Forty days after Pascha, the Church celebrates the glorious Ascension of the Risen Lord into Heaven. St. Luke, the author of the New Testament Book of Acts, tells us that, "for forty days, He showed Himself to them many times in ways that proved beyond doubt that He was alive." (Acts 1:3)
We are told that His last farewell took place on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. At that time, He promised to send to them the Holy Spirit, and He commanded them to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy spirit." (Matthew 28:19). After completing His final instructions, Our Lord ascended into Heaven.
THE SEED OF SALVATION: Christ's Ascension into Heaven brought His early mission of redemption to an end. the seed of salvation had been carefully planted by Him. Now it was time for that seed to be cultivated. It was now up to the Apostles and their followers (and all who would come after them) to reach and preach and LIVE the Word of God, just as Jesus Christ had done. The Holy Spirit would enable them to do so.
Today that seed is both very much alive and visible. The Church has been entrusted with the responsibilities of nourishing that seed on earth so that ALL people might enjoy the harvest which, is to come in the Heavenly Kingdom - the same Kingdom to which Christ ascended after His Death and Resurrection.
We celebrate the Ascension as a major feast day. It is a day of victory, for Christ had fought the battle for our redemption and now He returns home. For Him, the battle was over and He was victorious. He paid the price for our salvation. He saved us with His Blood. The deathless One gave His life so that mortal men and women might become immortal in the triumphant Church - the Church of eternity. It is a victory for us.
WE ARE THE CHURCH! Because we share in the victory, we must also share in the struggle. Our Lord paid for the sins of those who at that time did not even understand what He was doing. Thus, we must be able and willing to share our faith in Him with all those who do not yet have it. We must be able to unite people in Jesus Christ, for we are the Church!
Scripture indicates to us that the early Christian churches grew not so much because of the Apostles, nor the priests and deacons that came after them (although they certainly did help to guide that growth). It came about because the PEOPLE were filled with the Spirit and with love for God, which showed in their lives. Others saw this and wanted to receive that same glorious Spirit.
Today, quite often, people get disillusioned with "the Church". the don't see the Orthodox Church, the Church of "right worship", making enough visible progress and having an impact on our society. Even we priests and church leaders get disheartened now and then. We see that there are fewer vocations among our young men and women. We even have great difficulty getting people to accept positions of leadership on the church councils and in the auxiliary organizations.
OUR WAY OF LIFE: We can blame nobody but ourselves for the lack of enthusiasm and the lack of missionary spirit in some of our churches today. Making people followers of Christ is more than just baptizing babies. It is more than attending Liturgies on Sundays. It is confronting people with a new way of life. God's way of life!
When Christ chose His disciples, He said: "Come, follow Me!" Do as I do. Live as I live. BE LIKE ME! What does Christ want you to do as a member of His Church? First of all He wants you to learn from Him. Remember, we forget more than we retain over the years. Our life from cradle to grave must be an ongoing learning experience if we are to maintain a true relationship with God.
PRACTICE THE FAITH! PRACTICE Orthodox Christianity. Don't just "look" at it once a week. APPLY it to your life. Whatever problems you face, realize that you can handle them together with God. You can cope and be victorious. Christ has shown you how. The Holy Spirit is here to help you. the Grace of God is within...BECAUSE of your Baptism, BECAUSE of your confession, BECAUSE of your communion, BECAUSE of your devotion. Recognize that face and draw from it, and it will have its effect on you and those around you; you will find strength you thought you never had!
You've got to continually nourish that strength (that grace) and you do it by loving God, learning more about Him, worshipping Him regularly through prayer and sacraments, and by doing good to others in His Name, not your own.
We certainly can show our friends and relatives that our Orthodox Faith shapes our lives, our way of thing and doing. If we show this, then nobody would become disenchanted with Orthodoxy, our churches would grow.
It is up to us. Let us all make up our minds to be sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. Let us stop looking for excuses, Look UP! He going to the Father, and He calls us to join Him to follow His example.