Homily on the Ascension, by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes (+2010)
Today, my beloved, is a great feast of the Master, the Ascension of the Lord. What is the story of the day? I will speak simply, so that everyone can understand me, so that it is not a sermon with the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” (Matthew 3:3)
Forty days have passed since our Lord rose from the dead. He appeared to many. His disciples saw him blessing them, heard Him and touched Him. And Thomas furthermore was compelled to say: “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28) Forty days later, He told them to gather at the Mount of Olives, a hill a short distance from Jerusalem. They gathered there. It was Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Jude the son of James. Together with them were the Myrrhbearers, Mary, the Panagia and Mother of the Lord, as we see in the icon of the Ascension, and those who were called his brethren. (see Acts 1:13-14)
As they waited, Christ appeared before them, spoke to them, and gave them His final commandments. He blessed them, and then–even if the faithless do not believe, it is their right–a miracle occurred. As they were watching Him, the holy feet that had walked kilometers to find the lost sheep, the human sinner, those feet that furthermore bore the marks of the nails of the Cross, began to not walk on the earth anymore, but to be lifted up…
I once saw an eagle seated on a stone high up in the mountains of Grevena–it was a golden eagle–and I was amazed. And straightaway, I see it open its great wings and to fly. And I kept looking at it ascend into the air, ascend high, very high, as it turned into a small dot, and ultimately disappeared into the skies. The same occurred with Christ, Whom is named an eagle by the Revelation (12:14). It is Him Who have power to birds to fly, wouldn’t He have the same power?
Christ–to use a modern tongue–like the airplane which breaks through the clouds, ascended. And the disciples gazed at Him ascending. The Lord “ascended to heaven” today, and “sat at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19). Then two angels appeared and told them: “Why are you standing looking at heaven? This Jesus that ascended, will return again in the same manner.”
Yes, He will come. What are we thinking? –Who will come! Are you are telling us fairy tales now? Yes, the Lord will come “in [great] glory” (Matthew 24:30), to the wailing of the demons, to judge the whole “world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31). The Lord will come: joy to the righteous, and sadness to the sinners.
This is the story of the feast. From everything we have said, let us pay attention to one thing: that the disciples and the Panagia remained looking up at heaven. They did not look down at the earth. They were looking high up. What does this mean?
From the creations of God, the four-legged creatures walk with their heads looking down. Only man was created to walk upright. Many say that this is a wonder. And the word “human” (“anthropos” in Greek), if we look at it etymologically, what does it mean? It means he who faces upwards. He looks on high, for he was created for the heavens.
It is said that an atheist once wanted proofs. When it became night, one of his friends showed him the countless stars and asked: “Who made all of these?” There is one answer, no other: God! Gaze above, therefore, at the firmament, and you will trust that God exists. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament is the work of His hands.” (Psalms 18:2)
A German poet saw a herd of pigs in the forest. The pigs love acorns. They therefore gathered to eat those that fell in the forest. And the poet, with an eloquent tongue, noted this. When he left the forest, no one returned to look at the acorns to say thank you!… Thus are many of us, and this comparison should not appear offensive to us. Our Christ thus characterizes some people: “Do not give the holy things to the dogs, and do not put pearls before swine.” (Matthew 7:6) This occurs. We partake of myriads of good things, but we never lift up our eyes to say: “Glory to You, O God.”
Is this perhaps a hyperbole? …When you get up in the morning, and see the sun shining brightly, you should say: “Glory to You, O God”, “Glory unto You Who have shown forth the light” (Great Doxology). Nothing. You go out to go to work. Entreat God, and make the sign of the Cross. But not even one Cross [do we do]. Noon comes, you at the table for lunch, you have all good things: say a prayer. Nothing without thanksgiving. When you drink water, you should say thank you. When you eat bread, you should say thank you. The situation is becoming like swine. Have in mind that famine is coming, a great famine, and our bread will be little.
How it was in the older years! I remember in my village, around 1910, there were some older people who had not gone to school, neither high school nor college. Before they drank a cup of water, they made the sign of the Cross. And do you see anyone do it now? Because of this I tell you, the hour is coming that there will be a shortage of water, and fountains and springs, rivers and lakes will be dry, the water will become twice as valuable. And then, a glass of water will cost a lira! As St. Kosmas Aitolos prophesied, a handful of flour will cost a handful of gold. We will be punished for our swine-like state, where we live like animals, without being raised, without exalted thoughts, and in some ways being worse that animals. Do you see the dog? You toss him a bone, and though he doesn’t have a tongue, he turns to you as if to say: “Master, thank you.” Thankless and pitiless people, who often times blaspheme God night and day.
This is how it is, therefore. We are lower than animals. There is not the time to develop the theme and explain the word of the Psalms which says: “Man cannot abide in his pomp, he is like the beasts that perish.” (Psalms (Septuagint) 48:13). He is equal to, and sometimes lower than the animals (oxen, sheep, goats) and birds.
On the domes and bell-towers of churches, we see the birds’ nests. What should we say about the stork? The stork loves his children, and they love him. When a stork gets old, do you know what occurs? His children bring him food. And because the old stork is shedding and cold, they warm him with their wings! And man? When he doesn’t have ideals, resurrections, exaltations, and great ideas, what should we say of man? Tell me what he thinks about at midnight, and I’ll tell you that he is. If he thinks of money, rewards, women, other earthly things, then what is he? A small and insignificant being.
It is said, my beloved, that the pig, as we mentioned, that has its head turned down and eats clay, only once looks up to see heaven. When? When the butcher takes him to slaughter him. This also occurs with many people. They don’t think about God, they don’t step foot in church, they don’t pray. And they think that it will always be thus. However, the hour of death comes. Then, at the last instant, the Archangel will come with his sword, and they will only then remember God.
We were not created for the earth, which is a handful of sand, a drop amidst the universe. Is it worth it, O man, for a handful of sand or a drop of water to wage wars and shed blood of humanity? We have departed from God. Because of this: “Let us lift up our hearts.” (Divine Liturgy). And not just today, but the whole year. This is what the Ascension means. In every Divine Liturgy we honor the Ascension. When the Priest says: “Let us lift up our hearts”, what does he mean? Gaze on high, for you were created for heaven, for great and uplifted things. This does not mean indifference for this present life, no. If we embrace the whole Gospel of Christ, this earth will become Paradise. Now, old, young, grandfathers, bishops, right-wing, left-wing, white, black, in many ways we have trampled upon the Gospel, and this earth has become hell.
May we repent. May our Lord Jesus Christ bless everyone, Whom, O children of the Greeks, praise and exalt supremely, unto all the ages. Amen.
Delivered in the Church of the Ascension, Perdikka, Eordaias, May 24th, 1990