Thursday, May 24, 2012
The Meaning and Importance of the Ascension of our LORD
On the Feast of the Ascension, the Orthodox Church does not merely commemorate an historical event in the life of Christ. On this day, the Church celebrates Christ's physical departure from the world and His glorification with God the Father.
For forty days after His Resurrection, Jesus remained on earth. Filled with the glory and honor of His Divinity, He appeared to His Disciples at various times and places. By eating and drinking with His followers and conversing with them about the Kingdom of God, Jesus assured them that He was truly alive in His risen and glorified Body. (The glorification of Jesus refers to His Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. When we speak of Christ's glorified Body, we refer to Its honor, splendor, majesty and visible radiance - it gave off rays of bright light!)
Ascension falls on the fortieth day after the Resurrection. On this day, Jesus appeared to His Disciples and gave them His last commandment - to preach the Kingdom of God and the repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem. Then He led them out of Jerusalem toward Bethany to the Mount of Olives. He lifted up His hands and blessed them. As His Disciples were looking on, He was lifted up - or "ascended" - and a cloud took Him out of sight. While they were looking up, two angels in white robes appeared and said to them: "Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus, Who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same was as you have seen Him go there."
The Ascension is, therefore, a sign and symbol of the Second Coming. Christ will return to the earth in the same manner as He left it. When the risen Lord returns again in glory, God's will for mankind will be fulfilled.
Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told His followers to remain in Jerusalem because in a few days they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:1-12 and Luke 24:13-53). Christ ascends to heaven and sends the Holy Spirit to the world. The Spirit comes to reconcile and reunite the world with God. Christ's Body is in heaven and His Spirit is here on earth. Ascension is also a sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
We celebrate the Ascension with the same great joy the Apostles had when they were promised that the Holy Spirit would come to bear witness to the presence of Christ in the Church. Ascension day is joyful, not only because Christ is glorified, but also because we are glorified with Him. We are joyful because He goes to "prepare a place" for us and because He is forever present before the Father to intercede for us.
Troparion (Tone 4)
You ascended in glory, O Christ our God, making the Disciples joyful with the promise of the Holy Spirit. And this blessing convinced them that You are the Son of God, the Savior of the World!