Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. Mark 16:19
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when He had said this, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. Acts 1:8-9 Feast of the Ascension of our Lord
Good morning Prayer Team!
Before commenting on the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, let’s go back for a moment to His Nativity, His “descent” from heaven. Christ came down from heaven in a human way—He was “born” as a baby. And He came in a private way, made known only to Mary and Joseph, to shepherds and Magi. There was a “cosmic” event, however, with the appearance of the star and the multitude of the angels. So there was “glory” in Christ’s descent to earth at the Nativity, but it was not made known to all.
The Ascension was different. Christ ascended in glory, in radiance. This occurred in the presence of His Disciples, the twelve and quite possibly even more than that. What a sight this must have been, to see Christ “lifting off” of the earth and ascending into the clouds and entering into the heavens.
It is not a stretch to say that the Ascension touches on all of the major events in the life of Christ. There was, at the Ascension, as described by hymnographers, a multitude of angels, with trumpets playing, reminiscent of the heavenly hosts at the Nativity. The heavens were opened, as they were at the Theophany/Epiphany. However, instead of the voice of the Father and the Spirit in the form of a dove alighting on Christ in the Jordan River, the heavens opened to receive Christ ascending to them. We are reminded of the brilliance of the Transfiguration, when Christ first appeared in the sky with Moses and Elijah. At the Crucifixion, Christ was lifted up on the Cross. At the Ascension He was lifted up on the clouds. And at the Resurrection, He showed the fullness of His Glory, that He was Lord of life and death. In the Ascension He showed His glory to all people.
Let’s go back for a moment to the equation where God was on one side and man was one side. At the time of the Creation, man was made to be like God, the equation was balanced. At the time of the Fall, man’s side of the equation fell out of balance, because all of the human miseries entered on man’s side but were not on God’s side. At the Nativity, the equation began to come into balance as Christ came to earth to experience our side of the equation. The equation was balanced at the time of the Crucifixion, as Christ died on the cross and experienced the human death that we will all experience.
The balance of the equation was short-lived. Because after the burial of Christ, He rose from the dead, something we have not done. And then He ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father. This is our future hope and the work of our salvation. We are to live in Christ, so that we can die like Christ. And if we die like Christ, in perfect faith and trust in God, then we will be resurrected like Christ. We, too, will ascend to heaven. And we, too, will be accounted worthy to sit at the right hand of the Father. This is the Last Judgment, where all will be judged either worthy to sit at the right hand of the Father (Paradise) or to be consigned to the left (condemnation). Because one cannot fall from heaven, if we are deemed worthy to sit at the right hand of God, the equation can be balanced for each of us for all time. For if we rise with Christ, ascend to heaven and sit at the right hand of the Father, then we will be with Christ and “like” Christ forever.
The Ascension was the last act of Christ’s earthly ministry. And it will be the last act of our earthly lives as well. This is the end point for our lives—it’s either going to be an “ascension” in glory or a “descent” in condemnation. That’s why we should pause and reflect on the Ascension, not only what it was like to witness that awesome event, but what it will be like for us to ascend to heaven and sit at the right hand of God. What a comfort to reflect on the journeys of our loved ones who have made this journey already ahead of us.
It’s amazing how all of these events in the life of Christ tie together. Because the Resurrection still couldn’t have been the end of the story. Christ didn’t rise from the dead so that we could rise from the dead, but so that we could rise from this earthly life and ascend in glory to heaven. This is why the Ascension is so important in our faith. For the Resurrection is not the end of the journey. The end of the journey is heaven. The Resurrection opened the path to Paradise. The Ascension opened the gates to heaven for Christ, and because of the Ascension, those gates can open for each of us as well.
With the disciples witnessing, You ascended O Christ, unto the Father, to sit beside Him. Angels ran before you and they cried aloud, “Lift up the gates, O lift them up, and Behold the King has ascended, to light-principled glory.” (Exapostelarion, from the Orthros of Ascension, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
May we one day ascend in glory as well!
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