February 24, 2024

True Orthodox Diocese of Western Europe

Russian True Orthodox Church (RTOC)

THE LORD’S ASCENSION By Saint Philaret The New Confessor of New York

6 min read

“The Lord said unto my Lord: Sit thou on my right hand, Till I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Matt. 22:44)
The holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, in announcing how the Lord Jesus Christ foretold the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the believers, remarks, “for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). The same Evangelist, in relaying the farewell talk of the Lord with the disciples at the Mystical Supper, notes that the Saviour began with these words: “Now is the Son of man glorified….”  From these words, it is clear that the Lord, contemplating His redeeming struggle and passion as already completed, sees His glorification as perfected in them.  In the subsequent discourse of that farewell talk, in expanding on the significance of the connection between His glorification and the descent of the Holy Spirit, which was described in the words of Saint John the Theologian quoted above, the Lord tells the Apostles: “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you” (John 16:7).
Thus, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the faithful is intimately and unbreakably connected to the glorification of the incarnate Son of God.  According to the teaching of the Holy Church, we know that that glorification, which already began during the Saviour’s sufferings (see the exclamation of the Good Thief: “Remember me, Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom” [Luke 23:42]), was manifest also in His Resurrection, in which He appeared as the Conqueror of Hades and the Master of life and death.  But in all its fulness and glory, that glorification was revealed in His most glorious Ascension.  If He had already told the Apostles that were still with Him after His Resurrection that “all power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 128:18), then in the Ascension this His authority over all the world and His glory was shown forth with particular clarity and in their fulness, for He ascended into Heaven, and His glorified human nature was seated at the right hand of God the Father, co-reigning with Him – as the sixth article of our Symbol of Faith (Creed) says.  This glorification of the Christ Messiah was foretold even in ancient times by the Prophet King David, in that prophesy which we have put at the head of this article.  (It is known that the Saviour Himself repeated this prophecy to His enemies, not long before the Passion, in His last conversations with them).But it is only the New Covenant which gives people the possibility fully to comprehend the Old Testament foretelling.   For if the Son of God, as Almighty God, is equal and of one essence with God the Father, and from before the ages had one authority and glory with Him, then through the Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension He seized that glory for His Theanthropic nature, for He was seated on the right hand of God the Father, Who granted Him the authority and right to judge the world: “that all men should honour the Son, as they honour the Father” (John 5:23).According to the Holy Scriptures, the sending down of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, and through them on all believing Christians,   is connected with this glorification of the Redeemer of the world for His feat and His achievement of saving people. Christ the Saviour, according to the witness of Luke the Evangelist spoke of this sending down of the Holy Spirit as the purpose of His coming into the World: “I am come to send Fire on the earth, and what will I,  if It be already kindled?”  (12:49).From the book of the Acts of the Apostles we know that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in the form of fiery tongues so that by this descent the words of the Saviour were fulfilled with literal exactness.  And it was only after this exceptionally important and great event that the Apostles, now perfectly reborn and strengthened by the Grace-filled action of the Spirit of God, began their preaching.  “Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world” (Ps. 18:4;  Rom. 10:18), – and the whole world bowed down to the footstool, which is the Cross.In the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, we have the very beginning of the Church of Christ, concerning which Christ Himself said that the gates of Hades (all the exertions of the dark powers) would not prevail against Her.  And this eternally existing power of the Holy Spirit in the Church, although its fiery appearance is now covered, nonetheless is always living and active, thereby the Church of Christ flourishes and transfigures this decadent world; and for all subsequent ages just as now, “every soul is quickened by the Holy Spirit” (3rd verse of  1st antiphon in the 4 tone, Resurrectional Mattins).  And we know that His Grace-filled streams and rivers flow and apprehend each one of us in the holy and spiritually quickening mysteries of the Church.  So, beloved brethren, as we have said above, the descent of the Holy Spirit is unbreakably linked to the glorification of Christ the Saviour.  And this glorification – the glorification of His Theanthropic nature – is most exaltedly and fully revealed precisely in His Ascension and His sitting on the right hand of God the Father.  This is why the Church celebrates the radiant festival of the Ascension so festively and joyously.  This festival is the feast of the final solemnity and crowning as victor of the Originator of our salvation, Who appeared through His incarnation and lived as the humblest of the sons of men, and in the struggle of humility and obedience to the Father was obedient “even unto death, the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2:8).  Now He is crowned with glory and honour, and such glory He prepares for all who are faithful to Him, according to His own unlying words: “If any man serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant be” (Jn 12:26), – and in His high-priestly prayer to the Father: “And the glory which thou gavest Me, I have given them” (Jn 17:22).  Who among believing Christians can doubt His words?  It is for this reason that the Holy Church teaches that the eternal Kingdom of the glory of His faithful ones with Him will have no end.So it is to endless eternity and to the world on high, to the Throne of the Triune Divinity, that the heart of each believing Christian strives to be raised up on this day of the Ascension of the Lord, – and, in the light which exceeds that of the sun of this feast of the Divine love, our salvation is firmly established, and unto the ages, our Christian hope will be strengthened in our souls, the hope granted by the example of our reigning, ascended Saviour, founded on His almighty, all-creating, all-satisfying, sovereign providence, through which all our afflictions and distresses, all our privations and misfortunes, which are stirred up by the evil powers in our present life of labours, are quenched and covered over until the end.Our Adam – the Head of the race of mankind, – already co-reigns with His Heavenly Father; He is strong and to everyone, who, in his heart, faithfully strives towards Him, He imparts in its fulness that peace, blessedness, and joy of His, which He promised.  Amen.
Translated from “The Fiery Pillar” 
This homily was preached by Saint Philaret when he was still an Archimandrite, and was first published in “The Heavenly Bread” in 1939, and then again in “Orthodox Russia” in 1994. 

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