Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ascension--The Forgotten Feast

It is regrettable that Ascension will always fall on a Thursday.  Many Christians simply cannot get off of work to attend the Divine Liturgy and the offices.  But, at the same time, I think most Orthodox Christians are ignorant about what this feast is really about.  We have come out of the 40 days of feasting at Pascha and Pentecost awaits. Ascension is the prophecy that Christ will send the Comforter, but it's so much more than that.

Christians lament that Christmas and Pascha have been hijacked by the secular world.  Christmas has Santa Clause and the materialism that goes with him and Pascha has the Easter Bunny and the gluttony that goes with him.  Ascension has NO secular counterpart.  And it shouldn't because Ascension is a feast day only for Christians.  There is little or nothing in it for the non-Christian.

Pascha is Christ's triumph over death.  As a result, every person, after their death, will be raised from the dead, regardless of what faith they professed or how long they have been dead.  The dead will arise, but they will also be presented before the Dread Judgment Seat of Christ.  From there, the wicked will go to their abode and the righteous will ascend to theirs to take their place at Christ's right hand, just as Christ ascended to take His place at the right hand of His Father.  Ascension is only for the Christian.

What's more is that Ascension ties directly to one of Orthodoxy's great theological truths that is proclaimed at every Orthodox liturgy and office--theosis, becoming like God.  Christ ascended into Heaven still clothed in the flesh that He assumed from the Blessed Virgin at His birth, the flesh that was beaten, bruised and tormented during His Passion.  Remember that His wounds were still present even after His Resurrection as He invited St. Thomas to put his hands into His side.  Christ ascended into Heaven with this very same flesh and deified it, made it god-like.  Before Christ's incarnation, our flesh was a detriment to salvation. Now, because of Christ's work on earth, it is our gateway to salvation.  Yes, we still war with it but as Christ assumed it, it is now healed.  "Anything unassumed is unhealed" said St. Gregory the Theologian.  Because human flesh sits at the right hand of God the Father, our flesh can be tempered and used for the glory of the heavens.  We can ascend to the heavenly place right now in our current existence.

We still await the Comforter, but let us glory in Christ's departure from this earth. It had to be done, just as the Incarnation, the Passion and Pascha as well as the events that happened to to His mother, the Theotokos.  Without Ascension, we cannot be more than what we are. Let us not forget it just because it always will happen on a Thursday.  Happy feast!

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