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THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD
 The Gospel narrative on the Transfiguration
 The glory of the Transfiguration
 The significance of the Lord's Transfiguration
 The three Saviours
 Homily for the Transfiguration of Our Lord
 The Divine Light
 The Transfiguration of our Lord


The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Homily for the Transfiguration of Our Lord

Although Apostle Peter had confessed Jesus Christ as Messiah, he and the other apostles were still far away from understanding that the promised Messiah was not only to be a King from the seed of David, but also a suffering servant Who would take upon Himself an ignominious death. For Peter such a thought was so unbearable, so incompatible with everything he knew of Christ, that he began to berate Christ for revealing it, and in response received from Christ an incredibly harsh rebuff, in which the Lord stated with complete certainty that all attempts to make Him turn aside from His service, suffering, and death come from hell and have the prince of darkness as their origin. Moreover, the Lord speaks not only of the fact that He must die, but also says that everyone who wishes to be His follower must follow the same course.

During the time of Christ’s life on earth crucifixion was a death intended for slaves, hardened criminals, and traitors. No Roman citizen could be crucified without special sanction from Caesar. The cross was a universal symbol of ignominy, torture, and death, and when Christ said that his followers must carry this instrument of execution with them through life, such words elicited horror and protest among His disciples. Speaking of the cross, Christ did not mean that all the small difficulties which we encounter in life represent such a cross. He spoke primarily of the fact that we have to die within ourselves. This is most difficult, more fearful than all suffering, and seems impossible to man. Now, as in those times, many come to Christ to have Him fulfill all their needs and desires, but the Lord turns out to be the Messiah Who requires us to die an ignominious and torturous death within ourselves, killing off our selfish interests. In order to fulfill oneself, one must reject one’s own ego and follow Christ.

And today the Lord shows us what it means to confess Him as the Messiah and to follow Him, what it means for a person to fulfill himself through self-denial. His Face dazzled, because He became transfigured in front of His three disciples. He revealed His glory, which He had had “before the world ever was,” as Apostle John the Theologian tells us. And then they saw that there was no one there except Jesus. The Lord was the Divine center from which all rays issued, and He infinitely surpassed both Moses and Elijah – the Law and the prophets, although He was united with them. It was revealed to the disciples that the commandment on love, upon which, as the Lord says, “hang the entire Law and the prophets,” was not simply the most perfect morality, but Divine life itself, without which a person cannot become a person, and for the attainment of which he joyously desires to die within himself, to become dead to the darkness contained within each sin, and to become dead to the egoism which comprises the darkness of the entirety of all sins. It is this Christ’s love which shone forth on the Mount of Tabor, because He was the first to love us even to hell and the horror of death.

Transfiguration of our Lord
Transfiguration of our Lord

The Transfiguration occurred not so much for the sake of the Lord as for the sake of His disciples: He became transfigured before them, and a voice from heaven spoke to them. Even if they did not fully understand Him then, nevertheless, this was a decisive moment in the revelation to them of the mystery of God and the mystery of man, and although they had to be silent on this subject until by means of His death on the Cross came His Resurrection, for them this always remained the foundation of their preaching of the joy that would envelop the entire world, and which they announced on the basis of “having witnessed His grandeur.”

We celebrate this feast so that our faith would not be incomplete, so that hearing the words of Apostle Peter: “Lord, how good it is for us to be here!” – we would not forget what is good and what is bad, so that seeing this extraordinary light we would always distinguish light from dark. Never yet has it been so bad in the world, never yet has it been as dark as at present. How dark it becomes all around! With each passing year we see with greater realism how the world lies in iniquity, and how darkness thickens in the world.

But “the light shines in the darkness,” and no darkness can overcome it. Christ, the Sun of truth, shines as before in the darkness of our life, and sending us today the sweetness of earthly fruits, as though from the Garden of Eden, He speaks to us of the fact that the world must be transfigured by love, which none of us has within himself, but which He is offering to us. And we understand that the mount of Transfiguration is always sweeter than the daily service, sweeter than the cross. However, the mount of Transfiguration is given to us precisely to imbue us with strength for our daily service, to make us capable of following the way of the cross. This is the radiant light with which the Lord wishes to encompass the entire world. The Holy Church tells us that present suffering is incommensurate with eternal glory, and that our brief and light suffering produces eternal glory in abundance. For our present temporary suffering is worth nothing in comparison with the glory which will be revealed within us, if only we suffer with Him in order to be glorified with Him.

Protopriest Alexander Shargunov

My beloved, let us examine the reason why, for testifying to the truth about the power and the glory of the Lord’s Transfiguration, Divine Providence chose not only the three favorite apostles – eyewitnesses of this glory, but also three Evangelists – preachers of this glory. The reason for the selection of the disciples as witnesses is indicated to us by the Evangelist Luke, who says: “And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28). What were those words, after which the Lord ascended Mount Tabor? What happened eight days before the Transfiguration? It is not without just cause that the holy Evangelist indicates the time when this great event occurred, i.e. eight days after another event; consequently, there is an internal connection between them.

The following took place: first of all, Peter, contrary to public opinion which took Jesus for Elias or one of the other prophets, confessed Him to be the Son of God. Secondly, this same Peter, upon hearing of Christ’s forthcoming death on the cross, felt it his duty to contradict Him, expressing the thought that such a horrible fate was totally incompatible with the dignity of the Son of God (Matt. 16:22-23). Consequently, it was after these events that the Lord took Peter, John and James up the mountain with Him, as those most ready and capable of contemplating His true glory. It was necessary for Christ, after His appearance “in the form of a slave,” to secretly show also His Kingdom. He prophetically said to His disciples eight days before His Transfiguration: “But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27). It was necessary for the apostles to see the glorious Kingdom of God even for a moment, in order for their incipient true faith to become fortified, since the terrible hour of the Son of God’s voluntary betrayal into the hands of His enemies was already approaching, and the same disciples were to become witnesses of His suffering, torture, humiliation and death on the Cross. Such was the purpose of the Lord’s Transfiguration, and such was its internal significance.

While contemplating God’s glory, the apostles saw the prophets Elias and Moses conversing with Christ. Upon entering the cloud, i.e. the glory of the Son of God, they heard the voice of the Heavenly Father, confirming the divine dignity of His Son and commanding them to show obedience to Him. Listening to the prophets speak of the Cross, they heard that the Son of God is embracing crucifixion voluntarily, and that it is required for the salvation of mankind.

But Christ’s beloved disciples contemplated His glory only with their physical eyes, because at that time the were still unable to spiritually comprehend the divine purpose of the Son of God’s glorification on Mount Tabor and the significance of this event for all the future followers of Jesus Christ. Only after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them was their spiritual vision uncovered. “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, He shall testify of Me, – Christ said to them, – and ye shall also bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27). Therefore, all the eleven apostles upon whom the Holy Spirit descended in Zion, and later the newly-chosen Paul, became and remained true witnesses of the life, glory and death on the cross of Christ the Saviour, because the Holy Spirit testified to them of the Son of God, with Whom they were together from the very beginning.

The Lord’s Transfiguration
The Lord’s Transfiguration

However, the selection of the three Evangelists to preach the event has yet another divine purpose. This has been done for our sake. You have heard today, my beloved, the hymns of the great feast. During the Liturgy the following words are sung: “Let us come and ascend the mount of the Lord, and in the house of our God we shall see the glory of His Transfiguration!” The holy Church invites all of us to contemplate the glory of the Lord’s Transfiguration. And since we are summoned, this means that is necessary and quite possible. In what manner are we able to contemplate the glory of the Son of God? In a spiritual manner of course, as it was contemplated by the holy Evangelists after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them, and which the beloved disciples could not comprehend during the actual Transfiguration of the Lord. All of us have received the Holy Spirit successfully from the apostles – through the Church sacraments, beginning with holy baptism, and therefore we, too, have been granted spiritual vision. God’s Providence chose the three Evangelists precisely in order to assure us of the possibility of spiritually contemplating that which Christ’s disciples contemplated physically.

But, my beloved, it is not enough for Christian life simply to comprehend the truth, but it is also necessary to believe in the truth and, therefore, to follow it. The holy Apostle Paul says that the Lord’s Transfiguration is an event which should be repeated for all true followers of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). Whoever doesn’t know that we have an inner, hidden man of the heart, as the holy apostles say – is not a Christian. It is this inner man whom we must raise from perfection to perfection, from glory to glory, learning the truths of faith, rejecting passions, acquiring virtues and preserving the grace given to us by Church sacraments. Those who are not transfigured internally from earth-bound to heaven-bound – will not enter the glory of the One-begotten Son of God!

In Christianity we are all obligated to understand what is from God and what is from man. For this reason we cannot contradict Christ as Peter had done, and doubt whether death on the cross is incompatible with the dignity of the Son of God, or whether our suffering, temptations, our crosses are incompatible with God’s love for Christians. Will we try to prove, on the basis of our misunderstanding, that our internal transfiguration or regeneration is impossible under the difficult conditions of modern life and in an overwhelming struggle with sin? Such proofs and excuses are easily overcome by today’s Gospel reading, which describes the difficult conditions in which the Lord’s Transfiguration took place, and how full was the Son of God’s soul with thoughts of the forthcoming suffering and the Cross, and in what prayerful union He remained with the Heavenly Father, and how He conversed with the prophets about His forthcoming agony and crucifixion. Consequently, our inner transfiguration is also possible – even in the most difficult conditions of life, because it only requires prayerful union with Christ and the meek carrying of one’s cross. The cross is the only true path to glorious transfiguration! And when our mind bows down before the constant proofs of God’s infinite love for mankind, then our soul will be filled with the thought of Christ’s salvific commandment: “Whosoever wishes to follow Me, let him reject himself and take up his cross.” Amen.

Archimandrite Cronidus

The Lord took His beloved disciples: Peter, James, and John up Mount Tabor and was transfigured before them – His face became bright like the sun, and His clothing white, like snow. Moses and Elias also appeared with the Lord and conversed with Him, and a cloud descended upon the Lord’s disciples, and a voice was heard from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, hear Him.” Peter exultantly (for he knew not what he was saying) asks the Lord that three tabernacles, or tents, be erected: one for the Lord, one for Moses, and one for Elias.

The Transfiguration of the Lord is an image of the Glorious Resurrection of Christ. What is the meaning of this mystical event on Mt. Tabor?

The Transfiguration of the Lord revealed the glory of the Lord before His journey to Golgotha – His glory was revealed to the disciples to strengthen their faith. They saw the glory of the Saviour on Mt. Tabor before they were to see His suffering, His Crucifixion and death.

The everlasting light of Mt. Tabor also enlightens the life of every believing person and it enlightens the life of the whole Church.

Transfiguration of our Lord

Man is weak in this world; upon this earth he is frail. Living in his carnal, corrupt shell, his faith is tested, and his spirit is weakened. But, with God’s help and with His Grace, everyday trials are overcome and man is able to walk upon the path of the cross, upon the path of spiritual life, and the glory of the Transfiguration of the Lord is revealed to him. For being that we are participants in Christ’s sufferings on Golgotha, we are, therefore, also participants in His Transfiguration.

The glory and victory of our spiritual nature is revealed on Mt. Tabor. This spiritual nature of ours will overcome the corruption of our physical nature in the General Resurrection and as a promise of this the Divine Body of the Lord is revealed, being already glorified and enlightened like the sun and snow.

This mystical event affirms our faith in the coming transfiguration of the whole universe and each one of us in the General Resurrection. But this affirmation comes not in the form of a covenant, but in the actual body of the Lord transfigured on Mt. Tabor.

Furthermore, all of this relates to the very life of our Church. If each individual believing soul is weakened and needs confirmation of its faith and spiritual path, then all the more, the entire Holy Church is in need of this, for the Church journeys on the same path which the Saviour walked on earth, it walks the path to Golgotha. For the external trials which trouble the Church and all her many internal sorrows are able to trouble the hearts of men, just as Christ’s sufferings troubled His disciples.

The Transfiguration then reveals a promise of the future glorification and victory of the Church, when our Lord Jesus Christ will come in His glory. However difficult our trials may be, they must all be dissolved in the mystical light of Mt. Tabor. If a faithful person, a member of the Holy, Orthodox, Catholic and Apostolic Church, is overcome with despondency at the sight of divisions in the Church or the apostasy of separate individuals, or their deviation from the true path of Christ, and is overcome with doubt, thinking that the spirit of Antichrist is creeping into the Church, let the unwaning, mystical light of the Transfiguration embolden him, for the Transfiguration is the promise of the victory of Christ’s Church. Amen.

Transfiguration of our Lord

On the feast of Transfiguration, the Church commemorates the event of the Lord’s transfiguration and shows us the way to our own transfiguration.

The Lord was transfigured before His chosen disciples Peter, James, and John, in order to strengthen their faith in that He is the true God and that He has voluntarily accepted suffering on the cross for our salvation, and in order to have this faith become an asset of His Church through these three disciples. At the same time, by means of His transfiguration the Lord gave us an example of our personal transfiguration, which is necessary for entry into His Kingdom.

The divine law of transfiguration operates in the entire universe – both in the physical world and in the spiritual world.

Thus the grapes and the fruit which we bless on the feast of Transfiguration symbolize the transfiguration of inanimate nature. From the soil, from putrid fertilizers, from the sun’s rays, water, and air, from the seeds, with some participation of human labor, and activated by the Holy Spirit, these fruits grow forth for our nourishment and delight.

The Holy Spirit also engenders the transfiguration of our soul – from a state of malodorous passion into fragrant virtue. However, since we are sentient and free beings, in order to overcome our earthly enslavement we ourselves must also participate in this metamorphosis, as we have been taught by the Lord Christ in His transfiguration.

First of all, for His transfiguration He undertook the spiritual labor of ascending the high Mount Tabor. We, too, must force ourselves to physical and spiritual ascent from earthly valleys to celestial heights. He took three disciples with Him – Peter, because he had confessed Him the Son of God, James, because he was due to become the first martyr from among the apostles for preaching Christ’s divinity, and John, because he was the annunciator of Christ’s divinity.

Furthermore, before His transfiguration the Lord spent a long time in prayer. The ascent to Mt. Tabor probably took place in the evening, at the end of the day, and the transfiguration itself at dawn, at the end of night, because, according to the Evangelist Luke, they descended from the mountain on the day after the transfiguration. Thus, as in other instances, the Lord spent the entire night in prayer. He probably prayed for the transfiguration of His disciples and the transfiguration of His future Church, i.e. for our transfiguration. In this way the Lord indicated that our own transfiguration also requires earnest and lengthy prayer.

And finally, during His transfiguration the Lord conversed with the prophets who appeared before Him – Moses and Elias, and received confirmation from the Heavenly Father: “This is My beloved Son; hear Him.” In like manner we, too, for the sake of our transfiguration, should converse with the Lord God and with His saints. We cannot hope to hear the voice of God, nor have the prophets, apostles, or saints come to converse with us. However, we can always conveniently converse with them by means of prayer and by reading the Holy Scriptures, which contain all that we need for our transfiguration and salvation. Moreover, we should not only read the Holy Scriptures, but examine them according to the word of the Lord: “Search ye the Scriptures…and they are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). If we examine the Scriptures with piety and diligence, then we may be honored with mysterious instruction from God’s saints, as was the case when the holy Apostle Paul instructed St. John Chrysostome while the latter wrote his commentaries on the Apostle’s works, as was attested to by his disciple Saint Proclus.

May the light of Christ’s Transfiguration illuminate our souls on this great and radiant day of the feast, and make them capable of the spiritual labor of transfiguration!

Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky), 1970

 

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