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June 13, 2024

Ascension, the Test of Reason (Photios Kontoglou)

 By Photios Kontoglou

People today have no relation with the supernatural. They do not believe that there is anything beyond natural phenomena, and much more they do not believe that anything can be done outside of natural laws. Not only the irreligious person, but also the one who says he is a Christian, he also does not believe in the supernatural. Christianity has become for many a rational and moral system so that it does not contradict their reason. While the basis of this religion is the supernatural, today's Christians have kept from it what does not require faith to accept, and what is revelatory they throw away or suppress.

However, no one is a true Christian if they do not familiarize themselves with the miraculous and the supernatural. "We must rise above knowledge," as Plotinus says. But this, to "sane" people, is madness. According to Greek philosophy, the man who despised reason was considered a fool. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard says: "To believe against reason is torture." The thirst for knowledge torments man. For anyone who, by the grace of God, has been freed from this thirst, believing some things that his reason does not admit, it is not only not a torture, but a release from a tyrannical power. He believes that God is the source of all natural laws, not their slave. The true Christian becomes a god by grace and receives the freedom of the children of God, and for this reason he too by faith is freed from natural laws. A Christian cannot be someone who believes in a god enslaved by need, as the ancients believed. This is false faith in a false god. If Aristotle had listened to the words spoken by the apostle Paul on the Areopagus, he would have called him a fool, since he was talking about some impossible, supernatural things: "For if there is no choice in things that are weak, and if anyone were to say that he has an option, he would look like an idiot." That is why Paul said that the faith of the Christians was "foolishness" for the Greeks, who believed only in reason, in knowledge. And that Christians are guided by faith, and not by the mind: "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7). These should be borne in mind by anyone whenever they read religious things. And much more if they were reading about the awesome mysteries of the Incarnation of the Lord, His Resurrection and Ascension.

Truly, the Christian's eyes are filled with tears, as if he remembers the last words that Christ spoke to His disciples, and how He ascended to heaven and disappeared from their sight. They remained with the firm hope that they would see Him again on Judgment Day in glory. And with this hope, myriads of souls await Him: "the faithful will abide with him in love."

Of the four Evangelists, only three write about the Ascension. John, who usually writes only what others did not write, says nothing about the Ascension.

Matthew writes: "Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.' Amen."

After the Resurrection, Christ appeared to His disciples every day. He lived almost entirely with them, as if He had not been crucified. On the day He was resurrected, He appeared first to Magdalene, then to His two disciples, Luke and Cleopas, who were going to Emmaus, and again, on the same day towards evening, when the two disciples were returning to Jerusalem and saying to the others that they saw Christ, at the same time the Lord appeared again among them and blessed them. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Evangelist Luke writes that for forty days the Lord appeared to His beloved disciples and spoke to them about the kingdom of God. And how He ordered them not to leave Jerusalem. The blessed apostles were so used to seeing Him, that they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will you now restore the kingdom of Israel?" And He said to them: "'It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.' And when He had said these words, where they saw Him, he rose up from the earth, and a cloud took Him and hid Him from their sight. And where they were looking at him ascending into heaven, two men dressed in white robes appeared before them, and said to them: 'This Jesus who was taken from you into heaven, will come again in the same way as you saw Him ascend into heaven.' Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away."

Paul writes that after Christ appeared to the eleven apostles on the day of Resurrection (he says "twelve" instead of eleven. Perhaps he appeared after the election of Matthias), then He appeared only once to five hundred brethren (believers). In fact, he writes that most of them were alive at the time when he wrote, and that some of them had passed away: "most of whom are still alive, though some have died" (1 Cor. 15:6). "Then," he says, "He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me." So, for forty days the Lord appeared to His loved ones, and often two and three times in the same day, so that they would not lose hope. Luke begins the Acts of the Apostles with these words: "In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen." But also in his Gospel he writes that Christ appeared to His disciples and told them to touch His hands and feet so they wouldn't think He was a ghost, and because He saw that the apostles had lost their joy, He asked for and ate a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb. And as their became calm in their hearts, He said to them: "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then He opened their minds to understand the words of the Scriptures. And He said to them that these things had been written, that Christ should suffer, and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, and that they are witnesses of these things. "And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised, so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

"Then he led them out (writes Saint Luke) as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God." They had great joy, so great, that it covered their sorrow for the temporary separation from their beloved Lord.

The Evangelist Mark also writes what the other two evangelists also write: "Then he appeared to the eleven and rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because those who saw him resurrected did not believe." They did not believe Magdalene or the two who were going to Emmaus.

Then He told them to preach the gospel throughout the world: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned." And that those who believe will do miracles, in His name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new languages, they will catch snakes and not get bit, and if they drink poison it will not hurt them, they will lay their hands on the sick and they will become well.

"So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it" (Mark 16).

Have you seen, dear reader, what the Lord says? "He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned." So don't say I can't believe. Christ firmly condemns unbelief: "He who does not believe will be condemned." Humble yourself, love Christ, entreat Him, and He will give you faith. As unbelief comes from pride, so faith comes from humility.

"By going up again into heaven from which You had descended, You did not leave us orphans, O Lord. Show to all Your people the works of Your power, that Your Spirit may come down upon us and bring peace to the world, O Lord and Lover of Mankind."

Source: From the book Christ is Risen, the Test of Reason. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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