AND (HE) ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN, AND SITS AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER:
The most miraculous Visitor visited earth and returned. And everything else about Him was also a miracle. And that miracle spread over the whole planet earth. And several hundred generations across nineteen whole centuries have spoken about that Visitor more than anyone else in the world. The greatest miracle is that all those generations have spoken about Him not just as the former Visitor, but as the Contemporary as well. Even today, in our generation, one speaks about Him as the Contemporary as much as the former Visitor. Ever the Former and ever the Contemporary! It is the miracle which has never been repeated in the history of the human race. The personality of that Visitor was extraordinary, comparable to no one, impossible for anything on earth to explain. Many ask in amazement: Who is He? We know Him and we do not know Him. We gaze at Him from afar and we gaze at Him from close by. His breath is among us, His authority is above us. His name brings us hope, comfort, and joy. Who is He?
This extraordinary Visitor to earth is the King of the heavenly kingdom, transformed into man, into true man. Just as His resurrection from the tomb corresponded to His power, so also His ascension into heaven corresponded to His majesty. "I came from the Father," said He himself about Himself, "and have come into the world; and again I am leaving the world and going to the Father" (John 16:28). What is clearer than this?
What is clearer than this-that a son should hurry back to his father after fulfilling his father's will? Is it not natural for a king to return to his kingdom after he has been victorious in war? And for a sower to come home after sowing his field? And for a teacher to retire to his apartment after imparting knowledge? And for a shepherd to head back to the place from which he set out once he has found the lost sheep? And for a priest to return after blessing a home? And for a laborer to go to his rest after completing his work? The Lord Christ also came down to the world as the Son, as the King, as the Sower, as the Teacher, as the Shepherd, as the Priest, and as the Laborer. Having completed His task, His mission in this world, it is natural and stands to reason that He should return to the eternal kingdom in heaven, from which He had come down among men.
The ascent of the victorious Lord into heaven was just as miraculous as His descent from heaven! Miraculously born of the Holy Virgin and the power of God, He miraculously ascended into heaven with divine power before His Holy Mother and disciples. His ascension was both logical and witnessed. It was logical by reason of higher, heavenly logic; it was witnessed by eyewitnesses who voluntarily underwent sufferings for their testimony.
There were many witnesses-who could list them all? The holy apostle and evangelist Mark writes concerning the ascension of the Lord: "And after the Lord had spoken to them, He ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God" (16:19). Saint Luke the physician gives a more detailed account of this majestic event when he says: "And when He had said this, as they were watching, He was taken up and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood before them in white robes, and said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven"' (Acts 1:9-I l; cf. Luke 24:52). During this event we see angels of God, just as we did during the Savior's conception and birth, during his fasting after baptism, during His agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and at His glorious resurrection. The heavenly warriors are always near their King, and are openly seen by men whenever the King deems it fitting.
Once again the ancient Psalmist spoke prophetically: "Open up, eternal gates, that the King of glory may enter! Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord, mighty in battle.... The Lord of hosts, this is the King of glory" (Psalm 23:7 f.). In another place he again says: "The Lord says to my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand"' (Psalm 109:1). Even the Lord himself, the witness of witnesses, foretold His own ascent into heaven and His future glory. And this He foretold in the hour of His greatest humiliation when the Jews spat upon Him and slapped Him in the palace of the high priest. He foretold this with these holy words: "But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the power of God" (Matt. 26:64; Luke 22:69). What testimony do people need besides His? No falsehood is to be found in the mouth of your Messiah, neither concerning what He said about the past nor concerning what He foretold about the future.
Yet there are more testimonies, confirmed by the blood of witnesses, that your souls might be even better nourished with the truth. Saint Peter the apostle testifies concerning Christ, "who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to Him" (I Peter 3:22). Saint Paul the apostle was caught up to the third heaven and, having beheld the wonders of the heavenly world, he testifies that the Father seated His Son "at His right hand in the heavens, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that can be named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, and He has placed all things beneath His feet" (Eph. 1:20-22; cf. Heb. 12:2 and Col. 3:1). A similar witness of this is Saint Stephen, the archdeacon and first martyr. "But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God."' (Acts 7:55-56). Saint Andrew of Constantinople also saw the Lord in glory in the heavens. And such was the case with many other saints as well, especially martyrs, to whom the Lord appeared, so that they might be able to bear their tortures.
And thus your Messiah and Savior, the one and only, ascended into heaven, whence he had come down as the Visitor. He ascended to His original, eternal and immortal kingdom, where He has prepared a place for His followers from His other kingdom, from His Church on earth.
Therefore, chosen people, do not expect another messiah, who will appear to be establishing an earthly kingdom for you and reign as king on earth. Such a messiah the unbelieving, the unchosen, expect, who have darkened the image of God within themselves. These wretched people do not know that such a messiah is not the true Messiah, but a false one. For however great and long-lasting an earthly kingdom may be, it must eventually come to an end, just as everything else that is temporal and worldly. And with the end comes sorrow and grief.
Could such a reign really satisfy your souls and pacify your hearts? Could such a messiah really be what your heart longs for? The one, genuine, and true Messiah has said: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 19:36). The true and genuine Messiah is more exalted than anything and more wondrous than all the pretenses of men; and moreover, He is more beautiful and fair than all desires. His kingdom lies outside of time, outside of the changing and the transitory. It is the eternal, everlasting, immortal kingdom.
There is only one Messiah like this - our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, King and Visitor, born on earth of the most pure Virgin Mary, crucified for our sakes under Pontius Pilate, the One who suffered, was buried, resurrected, and ascended into heaven, where He sits in glory at the right hand of God the Father.
This is the faith of the saints, the faith of those who have conquered themselves and have made their mind and heart ascend towards the radiant heavens. With the help of this faith they conquered their lower nature, and made their mind and heart ascend towards the heavens, and became saints. They are the fruit of this faith, the healthiest fruit that the earth has ever seen. The licentious, who drag their mind and heart through the dust, cannot accept this faith. Only those who bridle, train, and restrain themselves grow to the height of heaven. Those to whom prayer is sweet rejoice in this faith. Those who give alms and forgive the fallen are gladdened by this faith. They incessantly think of the Dreadful Judgment; therefore the Judgment will not be dreadful for them. They shall be called children of God, children of the King. And they shall reign eternally with the ascended Lord. And they shall warm themselves at the hearth of eternal love, of the eternal fatherhood of God.
Is this not your faith also, O Christ-bearers, and the faith of your most holy forefathers? Let it also be the faith of your children from generation to generation. This is the salvation - bearing Orthodox faith, which has never been put to shame, as deep as the bottom of the tombs and as high as the tip of the heavens. It proclaims repentance and purification. It is accepted and kept by the truly chosen people, by those who bear the image of God within themselves. On the Day of Judgment, when the ascended Lord will rise up to judge, they shall be shown mercy and be called blessed.
The ascension - the blessing - peace.