Sermon – June 11, 2000 - Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock – all rights reserved
Sunday of Ascension
St. Ireneaus of the early church is often quoted saying “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
This is one way to phrase our goal as Eastern Christians in following Christ - to be fully alive, to be fully awake in consciousness. Being “fully alive” is experiential, but not just with our senses. It is more than that when we follow Christ’s path.
Where does Christ lead us? Upward by ascension into heaven (the highest levels of consciousness); arising and returning to the Father, our Creator. But we do not return as we left, we return transformed, integrated. In our life as Christians, we have lifted the dense dark fallen illusions of this world to the light.
Let me explain a bit – the symbolism of the early church was clear.
v Dark dense and material – this is the world in need of redemption.
v Light and floating as with wings – this, the world of everlasting life.
v Downward movement as into the earth, dark.
v Upward movement toward the source of light above.
We stand upward, our main senses higher than the ground upon which we walk. When we sleep, we lay down, close our eyes and lie across the earth. We sleep in darkness until we arise as the sun rises in the east to signal a new day. Also, our icons and paintings show light above the heads of the saints.
OK, so we are created beings both of spirit (God, the Father, “breathed” life into us as we were created – different from the other animals that were created) and yet we left a high estate to wear coats of skin (go ahead, pinch yourself). Many mystic Christians consider a story of our descent into matter, into this physical world. We long to return to that high place, that we carry a remembrance of it with us. This memory can be distorted but is the human urge toward religion, toward the spiritual life.
In developing our spiritual life, we become more alive because we incorporate more of what and who we are into our day-to-day existence. Likewise, as we ascend in consciousness and God-li-ness – we raise up the dense world around us. Let me use an analogy:
We are all lying under a large blanket that covers everyone. Nearer to you are all your relations, those you have known, know and deal with regularly. As one sits up, what happens to the blanket covering the others? If any have slept anyone else, you know! It rises off them. Now, if one stands…. If more than one arises… Well, you get the picture. So, the goal of Christians is to awaken to the reality of our life under the blanket of the physical world and then to arise. So, this “ascension,” this rising up, is both done in the company of our fellow beings – benevolent and beneficial – and in full observance of our physical existence. It is an integration of sorts of the lower and the higher selves, instead of working against ourselves we become more “fully alive.”
We may try to do one thing this week, which is to visualize our halos as a source of light directly above the center of our heads. Quietly, by relaxing our minds, see if we can raise our awareness to that place. From that higher place, we may get a new and better perspective on our lives and on those around us. It is said that this light is dimmed, even shut off, by dark thoughts of anger and fear. By learning to raise our consciousness, by letting go of anger and fear, by increasing the good thoughts (as in Philippians) - we move toward the Christian goal that is beyond death, beyond the dark limitations of this world – even though we may still be “in the world” we are no longer “of the world.”
This process has been called many things over the course of human existence in this realm – enlightenment, illumination, at-one-ment, and in eastern Christianity, we say theosis.
To tie this back to the celebration of Ascension (and keeping in mind that Christ is that holy light and inner voice within us), Greek Archbishop Athengoras (of blessed memory) wrote:
“Christ ascended or went into space and became invisible. This means that Christ went to where He was before. He went and sat Himself at the right hand of the Father, which means that Christ had entered the former glory, which He occupied as God. Now, however, He occupied it not only as God, but as God-man. Thus he perfected and glorified the human nature with which He was united. This shows what is the destiny of humanity. Man near God is perfected and glorified in a greater measure than before his departure and alienation from God’s friendship and benevolence. Thus in the Ascension of Christ we celebrate the reinstatement of man nearer to God. This is what we call theosis or the divinization of man.”
So, easier said than done. Breaking our self imposed limitations of Consciousness and Will can be arduous work. Many give up before they know the fruits of their labors. Our goal is to no longer be encased in the shell of self-will, but to arise in our thinking and knowing minds, that we give ourselves wholly to God – not to lose ourselves but to be “fully alive.”
However, as the philosopher Seneca has said, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” Sometimes, I have only been able to live moment-to-moment – afraid that I would never move forward, move upward. But, as the folk saying goes, “courage is fear that has said its prayers.” And no matter the difficulties, there is within me, within each of us, a sincere and worthy notion, to be a better more enlightened human being.