The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven is not an isolated occurrence that befits only the Son of God. It is the promise to all those who are in Christ to ascend in and with Him to glory. Everything that is His by nature can become ours through grace. Our Ascension is variously called “deification” or as St. Peter explained, we are thereby to become: “partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)
By sharing in Christ our God, body, mind and spirit, we become members of Him, His Body the Church. However, this participation in Christ works the other way round as well. Every part of each one of us can be utterly transformed in Christ… glorified… and, yes, this includes our bodies. This is what St. Simeon the New Theologian says about this blessed ascended state:
“We become members of Christ—and Christ becomes our members,
Christ becomes my hand, Christ, my foot, of my miserable self,
and I, wretched one, am Christ’s hand, Christ’s foot!
I move my hand, and my hand is the whole Christ
since, do not forget it, God is indivisible in His divinity;
I move my foot, and behold it shines like That one!
Do not say that I blaspheme, but welcome such things,
and adore Christ who makes you such!
Since, if you so wish you will become a member of Him,
and similarly all our members individually
will become members of Christ and Christ our members,
and all which is dishonourable in us He will make honourable
by adorning it with His divine beauty and His divine glory,
and living with God at the same time, we shall become gods,
no longer seeing the shamefulness of our body at all,
but made completely like Christ in our whole body,
each member of our body will be the whole Christ;
because, becoming many members, He remains unique and indivisible,
and each part is He, the whole Christ.”
(Hymn 15: 141-171)
That such language appears shocking to some shows just how far the west has drifted away from a true Orthodox understanding of salvation. This teaching of deification, is, however wholly enshrined in Scripture. Interestingly, it finds its earliest expression prophetically nearly one thousand years before the coming of Christ in the Psalms, specifically Psalm 82:6: “You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.” Christ Himself picked up this prophecy as recorded in John 10:34… “Is it not written in your Law: ‘I have said you are gods’?”
This then is what we were all created for, this goal is the outworking of millions of years of evolution and similar periods of divine grace, recorded and unrecorded; for this Israel was called for the benefit of all humankind; for this Christ the Messiah came to destroy death and open up the way to salvation for all who respond to his call, for this he calls me and you.
Yet, this is NOT what everyone wants from Christ. The LAST thing some want is Ascension, deification, transformation by divine love. Why? Because so much would have to change and many prefer to be left alone. Let it not be so amongst us. To be left alone by our own choice would be to remain in death. It is not a state any would truly choose for all eternity, hell that is. Any rational person would choose heaven AND do those things that would make heaven a realisable practical possibility.
Christ Himself has provided everything that we need in order to embrace heaven, eternal life, both in this world and the next but what is required from us is both a Godly desire and repentance, a change of mind and of heart. That effectively means that we have to make a decision, daily if necessary, to seek God and His Kingdom, to lay aside everything that might get in the way of that; to take up our Cross and follow Christ. Thereby we reproduce in our own bodies and souls the way to Ascension that Christ Himself trod.
Every Sunday we come to the temple of God and we receive Holy Communion, we listen to the gospel proclaimed, we confess our sins, we love the brethren and beyond them all sorts and conditions of men. We do this because we want to look at ourselves, our neighbours, our world and see Christ. To quote again the words of St. Simeon the New Theologian, this is our mission, to be fulfilled shortly at Pentecost and beyond…
“... all which is dishonourable in us He will make honourable
by adorning it with His divine beauty… “
Ascension, here we come!