Ascension Day

Today is Ascension Day in the Orthodox Church. Ascension Day was last week in the Western Churches.

But then you knew that already.

You didn’t know that?! What religion are you?!

In my former Church, which was much more historically rooted than the Evangelical Churches that now seem to be the center of American Christian gravity, we observed Ascension Day 30 years ago in a combined service of the city’s three Reformed Churches, and it was decently attended. Now there are four Reformed Churches, and I believe they have given up trying even a combined service.

I don’t think Evangelicals have observed it during my whole, increasingly considerable, lifespan.

I don’t get it. What religion is this “Evangelical” thingy? What, even, is Reformed Christianity becoming?

The Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, took on human flesh for our salvation. God incarnate — God made meat, to be blunt.

He took glorified human flesh with Him and is seated in it at the Right Hand of God the Father. There, among other things, He intercedes for us, but it’s darned important that the “He” who so intercedes remains, now and for all eternity, God incarnate.

The Incarnation is forever. Anyone who doesn’t understand that doesn’t understand salvation. That bridge God provided between Himself and sinful us, made famous as a cross by Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws, really is made of human flesh. And contra “Law 3,” Christ didn’t just take on human flesh so He could get crucified and then shed nasty old bothersome flesh and go back to being a blissfully disembodied free spirit.

We are going to spend eternity in resurrected bodies. “Immortality of the soul” is more Greek philosophical than Christian; “resurrection of the dead” is the credal affirmation of Christians.

Our telos is not to escape hellfire and bop around in those bods on streets of gold, partying under pearly gates. We are to become partakers of the Divine Nature, so intimately close to God that that the largely-forgotten Protestant category of “sanctification” is a beggarly understatement. “God became man so that man might become god,” as St. Athansius put it.

I understand that such partaking of the Divine Nature boggles the mind. I and many other Orthodox Christians feel as if our life’s work is becoming merely, genuinely human, and we’ll be lucky to achieve that, never mind becoming by grace what God is by nature.

But that’s the teaching.

I believe. Lord, help my unbelief.

Not parted from the Father’s bosom, O sweetest Jesus,
and having lived among those on earth as man,
today You have been taken up in glory from the Mount of Olives,
and exalting in Your compassion our fallen nature,
You have seated it with the Father.
Therefore the heavenly ranks of the Bodiless Powers were amazed at the wonder,
and beside themselves with fear;
and seized with trembling, they magnified Your love for mankind.
With them, we on earth also give glory
for Your condescension to us and Your Ascension from us;
and we supplicate You, saying:
“At Your Ascension You filled with boundless joy
the Disciples and the Theotokos who bore You;
by their prayers make us also worthy of the joy of Your elect
through Your great mercy!”

(Final Sticheron on Lord I Call at the Vespers of Ascension)

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