The Transfiguration of the Lord ( 19.08.2009 )
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead” (Matthew 17:1-9).
Should we ask people in church, who celebrate today’s feast, why we have gathered in it, they would say right away that today is the Lord’s Transfiguration. I am not saying the answer is wrong, still I am saying it demands patristic interpretation. We ought to seek the patristic interpretation both in the Holy Fathers’ written Tradition and in the patristic Tradition inside our heart, rather than overlook it unjustifiably and recklessly. As saint Gregory palamas has said, “Let us flee from the ones who do not embrace patristic interpretations but strive to introduce on their own something opposite instead! Pretending to abide by the Holy Bible’s words, they in fact reject their devout comprehension.” And I am certain that particularly the casual, nominal believer does not think much about the meaning of the feast and about all of its soteriological dimensions. An attitude like this is quite close to the red line of it to introduce on their own something opposite.
Children, in fact it is a matter of a change and transformation that the Apostles experience, since what could be added to Him in Whom lies all the fullness of the Divinity physically?! Therefore on this festal day we do not celebrate first of all the transfiguration of the Lord but the transformation of the Apostles as well as the possibility of our transformation. The Holy Apostles were extraordinarily gifted by the Holy Spirit to see the Divine Light, and the Godman Christ just showed them what He had had from the moment of His incarnation. The Apostles were so much transformed and deified at that moment, not only in their soul but also in their body, so that they could see with their transformed physical eyes the Godman Christ in His uncreated light. They saw the Godman such as He is. Regular contemplation, not extraordinary and temporary (as it happened to the three Apostles), is possible only at the third stage of spiritual development, at which through the deifying grace one can see the Divine uncreated light with one’s transformed physical eyes. “In Your light we see the light.”
Saint Gregory Palamas says that Christ first led Peter, James and John up on the high mountain—that is, above the humiliation of our nature. Then he quotes a Holy father who says that “the [Apostles] introduced into the Lord’s mysteries, through the change of the senses produced in them by the Holy Spirit, were brought from a state of the body into the state of the spirit.” And further on, “At the moment of the Transfiguration Christ did not receive anything He had not had until then, nor did He change into something he had not been before, but he did it in order to show His Disciples what He Is, opening their eyes and making the blind see. Do you see that eyes which see physically are blind to see the Light? Thus, that Light is not material and cannot be seen with the physical eyes, but they had been prepared by the power of the Divine Spirit to see it. The Apostles had been changed and only thus could they see the changed form; not one that was shown only then, but one that He had received since the very union with our nature, which for its part has been deified through the union with the Word of God.”
In conformity with the regular ascetical order, the deifying Divine grace is preceded by the illuminating grace, and the latter by purifying grace. As we are ascending the ladder of spiritual development thus the presence i.e. the manifestation of grace in us becomes more constant and intensive, while its oscillations are rarer and lesser. I have encountered somewhere in the Holy Fathers that God does not give constantly intensive grace to His chosen so that they could help in the Dispensation of salvation them who live in the world. We saw what happened to Apostle Peter and it is understandable why he said this to jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Do you think that this and so much confused and overwhelmed Peter is capable of sober service in the world to them who wish to be saved? Certainly not! In his ecstasy Peter is not aware that just as he does not need tabernacles neither do also the others whom he mentions. The grace of Christ’s presence is all—food and drink and heating and tabernacle and all good, both spiritual and physical, that a man can imagine he needs—for them who have tasted it (grace).
Just as in each of the Lord’s feasts, in this one too we participate in the Trinitarian Theophany. We hear the Father’s voice, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” The Holy Spirit appears in the form of a bright cloud. And we see the Godman such as He Is; and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.
What is important, children, is that we have no problems with the dogmatic part, we can read it and learn it by heart. The real problem is how to ‘keep’ grace with our way of life!? How to avoid the great oscillations in our daily ups and downs!? And how to secure at least minimum continuity in our spiritual growth!? This can be also read, yet it can be accomplished only in the practice of concrete and wholehearted obedience.
one more thing draws my attention in this Gospel reading: Peter receives the gift of transformation, he sees the uncreated light with his physical eyes, yet even after that he denies Christ. The answer is linked with the spiritual state of the Apostles before and after the Holy Pentecost. What is essential is that even following the extraordinary receiving of grace, as we read in the Lives of some Saints, falls are possible yet also repeated repentance. Extraordinary receiving of grace is an exception in the Church. Let us be careful, let us not regard ourselves as an exception, particularly because this frees us from the obligations and rules of the regular way. The ascetic is given extraordinary grace, as was the case with Saint Silouan the Athonite, but in a certain way he must later make it personal, make it his own, through obedience and through endurance of voluntary and involuntary hardships. Such was the case with the Holy Apostle peter, who first temporarily received the extraordinary grace of transformation, then passed the road of trials, the fall and the repentance, eventually to become worthy of a martyr’s death, by which he justified God’s gift of the great apostolic or deifying grace previously invested in him.
Children, one must thoroughly stamp on his self-love and vanity in order to serve to his fellowman in the daily life needs and also for the salvation. When I say “stamp on” I do not mean repression of one’s passions, but purification i.e. transformation of the passions; for instance, from self-love into love for God and love for one’s fellowman. For, the repressed passions, under favorable conditions for them, will come back with yet greater power and fierceness, whereas the ones purified and transformed will function normally even in greatest trials.
Holy witnesses of the Transfiguration, pray to the Lord for us…!
Metropolitan Nahum of Strumica