by Gregory, Bishop of Russia (Metropolitan of Kiev and Western Russia Grigory Tsamblak, 1364 – c. 1420*)
Today’s holiday is the fulfillment of the providence that the Only Begotten Son of God carried out for the human race, sent not servilely, but divinely, as fulfilling the will of the Father; He did not appear to the world in appearance, but actually: in our infirmity, when he took on human form and took human form, he became like the flesh of our nothingness, as the wise teacher Paul says. And not only through the cross, the nails and the stabbing with a spear in the ribs, the truth about Himself proved, but also through the death, the grave, the Resurrection, the touch of the disciple, and – lastly – today through His divine Ascension He convinced everyone. The ascension, by which He lifted up the old Adam and He became the New Adam, because it was fitting that the old should be renewed by the new, the sick should be healed by the physician, the fallen should be raised by the strong, the dead should be raised by life, the condemned by sin – from the sinless to be justified, the corruptible from the imperishable to become incorruptible, the earthly from the heavenly to be exalted. And after He became related to us, slaves, to our flesh and blood (apart from slavery!), we also joined His glory and honor (apart from dominion!). And because Jesus was foremost among the many brothers, he was also the first from the dead (resurrected). Through the name of adoption, he honored those who believed in his name, and through immortality he favored them, paving the way for the Resurrection, so that those dying because of the old Adam would be revived because of the New. And at the same time, there will be no descent into hell, as there was because of the one, but an ascent to the heavens, as today, because of the New. And since man, having grown old in all things because of crimes and then become useless, perished, having damaged reason through the error of deification, turned the reasonable of the soul into unreasonable (from this he became completely unreasonable, differing only in appearance from speechless animals), the Word he becomes flesh, he grows fat, so that he may heal the unreasonable through himself; he accepts the intelligent and soulful man, so that he can heal the damaged mind and restore the seduced soul, and renew the man in everything completely complete and perfect through himself. For not for angels, not for archangels, not for cherubim and seraphim, not for any other creature was this work appropriate, but only for Him who in the beginning created man. Because having renewed him completely and having put on the newness (according to Col. 3:10), as we said, suffering, he freed him from sufferings; dying, he immortalized him; resurrecting, him resurrected; and then ascending, he also ascends with Himself and places him at the right hand of God and the Father, from whom He never departed. He will send His Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire to enlighten the world, comfort the grieving disciples, bestow gifts on them, baptize them, make them wise, arm them with divine power and send them to preach, their tongues as forges and sharpened like tongues of fire. Since the Son appeared in the world and lived with men, it was fitting that the Spirit should also descend, showing His actions. You stay – he said – in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from above (Luke 24:49). And when he had said this, as they looked on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him before their eyes. And while they were looking up to heaven, two men stood before them in white clothes and said: Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven? (Acts 1:9-11).
Tell me, how much must the disciples have suffered then, who spent so much time with the Master, experienced His sufferings, and when, after so much sorrow, they had just seen the joy of the Resurrection, for it to be immediately taken away from them? So they stood still, looking up at the sky, overcome with sadness. And as if in awe, they thought that they did not see Him, but angels who appeared to announce that He was coming again. And they are in white clothes, so that from these clothes they can turn sorrow into joy. Galilean men said, because the Jews called the Lord a Galilean, insulting Him. That is why the male angels of Galilee call them, and to the same name, by joining them, they inspired courage and comfort. This Jesus, Who ascends from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven (Acts 1:11). This Jesus, not another – he said – but this one. Not whom the Jews are waiting for as a savior (loser themselves!), but the One of Whom you are witnesses: crucified, buried, called a deceiver, resurrected, and now from among you ascending to heaven – he said – so that they do not think Him to be was carried in the air like Elijah, because it is written about him: and Elijah was carried in a whirlwind as if in heaven (according to 4 Kings 2:11), and here not as if in heaven, but in heaven. This Jesus, ascending from you to heaven, will come again in the same way. How so! In the form in which you saw Him ascending into heaven, so He will come in the flesh to judge all flesh! Thus, on the clouds of heaven, arriving with glory, every human being will see Him! Let the impure mouths of the heretics be shut, for God ascends in the flesh, but remains unchanged in both: in one being two natures bearing unmixed.
Not only Thomas, touching Him, confessed God and man, but the angels also taught the apostles thus, saying: so it will come, for God is not naked, nor is it an ordinary man, but God and man, man united with God. Why do you stand looking to heaven, as if to say: Why do you mourn while He goes to the Father, as if you were forsaken? Don’t you remember that before the crucifixion, making a will, he spoke to you: I will not leave you (John 14:18), and on the mountain in Galilee he promised to be with you, saying: I am with you all the days until the end of the world ( Matthew 28:20). And because he chose you out of the world and called you his friends (according to John 15:19; 15:15), he goes to prepare a place for you with the Father, so that you may be with him (according to John 14:2-3) and see His glory, existing eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which they have from before the creation of the world, and the Comforter to be sent to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth (John 15:26), not in the flesh, as He was incarnate, but Himself will be He descends because He is God and appears as He wills (according to John 14:16-17).
Oh glorious deeds! Oh, unknowable mysteries! Because once upon a time, from the very beginning, great and saving gifts were sent from heaven to the earth below, and then from above to the lower place, as in Exodus: a pillar of cloud during the day, and a pillar of fire at night (Ex. 14:24) , and in the wilderness manna and quails (Ex. 16:13), and a Covenant given on the mountain, and a cloud overshadowing the tabernacle of the congregation (Ex. 33:7-11) when Aaron and his sons ministered, and fire descending on the sacrifice offered (Lev. 9:24), and the various appearances of angels, as well as with Jesus (Isa. Nav. 5:14), Manoah (Judg. 13:3), Daniel (Dan. 9:21), Zechariah (Luke 1:11-13) and Ezekiel, when in one night the angel slew one hundred and seventy-five thousand of the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35; Is. 37:36), and the standing of the lamps and the reverse movement, as it was in Jericho under Jesus (Is. Nav. 10:13) and in Jerusalem under Isaiah (Is. 38:8) and many others. Today the heavens benefit from the earth, divine and great gifts are sent from below – above (supernaturally!) and their beginning is the Ascension of the Lord from the Mount of Olives. Today the prophecy from the psalm was fulfilled, which says: God ascended with shouts, the Lord ascended with the sound of a trumpet (Ps. 46:6). And it was more appropriate, because it is appropriate for the King to ascend with an exclamation, because the exclamation is an announcement and glorification by the people, given to kings and conquerors, and our King as a conqueror ascended to the Father, leading the universe for His service.
They called forth the angelic hosts, and announced with great fear and haste. Their trumpet voice was similar. What did the heavenly powers say, exclaiming: they glorified, they sang, they praised, they offered the three-holy song as a gift, they marveled at such a descent, seeing Him with the Father, sitting on the cherubim and sung by the seraphim, in the flesh as the Lord ascending from the earth. And overcome with trepidation, they commanded the superior forces to raise the door. When they asked in bewilderment, “Who is this?”, they learned that he was strong and mighty in armor, the King of glory and the Lord of hosts. He is indeed the one who trampled down death through death, and the one who united the divided. “And why are his clothes red,” he said. “That it may be known that he is our King, but we never saw him in purple.” And they said again: “He comes from Vosor” (according to Is. 63:1). “Flesh carries – he said – which for the sake of humanity he accepted” (according to Is. 63:9), because in Syrian flesh is called vosor. It seems that even the heavenly powers are questioning Him with horror and amazement. “And why are Your clothes red like one who has trodden a furrow?” (according to Is. 63:2). Looking at Him with wounded arms, legs and ribs, they come to this question. “And if because of His great goodness – He said – He clothed Himself in flesh through grace, then why do You wear bloody and pierced limbs, if You do not feel pain because of Your divinity?”. “He stood – he spoke – I trampled alone, I shed my blood alone for all, and there was not a man with me among the nations (according to Is. 63:3). And not among the nations – he said – I trod this stand of My blood, but among the beloved vineyard, among Judea, outside the city of Jerusalem, which I expected to bear grapes, but it bore thorns. That is why My clothes are red” (according to Is. 63:3). And what about them: “Glory to You, Lord, glory to Your suffering, Resurrection and Ascension!”.
His holy feast was called from afar by the Godfather, saying: “Ascend to the heavens, O God, and let Your glory be on the whole earth!”. Since He ascended, all over the earth the cross is worshiped, because everywhere the cross is called glory. And Habakkuk: The Lord ascended to heaven and thundered; will judge the ends of the earth, being righteous (1 Kings 2:10). There David says: The Lord ascended at the sound of a trumpet (Ps. 46:6), and here Habakkuk thundered and said: The Lord ascended to heaven and thundered. And what’s more: when He ascended, the gospel trumpets sounded everywhere. Moreover, the divine John, called by the Lord Himself the son of thunder, as if from some heaven of theology, proclaims from above to the ends of the earth with a voice clearer than thunder: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. All things were made through Him, and without Him not one thing was made that was made (John 1:1; 1:3).
Let us go again to the evangelist Luke and see how, after the Savior’s Resurrection, He accompanied the disciples in (their) exhaustion, repeatedly lifting their fallen spirit and directing their thoughts to the heights. And so it was for many days: he appeared to them for forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). He did not say “For forty days he appears to them”, but in forty days. Not as before the Resurrection, when he was always with them, so then, sometimes he appeared, sometimes he went away. When he appeared, he often joined them at the table, reminding them of their former habits and informing them that they would not be abandoned. The main point of all this is the Resurrection to prove. Thus, joining the table, he ordered them not to go far from Jerusalem (according to Acts 1:4), because, fearing and trembling, he had led them to Galilee, because of the free space and the silence of the mountain with much silence and freedom to hear the things he speaks. When they heard them and received them and spent forty days, he ordered them from Jerusalem not to go far. Why? For if a few war against many, no one allows them to go out until they are armed, so those before the descent of the Holy Spirit are not allowed to appear in battle, so that they may not be easily caught and captured by the many. Not only that, but because many would believe from what was happening there. And thirdly, so that some may not say that they have abandoned the Jerusalemites they know and have come here to be proud. Wait for the promise of the Father, about which you have heard from Me (Acts 1:4). When did they listen to it? Then when he said: And when the Comforter comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, he will testify about me (John 15:26). And more: If I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you (John 16:7).
While He was here, the Comforter did not come, but when He left, He came immediately, but after ten days. And why, you will say, did not the Holy Spirit descend immediately after He ascended? That they may desire Him greatly, that they may grieve at the expectation, and with great zeal receive Him. For if one had descended and the other had ascended, (the Comforter) would have remained and the consolation would not have been so great. Therefore he delays and does not come down immediately, so that they grieve a little and thirst for the promised, pure delight to experience the promise. And since they all praised the baptism of John, lest they themselves think something humanly because of simple-heartedness which, shows how great the difference is between Him and John and emphasizes that John baptizes with water, and you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). And not only that, but they themselves were shown to be greater than John, because by the Holy Spirit they would baptize others (people). And he did not say until I baptize you, but until you are baptized, in everything leaving examples of humble wisdom for us. And look, after so many words, after so many instructions, after so many visits, how unreasonable and curious they were. And he appropriately added: and a cloud covered Him (Acts 1:9), because a cloud once covered the temple (according to Ex. 33:9-11).
And in (the book of the prophet) Daniel shows the vision of the Lord on a cloud: I looked, he said, and behold, on the clouds of heaven there came as it were the Son of Man, he came to the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13). And since he will come on the clouds with glory (according to Acts 1:11), it was fitting that he should also ascend in this way. The spectacle was wonderful: a man carried on a cloud, flying through the air and reaching the heavenly circles, and leaving the heavens below Himself, and sitting above the seraphim with the Father on the throne. Enoch was transported, but in another, unknown way (Heb. 11:5); Elijah ascended, but on a fiery chariot and fiery horses, which are signs of earthly things, and not (he ascended) on a cloud (according to 4 Kings 2:11): therefore Elijah, as a slave, through himself prefigured the Ascension of his Master. Like Moses, translating the people, he was an image of Him who brought us out of darkness and the shadow of death (Ps. 106:14). Because the divine prophets not only predicted everything about Christ with words, but also with material things. Others through themselves prefigured Him. So also the mantle of Elijah, which fell on Elisha, foreshadowed the descent of the Spirit on the apostles, because after receiving the mantle, which fell on him, he had a double grace and with him the Jordan parted. They, having clothed themselves with the power of the Spirit, cut through the error and covered the universe with the gospel net. Let us also be part of his inheritance, so that we may receive eternal benefits in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord. To Him and to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, power, splendor and worship, now and forever and to the ages without end. Amen.
* Note about the author: The emblematic figure of Grigoriy Tsamblak will never cease to be one of the granite foundations of Bulgarian medieval culture. And in his own way, to be a part of the history of many other countries and peoples, as well as of the time in which he lived and worked. By his wise international actions combined with timeless literary creativity, Tsamblak showed that he preferred common sense to prejudice, empiricism to scholasticism. and that in politics he was more a realist than a theorist. That’s why, with every contact with his work, we will constantly discover the life path inseparable from him, which he follows as a significant writer and a brilliant strategist. He was simply ahead of his time, grasping the new geopolitical realities in Europe. Born in the capital of Medieval Bulgaria – the city of Tarnovo, a student of St. Patriarch Evtimii Tarnovski. He received an excellent education in Constantinople, in 1390 he accepted monasticism and ascended to St. Mount Athos. In 1401, he was sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople to Moldova, in whose capital he remained to serve and develop a stormy ecclesiastical-diplomatic activity. In order to strengthen the role of the Orthodox Church in the Lithuanian state, in 1415 he was ordained by a council of Western Russian bishops as metropolitan of the Moldavian Church, which separated from Moscow; the following year he was ordained as the first Metropolitan of Kyiv and Lithuania (1413-1420; later Metropolitan of Moldo-Wallachia). Because of this, he was excommunicated from both Constantinople and Moscow, but always remained faithful to Orthodoxy. He was for a short time abbot of the Dečani Monastery in Serbia, and from 1430 he moved to Moldavia, where he played an extremely important role in spreading the Romanian alphabet and strengthening the authority of Slavic liturgical books.
At the request of the prince of Lithuania, he participated in the Council of Constance (held from 1414 to 1418), aiming to overcome the so-called Papal schism, but refused to sign the union with the Catholics, which was humiliating for Orthodoxy, on behalf of Lithuania. With this he incurred the prince’s hatred and left his lands. Soon after, Metropolitan Gregory died.
Author of many sermons, lives and words of praise, which were copied throughout the Orthodox world for centuries – from Moscow to Ohrid and Constantinople, which is why many samples and copies of them have been preserved. Already from the 15th century, his sermons were included in collections of church teachings alongside the sermons of St. John Chrysostom and other holy fathers, including in “Cheti-Minei” by Metropolitan Macarius.