By Archpriest Steven Kostoff (Master of Divinity ’81)
Our alumnus Fr. Steven Kostoff, has made education and teaching a central part of his priesthood.
As pastor of Christ the Savior-Holy Spirit Orthodox Church, in Norwood, OH, he has established an annual regimen of insightful studies to nourish and build up his flock: a multi-week Summer Bible Study, a six-week long Fall Adult Education Class, a special Winter Reading Circle in which a work of classic literature is discussed, and an occasional parish-wide discussion event, concentrated for an evening or two on key topics of interest. These are in addition to his classes for catechumens and his burgeoning church school.
Moreover, Fr. Steven is an Adjunct Faculty Member at Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH, where he teaches “The Eastern Orthodox Church”; “Christian Mysticism”; and “The Russian Religious Mind.” (He earned his undergraduate degree at Wayne State University in Russian Studies). And, he is the author of The Divine Liturgy: Meaning, Preparation & Practice (Synaxis Press).
In this Synaxis Blog, Fr. Steven shares with us a word about our Lord’s Ascension, reflecting especially upon our heavenly witness to the world, as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Homily, May 25, 2017
According to the mind of the Church, the Risen Lord is also the Ascended Lord. In the words of Father Georges Florovsky, “In the Ascension resides the meaning and the fullness of Christ’s Resurrection.” Though the visible presence of the Risen Lord ended 40 days after His Resurrection, that did not mean that His actual presence was withdrawn. Christ solemnly taught His disciples—and us through them—“Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. The risen, ascended and glorified Lord is the Head of His body, the Church. The Lord remains present in the Mysteries/Sacraments of the Church. This reinforces our need to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist, through which we receive the deified flesh and blood of the Son of God “unto life everlasting.”
Christ ascended to be seated at “the right hand of the Father” in glory, thus lifting up the human nature He assumed in the Incarnation into the very inner life of God. Once the Son of God became the Son of Man, taking our human nature through suffering and death—”the Passover”—and then rising from the dead and ascending to heaven, at no point in this paschal mystery did He discard or leave His human nature behind. For all eternity, Christ is Theanthropos—God and man. The deified humanity of the Lord is the sign of our future destiny “in Christ.” For this reason, the Apostle Paul could write, “your life is hidden with Christ in God” [Colossians 3:3].
The words of the “two men … in white robes” (clearly angels) who stood by the disciples as they gazed at Christ being “lifted up” as recorded by Saint Luke in Acts 1:11, point toward something very clear and essential for us to grasp as members of the Church who continue to exist within the historical time of the world: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” The disciples will remain in the world, and must fulfill their vocation as the chosen apostles who will proclaim the Word of God to the world of the crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. They cannot spend their time gazing into heaven awaiting the return of the Lord. That hour has not been revealed: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority” [1:7]. The “work” of the Church is the task set before them, and they must do this until their very last breath. They will carry out this work once they receive the power of the Holy Spirit—the “promise of My Father”—as Christ said to them in Luke 24:49.
Whatever our vocation may be, we too witness to Christ and the work of the Church as we await the fullness of God’s Kingdom according to the times or seasons of the Father. If we believe in the resurrected and ascended Lord, then we are “witnesses” of Him and to Him to the world. That witness may express itself in words or deeds—or both. Of course, we need to follow the teaching of the Apostle Paul who wrote: “Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth” [Colossians 3:2]. Yet, keeping our “minds on things above” has nothing to do with escaping into a dream-like fantasy world or the abandonment of earthly responsibilities under the pretext of a vague mystical inclination or “pseudo-piety.” It is about an awareness that the Kingdom of God is “in our midst” and that our earthly life is a preparation for the life to come, a life we are yearning for with our whole heart. It is that awareness that makes all of our earthly struggles and accomplishments meaningful. And when the Apostle Paul teaches us not to set our minds “on things that are on earth,” he does not mean that there is nothing of value that is on earth. He is referring to the “worldliness” of questionable—or clearly sinful—pursuits that draw our minds away inexorably from “things above.” We are prone to forget about heaven when we concentrate solely on the earth. For this reason alone it is so important to develop a life of prayer, a time when we can “set our minds on things above,” strengthening us for the struggles of our daily life, and keeping the Person of Christ ever before our inward gaze.
In our daily Prayer Rule we continue to refrain from using “O Heavenly King” until the Day of Pentecost. We no longer sing the Paschal Troparion, “Christ is risen from the dead,” but replace it from Ascension to Pentecost with the Troparion of the Ascension: “Thou hast ascended in glory, O Christ our God, granting joy to Thy disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. Through the Blessing they were assured that Thou art the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world!”
“When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” [Colossians 3:4]