|The Lord’s Ascension. Fresco, Mirozh Transfiguration Monastery, Pskov. Mid 11th c.|
And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy (Lk. 24:50–52). Thus ended our Lord and Savior’s time of earthly labor! He suffered much, and was greatly glorified. There have never been such sorrows as His sorrows, and there has never been such glory as His glory. He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father(Phil. 2:8-11).
Shall we ever behold this glory of our Lord? We shall behold it, for in His last, great prayer, the Lord prayed about this to His Father:I will, He prayed, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me (Jn. 17:24). The angels appeared to the Apostles after the Lord’s Ascension, witnessing that the Lord will come to all of us on the last day in the same appearance as the Apostles beheld Him ascending into Heaven (cf. Act. 1:2). We shall even participate in the glory of the Ascended Lord, if only we do not make ourselves unworthy, for He ascended into Heaven in order to prepare it to receive all His true followers. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (Jn. 14:2–3). The Apostle Paul testifies that this merciful accommodation on our behalf has not changed at all even after the Ascension, when he says that on the last Day of the Lord’s Coming, the faithful shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). This means something will happen to the faithful which is similar even in appearance to what happened to the Lord Himself on the Mount of Olives.
One path, brothers, by which we, too, can attain the heights of holy glory, is the same path by which our Lord ascended in glory; that is, the way of the cross, the way of purification, self-denial, the way of exterior and interior sufferings. Will we remember this? And in remembering it, will we travel Christ’s path to Heaven?
If the Mount Tabor of earthly happiness uplifts you, brothers, over everything earthly, and brings you closer to Heaven, then remain upon it! The ascended Lord blesses your heights. Only take care not to fall into slumber on that Mount Tabor; and when Moses and Elias speak of the cross on which you must crucify your “old man,” don’t start muttering about building not one, but three tabernacles for that man. Remember, that the way to Heaven is not from Tabor, but from Olivet; and to get to Olivet you have to go through Gethsemane and Golgotha.
The Lord’s path should be the path of each and every one of us. The Lord suffered for all of us equally; the Heavens are opened also to all of us equally. Thus, I ask each and every one of you: can we point to very many things in our lives and say that they were done, or not done, by us because we are predestined for Heaven; because, some day, we should be with our Lord in Heaven? Have we abstained at least once from sin, have we done even one good deed with the thought that the Lord sees us from the Heavens? However small this question may seem, there could scarcely be found amongst us people who answer it in the affirmative. What is the meaning of our faith in the Ascended Lord? Do we believe in Him, or not? If we believe in Him, then where are our works? If we do not believe in Him, then why do we bear His Name? Whoever truly believes in his heavenly calling cannot be earthly: if he has this conviction it will of necessity be the source which inspires all his thoughts and feelings, his whole life, and all his relationships. In all the circumstances of his life, and in every situation, the true Christian remembers that he is an heir to Heaven, the co-inheritor of Christ, and he acts in accordance with his calling. In looking at his life, any such person can see that he does not live so much for the present and temporal as for the future and eternal; that his heart is somewhere far away, not in this world, and that his life is hidden in the heights, in God. This is how Christians once seemed to the pagans.
But is there very much of this in us, brothers? Is there at least something unearthly, Heavenly, and Christ-like in us? If there is, then we are like the Apostles, and can return to our own homes from the Mount of Olives with joy. The blessing of the ascended Lord belongs to us in this case, just as does the promise of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit descends, it will not pass by those who belong to Christ.
Otherwise, the angels’ reproach against the Apostles at the Lord’s Ascension applies to us with even greater force. I say, with greater force, for to them was said, Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? (Acts 1:11) only because they, out of their love and zeal, gazed for long time at the heavens which received their Lord and Teacher. Something else needs to be said to us: Sons of men, why stand ye gazing not at heaven, but at the earth? Turn your eyes to Heaven, and behold our Savior, who has long been looking at you. Enter upon the path to Heaven which long lay before you; cast off the crushing weight of sin that you may travel it lightly, receive the cross into your hands and go to your Savior while He blesses you for this path, before the doors of Heaven close. Meanwhile the Angels, both Heavenly and earthly, invite you to the habitations of the Heavenly Father.
We hear your voice, ye blessed dwellers of Heaven, and want to step upon the path of the Lord; only strengthen us and accompany us with your help. Ever more so—Thou Thyself, O Merciful Savior and Lord, do not abandon us who are orphans in spirit and infirm. Look down from the Heavens upon our good intentions and upon our infirmity, watch over us and bless us for Thy path; clothe us with power from on high, and make firm our wavering steps, until we come to Thy holy mountain, and unite with Thee. Amen.
Abridged from M. Pogodin, A Wreath upon the Grave of Archbishop Innocent of Taurida (Moscow, 1867)
Translated from Russian by Nun Cornelia (Rees)