Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension. This is the day Our Lord ascended to His Father, Body and Soul. This day should change how people think of eternity, and how they think of death. As Christians, we believe Christ rose from the dead after three days. We believe the account in the Book of Acts when we are told that He spent 40 days among His Apostles.
“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God…” (Acts 1:1-3).
In the Book of Acts, we hear of many of the “proofs” given to His followers that He had, indeed, risen from the dead, as He foretold. We believe this because eyewitnesses tell us, through this written record, but also through faith. In the west, bells are normally rung at the moment of “transubstantiation,” or the point at which Jesus becomes present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the appearance of bread and wine. In the east, we take the moment on faith, not delineating exactly when Christ manifests Himself on the altar, but we believe He is present. We also believe He is equally present in His Word…which is why in the east, there is a procession before the Gospel is read, with the Gospel book held high and bows are made as the priest and deacon walk by with the Gospel, the same as when the Holy Gifts are brought to the altar. We also incense at both points in our Liturgy. God is present in His people, in His word, and in His Body and Blood during communion – each is equal in many ways for those of us in the east. It is belief that what we do here on earth is mirrored in heaven. We believe. We believe it all.
The Ascension, as pictured in an icon above, is about so much more than what was written down. Christ never set aside the fact or the reality that He was God. He never set aside the fact or reality that He was Man. He suffered for us in his Humanity. He suffered just as we do, in all things except for Sin. He was the “God made man.” When He rose after the 40 days He spent instructing and being present to His apostles, He rose fully man, and fully God. But He rose in the aspect of His Humanity, becoming the Risen Lord, the Lord of Hosts, in His Humanity. We strive to be like Him. As Christians it is our goal to become as Christ-like to everyone (and to ourselves) as we can be. We believe that becoming Christ-like is the one true path to our eternity in Heaven, sharing it with God Himself. Because we believe all of this, and we have written records of this event, and we have historical anecdotes about this and many of the events in the life of Christ (my minor in college was Biblical archeology – trust me, we have the proofs) we need to take a leap in our logical thinking here. Take a leap of faith, if you want to call it that. What is the leap? It is called, “Theosis,” or becoming like God. It is a progression we make in our spirituality in that we believe we will be present in eternity with God in our humanity. That means that God, who resides in the heavenly realms in His Humanity, will welcome us to the same place, in our human bodies. Christ deified His human form by rising into Heaven in His humanity; we will, as well, be welcomed into heaven in our human forms…we will be deified, too.
So many people freak out when you talk about this. But it is a thread of philosophy running through Christianity that has an actual name – Theosis. It is such a huge subject and such a hard truth, that if you google it, you will be amazed at how many resources touch on the subject. One article I enjoyed is linked here: http://www.antiochian.org/content/theosis-partaking-divine-nature
The goal in life is to be forgiven, to reach the heavenly realms and reside for eternity with God. For me, if I am allowed through those “Pearly Gates,” I will be thrilled to just be allowed in. Nosebleed seats work great for me. The Ascension is a promise that our human nature can participate in the divine nature. We will be among the saints who have gone before us. People, just like you and me, who pursued heaven above all else. In our culture today, that is not the popular thing to say or be a part of; certainly not the subject of any reality show I know of. And most certainly not tweeting or twittering, instagramming or posting photos of those trying to become saints! Our children’s heroes are not those struggling with their own demons and personal sanctity; most often they are sports or singing stars. And we need to hold up the saints as heroes in our homes, rather than the other categories more prominent in our culture.
There is a movement that is based on “your body is a temple,” (and the western aspect of Theosis) and it is called, The Theology of the Body.” (http://thetheologyofthebody.com/) The Roman Catholic Church is trying to teach this premise, in order for our young people, and even us older folks, to have a more profound view of their/our bodies. (http://catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/se0058.html) Our bodies will be deified through our own Resurrection experience through death. And for many people these days, they do not respect others, let alone themselves or one another’s physical bodies. Theology of the Body promotes this sense of the sacred in humanity, that within each of us, the spark of Godliness resides. We are children of God and within each of us resides this essence of God (in the east we refer to this as the nous, or nesting place of God present in each of us). We have the humanity of man before the Fall of Adam and Eve (Original Man); we have the struggle of man through the humanity of and sacrifice of Christ (Historical Man), and we have our own essence of self in the resurrected bodies we present to God in heaven (Eschatological Man). If we take this theology of Theosis and the Theology of the Body and truly look at them, through the lens of the Ascension of Christ celebrated today, it should cause us to stop in our tracks. If we become deified and perfected through our faith in the Ascended Lord, how much more should we respect our own bodies (for they will be with us through eternity) and the bodies of others?! They truly are the Temple of the Lord.