“Set Your Affection On Things Above”

A Word on the Feast of the Ascension

The Ascension. Giotto, c.1305, Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy The Ascension. Giotto, c.1305, Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession (Heb. 4:14).

Let us follow along now mentally, brethren, with the sacred writers, depicting the path of our Lord Jesus Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, in the glory of His Father. This path, ending with His Ascension to the Father (Jn. 20:17) and His receiving of the Heavenly glory which He had in His Divinity before the world was (Jn. 17:5), commenced with His sufferings. Ascending up far above all heavens, our Lord had to descend first into the lower parts of the earth (Eph. 4:9-10) to disappear into the bowels of the earth, into the depths of the abyss, and be cut off from the land of the living that, having made Himself an offering of propitiation (Is. 53:8-10) for the sins of man, He could present Himself as our High Priest, able to be touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15). And we see how this bearer of man’s sin, forsaken among the dead and reduced into the dust of earth (Ps. 88:5, 21:15), is the Victor over hell and death, and binds the strong man, that is, the devil (Mt. 12:29). He Who cometh from Edom … glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of His strength (Is. 63:1), and ascended on high, receives rather the spoils of human souls saved by Him (Ps. 68:18), as the King of glory, entering through the gates of Heaven itself, to appear there as the Forerunner and Intercessor for us (Ps. 23:7-10; Heb. 6:20, 12:23-24).

If, brethren, such is the path of the Ascension of Christ Himself into His glory (Lk. 24:26)—that is, a path of suffering and death—then can our path be otherwise? If He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn. 14:6), then how can we come to God the Father, if not by imitating our Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 13:15)? If our Lord Jesus Christ sits on the right hand of God, then set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth, for if we have died with Him, then, according to the apostle, our lives must now be hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:1-3). Let us mortify our earthly passions and thoughts (Col. 3:5) in order to have our citizenship in Heaven (Phil. 3:20), and with our purified minds to follow Christ, the Lord of our lives, Who has ascended into Heaven and is drawing us there where He is. Let us prepare our minds with contemplation and prayer for that spiritual joy with which the apostles were filled as they stood watching Christ as He ascended from Earth to Heaven, and afterwards returned to Jerusalem with great joy (Lk. 24:52; Acts 1:10-12).

But, brethren, someone will say, how can we, with our weaknesses, inclining towards every passion by the powers of our souls, become capable of such high ascetic feats of spiritual contemplation and mortification of the passions? How can our weak faith remain undeterred, not seeing any signs of Christ’s presence with us? Hitherto, gathering in this church and with us beholding the bishop standing before the Throne of God, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners (Heb. 7:26), full of love for all and exhortation, all saw the unmistakable signs that Christ Himself dwelt with the multitude of people, gathered here in His name (Mt. 18:20). But now what will inspire us, and in whose words should we search now for edification, comfort, and support for the yet weakly smoldering spark of the spiritual life in our hearts?

That such thoughts might not lead us into grief and sorrow, remember again, brethren, the apostles who also considered themselves orphaned by Christ’s Ascension into Heaven. But did sorrow then find a place for itself in their hearts? No, they joyfully awaited another Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Whom their beloved Teacher Christ promised to send to them. Remember those words spoken to us as our spiritual father and pastor departed from us. “Now,” he said, “like the holy apostle Paul, I commend you to God’s word and His grace, which can edify you more than my word.” This grace of the Holy Spirit, by which his words were fulfilled, reminds us of those words which we heard from the lips of our beloved Right Reverend Vladyka—and our hearts will be filled with consolation and joy, that we will more easily endure the tribulation necessary for our purification. Like the apostles, abiding in one accord in the Zion upper room in prayer, let us come to this church more often, and may this community of prayer preserve us from every impurity, in union with Christ, Who promised to be with those who believe in Him always, even unto the end of the world (Mt. 28:20). Amen.

Hieromartyr Thaddeus (Uspensky)
Translated by Jesse Dominick


25 мая 2017 г.

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