"AND ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN...." V. Rev. George Florovsky, D.D.
"I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God, and Your God" (John 20:17).
In these words the Risen Christ described to Mary Magdalene the mystery of His Resurrection. She had to carry this mysterious message to His disciples, "as they mourned and wept" (Mark 16:10). The disciples listened to these glad tidings with fear and amazement, with doubt and mistrust. It was not Thomas alone who doubted among the Eleven. On the contrary, it appears that only one of the Eleven did not doubt - St John, the disciple "whom Jesus loved." He alone grasped the mystery of the empty tomb at once: "and he saw, and believed" (John 20:8). Even Peter left the sepulcher in amazement, "wondering at that which was come to pass" (Luke 24:12).
In the Ascension resides the meaning and the fullness of Christ's Resurrection.
The Lord did not rise in order to return again to the fleshly order of life, so as to live again and commune with the disciples and the multitudes by means of preaching and miracles. Now he does not even stay with them, but only "appears" to them during the forty days, from time to time, and always in a miraculous and mysterious manner. "He was not always with them now, as He was before the Resurrection," comments St John Chrysostom. "He came and again disappeared, thus leading them on to higher conceptions. He no longer permitted them to continue in their former relationship toward Him, but took effectual measures to secure these two objects: That the fact of His Resurrection should be believed, and that He Himself should be everafter apprehended to be greater than man." There was something new and unusual in His person (cf. John 21:1-14). As St John Chrysostom says, "It was not an open presence, but a certain testimony of the fact that He was present." That is why the disciples were confused and frightened. Christ arose not in the same way as those who were restored to life before Him. Theirs was a resurrection for a time, and they returned to life in the same body, which was subject to death and corruption - returned to the previous mode of life. But Christ arose forever, unto eternity. He arose in a body of glory, immortal and incorruptible. He arose, never to die, for "He clothed the mortal in the splendor of incorruption." His glorified Body was already exempt from the fleshly order of existence. And with Christ, man's nature ascends also.
By His Ascension the Lord not only opened to man the entrance to heaven, not only appeared before the face of God on our behalf and for our sake, but likewise "transferred man" to the high places. "He honored them He loved by putting them close to the Father." God quickened and raised us together with Christ, as St Paul says, "and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephes. 2:6). Heaven received the inhabitants of the earth. "The First fruits of them that slept" sits now on high, and in Him all creation is summed up and bound together. "The earth rejoices in mystery, and the heavens are filled with joy."
The Ascension is the token of Pentecost, the sign of its coming, "The Lord has ascended to heaven and will send the Comforter to the world'
For the Holy Spirit was not yet in the world, until Jesus was glorified. And the Lord Himself told the disciples, "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you" (John 16:7). The gifts of the Spirit are "gifts of reconciliation," a seal of an accomplished salvation and of the ultimate reunion of the world with God. And this was accomplished only in the Ascension. "And one saw miracles follow miracles," says St John Chrysostom, "ten days prior to this our nature ascended to the King's throne, while today the Holy Ghost has descended on to our nature." The joy of the Ascension lies in the promise of the Spirit.' "Thou didst give joy to Thy disciples by a promise of the Holy Spirit." The victory of Christ is wrought in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Ascension is a sign and token of the Second Coming. "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).
The mystery of God's Providence will be accomplished in the Return of the Risen Lord. In the fulfillment of time, Christ's kingly power will be revealed and spread over the whole of faithful mankind. Christ bequeathes the Kingdom to the whole of the faithful. "And I appoint unto you a Kingdom as My Father has appointed unto me. That ye may eat and drink at My table in My Kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:29-30). Those who followed Him faithfully will sit with Him on their thrones on the day of His coming. "To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne" (Rev. 3:21). Salvation will be consummated in the Glory.
We should tremble more at the thought of that abundant Glory which is appointed unto the redeemed, than at the thought of the eternal darkness. "Think near Whom Thy Head is seated...." Or rather, Who is the Head. In very truth, "wondrous and terrible is Thy divine ascension from the mountain, O Giver of Life." A terrible and wondrous height is the King's throne. In face of this height all flesh stands silent, in awe and trembling. "He has Himself descended to the lowest depths of humiliation, and raised up man to the height of exaltation."
(excerpted from St Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 2 # 3, 1954.)