Sunday After Ascension
On Thursday of this past week, the Holy Church celebrated the feast day of the Ascension of our Lord. Having triumphed over death, our Lord had risen, appeared to, and ministered to His disciples for forty days – assuring that they were well instructed in the faith and preparing them to go forth in the establishment of the Christian church. Today’s Holy Gospel reveals to us Christ’s prayer for His church – that we may be one in our love for and fidelity to God. As Christ was preparing to leave this earth and ascend up to heaven, he said, “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are..” (John 17:11)
Christ’s prayer as He prepared for His ascension was for the brotherly love and unity of the Christian church. Just as Jesus Christ was one with the Father, so He prayed that His flock would be one. The message of the feast of Ascension and of today’s Holy Gospel is that we may have oneness of mind, brotherly love, and piety. That unity is centered in Christ. It is a unity founded upon the revelation of Truth and of obedience and fidelity to that Truth revealed by God.
Before our Lord ascended into heaven, He promised the disciples that He would send to them the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who would reveal to them all things necessary. At Pentecost the grace of God descends upon the Apostles and therefore upon the Church and this has remained the case even to our own time. Within Christ’s Holy Church God interacts with us through the grace of the holy sacraments – the vehicles through which the Holy Spirit continues to breathe grace upon mankind. It was the grace of the Holy Spirit which inspired and guided the Holy Apostles in those first days of the Christian Church and the Holy Spirit inspired and guided the Fathers of Ecumenical Councils as they ‘rightly defined the word of truth’. Our Lord Jesus Christ promised to His disciples, “when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you in all truth.” (John 16:13)
And so, today we celebrate the unity of the Orthodox faith and the continuing grace and active working of the Holy Spirit within the context of the Holy Church that reveals to us the truth and unifies us within that grace and truth.
This week, on the feast of the Ascension of our Lord, our bishops met in Moscow to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Act of Reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Church – the suffering church within Russia and the Russian Church Abroad. For many decades these two parts of the Russian Church were separated from each other due to the tragic situation of the persecution of the church by the God-hating Communist Authorities. For decades the church prayed that God would preserve His people from this tyranny and after many years, these prayers were heard. The atheistic regime was defeated and freedom was granted for the Church to once again flourish within the Russian land. After some time needed to reacquaint the two parts of the Russian Church a formal declaration of reconciliation was enacted – thus unifying the Russian Orthodox Church.
In light of this anniversary, our Archbishop Kyrill has issued a decree to the parishes, missions, and monasteries of this diocese to serve a festal Thanksgiving Moleiben on this day. We will include prayers to the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia – those many souls who gave their lives for the faith during those horrible years of the 20th century. We will also say a prayer to the Mother of God in her ‘Reigning Icon’ – the icon which was discovered on the day of the abdication of the Annointed Tsar, depicting the Mother of God upon her throne and holding the scepter of rule, thus consoling the people that they would not be left without royal guardianship.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ… this is a glorious and special occasion of Christian unity and of grateful celebration for the Russian Orthodox Church in particular and for the unity of the Orthodox Christian faithful in general.
Our parish is home to many people from diverse homelands: some from Russia, many from Romania, from Greece, Serbia, and many different lands… this church is also home to many of us Orthodox Christians born and raised in this country.
The commemoration of the martyrs of Russia and of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God and of the reunification of the Russian Church is our shared celebration as Orthodox Christians! It is an honoring of our brothers and sisters in the faith who were martyred for their Orthodoxy. It is a hymn of gratitude to the Mother of God who watches over her people in their time of need. It is a praise of thanksgiving to God who unites us in truth and by His grace.
Let us now join together in our prayer of Thanksgiving… And may God grant that the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ be fulfilled – that we may be one. United together by the grace of the Holy Spirit, in the truth of our Orthodox faith, in the hope of the Kingdom of Heaven, and in love for God and one another.