all gathered for the day of Ascension. How many? About the same number are gathered today on the day of Ascension. There were the twelve disciples (Judas was replaced by Mathias), seventy disciples, the myrrhous women and in the middle of the gathering was the Holy Mother of God. They were 120 souls altogether.

Thus while the Lord raised His hands and blessed them for the last time, in that very moment it took place the miraculous event.

Christ’s immaculate feet which we are not worthy to touch (Do not touch Me! He said, John 20, 17) those feet which for three years walked on mountains and valleys, ravines and desert places to meet and save the lost sheep, those feet which were nailed on the wood of the Cross and whose wounds fed and wetted the earth.

The blessed feet of our Lord now ceased to touch the earth. His Body lighter than air began to rise to the skies. A holy and thrilling moment.

Strange thing – you will say. Is it possible that the body of a man to rise to the skies?

But if the man who is a shadow of God succeeded to find modalities to rise above the clouds with the wings of the airplane and cross the space with spaceships then how could it be difficult for the Almighty God who created the human mind to rise to the skies? And notice the difference: the Man rises by a means of transport (plane, spaceship, balloon etc) Even prophet Elijah in the Old Testament rose to the skies in a chariot. But here we have an unique case. Christ rose without the help of any mechanical means. A cloud – which is the symbol of divinity, raised Him. `A cloud surrounded Him`(Acts 1,9)

This wondrous fact shook the heavenly world. Christ was risen to the skies. He flew above the stars, passed by the sun and the galaxies and all the material creation

And when He reached the borders and touched the spiritual world which is guarded by the angels and archangels with their swords then they heard the same voice which was heard by prophet Isaiah: `Who is This?` (Isaiah 63,1) Who is This One Whose clothes are colored by blood? Why are His clothes red? Who is this man who dared to cross the skies and come here? And other angels answered with the prophetical words of the Psalter: `This is the powerful in war.` He comes from below, from the earth where he fought an unique war and defeated, He defeated the scholars and Pharisees, the emperors of the earth, He defeated first of all the devil, the sin and death. Therefore He is risen triumphantly. And then it was heard another voice: Lift up your heads, you gates;    be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in. (Psalm 23, 7-10).

Thus if high above in heaven the angels celebrate, here on earth the disciples experience other feelings. They rejoice but they also feel sadness. They had Christ beside them for three years. They loved Him more than their fathers. For Him they left their jobs, families, children and women, their old parents and followed Him everywhere. And now? He is leaving, is risen to the skies. All of us who were present near their father or mother when they died and left us felt what it means to be orphan. And their Father left for the sake of His disciples. For this reason somewhere in the troparion the Church chants: `Our Master do not  leave us orphans, life giver Christ do not leave us orphans!`

And indeed Christ did not leave His disciples to be orphans. After ten days He sent them the Holy Spirit. And This announced them – because the Holy Spirit announces thre heart – that Christ is of course very high, above the skies but He is also near, nearer than anyone as He ascertained Himself:

`And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.` (Matthew 28, 20).

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My brothers ! If you read the Apocalypse (Apocalypse 12, 14) you will see that the Spirit of God speaks there about a misterious eagle with great wings. Who can be this eagle? Isn’t it the bicephalous eagle of Byzantium? This eagle of the Apocalyupse is the Lord Himself. He is the One Who takes us and raises us above.

`Let us lift our hearts up` we hear at the Holy Liturgy. We need to raise our mind, our heart, our whole life to heaven. The men of our times showed a great interest to hear about someone who was the first to fly to the Moon and the other planets, a Russian, an American, an Englishman?

Vanity of vanities? are all these (Ecclesiast 1, 2). No matter how high they would fly, they would still be very close to earth.

By the Ascension of Christ Who is God-Man, the nature of the man rose to such a height he could have never conceived. Christ is the first man who opened the skies and from now on the heavens are open for the man. The road is open. Step ahead! Christ strengthens us. Everyone of us if He wants can become a spiritual, not a material spaceship and He ascends and reaches the height where are the angels and the archangels.

These are not myths or tales. No, my brothers. If these are lies, then let’s burn all ojur books. No. Our religion is alive. If you believe in Christ do not envy and do not stare at rockets. Everyone of you, every soul even of the most humble man should become a spiritual rocket which crosses the skies and rises to heavens reaching the Holy Trinity where the angels and archangels together with the saints glorify the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

† Bishop Augustin

(Athens, 1960)