|36 - Seventh Sunday of Pascha, May 27, 2012|
“O Christ God, Thou hast ascended in glory….” From this morning’s Gospel, we learn that this the glory in which Christ ascended is the glory He had with the Father before the creation of the world. It is the glory from which the first light of creation shone forth in the darkness of the abyss so that the world and all that is in it was brought into existence in this light streaming forth from the glory of God. That Jesus had this glory with the Father before the creation of the world reveals that He is the Son of God, that He is of one essence with the Father, as the holy fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, whom we commemorate today, declared, and as we confess in the “Nicene Creed” formulated by those holy fathers.
In His High-Priestly prayer to the Father that we hear in this morning’s Gospel, the Lord says: “Father, glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, as You have given to Him power over all flesh.” The comparative pronoun, “as”, shows clearly, I think, that the glory that the Son has from the Father is the power that He has from the Father. Christ’s glory is His power; His power is His glory that He has from the Father.
What does it mean that He has this power and glory over all flesh? The answer comes in Christ’s own words: In order that He might give to all that the Father has given to Him life eternal. The glory of God is not some self-centered power that He employs to overpower you, forcing you to praise Him against your will. The glory of God is the radiance of His divine life; its power is the power to create life. Through the power of His glory, Christ creates the world, raising it out of the darkness of the abyss, the emptiness of nothingness, into being; and, when we had fallen, it is by the same power of His glory that He destroys death by His death on the Cross and raises the dead to life, making the tomb itself to be radiant with life. The glory of Christ that He has from the Father is the power of divine love in which He creates the world, so that, as the Psalmist says, the earth is filled with His steadfast love. It is the power of His Holy Resurrection. It is the glory of His Holy Church, His crucified and risen body, that gives the Church her mystical beauty, the sacred, holy beauty of God’s glory that is radiant with God’s own divine life, His own glory and virtue. The glory that Christ has from the Father is the power of the Church. In the power of Christ’s glory, she gives birth from above to all those who receive Christ, her Bridegroom, in the mysteries of the Christian faith, making them to be children of God.
“…Granting joy to Thy disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father. The Holy Spirit also is of one essence with the Father and the Son, and so the life that He gives is from the Father. It would be the life of the Father’s glory and power that He gives to the Son from before the foundation of the world. So, when Christ says: “that I might give to all that the Father has given to Me life eternal,” He is speaking of giving to those who receive Him the life of the Father’s Holy Spirit in the Father’s own glory and power (cf. II Pt 2:3) that He gave to the Son from before the foundation of the world. Those, then, who receive Christ receive the life of the Holy Spirit in the Father’s own glory and power; and they come alive destined no more to descend back to the dust whence they came, but destined to become partakers of the divine nature (II Pt 2:4) and to ascend from glory to glory in the grace of Christ, the love of the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit. They are born from above as children of God, born not of the blood – i.e. seed – and desire of the flesh, or the desire of the man, but of the Seed of God’s own Holy Spirit. They are raised in glory, that is to say, from death to life, in the glory of Christ’s Resurrection that He had from the Father from before the foundation of the world.
Surely, this is why Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit filled His disciples with joy, even as they saw Him ascending in glory, i.e., in the Holy Spirit, into heaven until they could see Him no more. It was the joy of anticipation, that very soon – it would happen on the Feast of Pentecost – they would receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit, the life of the Father that is radiant with His own glory and power. In that blessing, in the glory, the power and the life of the Holy Spirit, they knew that this Jesus whom they had seen crucified and buried, raised from the dead and then ascended to the Father in the glory of the Holy Spirit, they knew that He was in truth the Son of God, the redeemer of the world. They knew in the knowledge of faith that this one whose life, death and resurrection and ascension they had seen with their own eyes, heard with their own ears, handled with their own hands, was the Word of Life who was from the beginning. That is to say, they knew in the communion of the Holy Spirit. They knew not in a human manner but in a spiritual manner that transcends human comprehension, human understanding, human conceptualization, whose “wisdom”, if such you can call it that, is but the “guesswork” of the conceit and vain hubris of human reasoning that stumbles smugly in the darkness of dialectical reasoning, imagination and speculation as it gropes self-righteously for the truth, seeking to find the truth in its own mathematical and geometrical formulas, its scientific methods, its philosophical speculations, all constructed from the babel of what the human mind can comprehend by its own limited powers; and not finding the truth because the truth is not a “what”; the truth is a “Who”. It, He, is Jesus Christ, He Who Is the Light of the world. And He is found only in the obedience, the humility of faith, only by receiving Him in the fear of God, with faith and love.
Christ God ascended in glory. He ascended in the Holy Spirit of God, in the Life and Power of God that gives life in the love of God.
I think that when we listen in faith, that is to say, in the fear of God, with faith and love for Christ, to the words of the Church that describe the mystery of Christ’s ascension to heaven in glory, that we can say with the holy disciples that we have seen Christ with our own eyes, the eyes of our soul. Especially can we say this if contemplation of the vision suddenly evokes in the soul a certain heavenly joy. This is because the words of Scripture and the words of the Church, given in her prayers and in her hymns and verses of her worship services, delineate the very shape of the mystery of Christ. They are the holy veils that cover the mysteries of His holy Incarnation, His Holy Pascha, and His Ascension, and so they show the very shape of those mysteries. So, when we contemplate these words of the Church in faith, in the spirit of humility and in love, we may suddenly find that the veils are lifted, and we see the mystery of Christ taking shape before us in the words of the Church’s worship, and we know from the joy that this vision awakens in our souls, that this one whom the eyes of our soul see in faith is in truth the Christ, the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world.
I see Christ, the New Adam, made a living soul by the glory of the Holy Spirit that clothes Him as it clothed the first Adam in the beginning, ascending into Heaven and entering the Garden of Eden whose gates were opened at His birth and His baptism in the Jordan. In the Holy Dormition of the most blessed Theotokos – she is the New Eve, the Church, fashioned from the blood and water that flowed from the side of Christ on the Cross – I see the New Eve joining the New Adam in the heavenly Garden of Paradise just as the first Eve joined Adam in the Garden of Eden after she was fashioned from the side of Adam in the beginning.
Those who receive Christ the New Adam in the hearing of faith are raised up from the dust of the ground and delivered from death and corruption in the living waters of the Church’s baptismal font, the uterus ecclesiae or womb of the Church as it is called from antiquity, and from the womb of the Church, the New Eve, they are born from above in the Spirit of God as children of God. Sitting in glory on the throne beside the Tree of Life in the Heavenly City, the Spirit and the Bride now cry out to the children of the world: “Come! You who are thirsty, come! Drink of the Living Waters of Christ’s Holy Spirit.”
Beloved faithful, this mystery of divine light and life, aglow with such radiant glory and joy, is the mystery of Christ who is in you! In the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection and glorious Ascension, come to the Feast of Pentecost in answer to the call from on high that streams forth like lightning from the holy altar of the Church calling you out of the darkness and into the light of Christ’s heavenly Kingdom. Come to the Feast. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Be raised up to life and to health of soul and body in the glory and virtue of Christ’s own divine nature, and in the joy and love of Christ, take up your bed, take up your cross, take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church and begin making your way through the wilderness of this life to the Promised Land of Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom, the Land flowing with milk and honey promised to those who love Christ and who do His will. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! Christ is ascended! Most Holy Theotokos, save us!