In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. My beloved, today is a great day, and a much celebrated feast day of the Orthodox Church – the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Greek it is “Analepsis”, or the “taking up”.
We believe that the Ascension is a Divine Mystery, where it marks the completion of Christ’s physical presence with us on earth, and most importantly, in the union of God and man when Jesus ascended to Heaven in His glorified human body, to sit at the right hand of God our Father in Heaven. The Orthodox Church frequently talk about “theosis”, or to partake in the Divine nature through God’s grace. The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ shows us His two natures, Divine and human, and points us the illuminated path to “theosis”. Think of “theosis” as God coming towards us in His immense love and grace, and we moving diligently and passionately towards Him, eventually meeting and embracing as a loving Father and a prodigal son.
Traditionally, we celebrate with the blessing of first fruits as a thanksgiving for our Lord blessing us with produce, processions with lights and banners around the church, and consumption of the blessed fruits after the Liturgy. And May 16, Sunday, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Brendan the Navigator, one of the 12 Apostles of Ireland.
When we think about the Ascension of our Lord, let us also think of our human ascension, in growing closer to our Lord. In the Orthodox tradition, you will often hear of climbing the mountain of faith. In Isaiah 2:2-4, we see this reference to the “mountain of the Lord” for us Gentiles. The mountain here refers to the Church, the full body of Christ, and we are to labor and grow by climbing this colossal mountain. We may imagine climbing a mountain to be difficult and painful. But if we are faithful, we find God’s grace everywhere as we climb.
Let me paint you a visual picture. God’s mountain, or the Church, may require our physical dedication and strength to climb, but along the climb, we may find luscious green trees blooming with beautiful flowers, songs of colorful birds flying about, the cool and fresh mountain air, and clear beautiful streams giving us thirst-quenching and life-giving water. As we climb towards the summit, we may see the warm rays of the morning sun and the sense of awe we experience looking around us from the summit. This is just like how our God gives us grace amidst our faith and passion for Him. He will always shower us with abundant grace along difficult journeys. All we have to do is to humbly pray, and quietly listen for Him.
Likewise, as we reflect on Psalm 23, we find the prophesy of our Lord’s resurrection as the sovereign Lord of all things. In the ascent on the mountain, the Psalm reminds us to keep a pure heart, to love our neighbors, and to keep simple lives.
And in Luke 24:36-53, we are reminded of our Lord’s conquest of death. In verse 49, Christ our Lord assured us of the coming of the Holy Spirit as our Father’s promise, as are verses in Acts of the Apostles 1:4-5, and that the Holy Spirit will give us protection as spiritual armor, against the forces of evil. When we Orthodox faithful recite the Jesus Prayer and keep God in our minds and hearts frequently, we are walking closer to God and allowing the Holy Spirit to strengthen us. So keep the Jesus Prayer in your mind and your lips. Let Christ be your mediator and perfecter of your faith in finding God. Let us always remember God in all things, God above all things, and God beside us.
Let us recite this often, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Let us close with a thanksgiving prayer:
It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: True Theotokos, we magnify thee.
O virgin Theotokos, rejoice; O Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Psalm 23 (Greek LXX)
St Luke 24:36-53