Friday, August 5, 2016

A Feast of Divine Beauty



Dear Parish Faithful and Friends in Christ



This weekend, we will celebrate the Great Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, a Feast of light and glory celebrated every year on August 6.

The account of the Transfiguration can be found in three of the Gospels - Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36.  There is also a powerful eyewitness account of the event written by the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:10-19.  All of these scriptural accounts deserve a careful and prayerful reading. 

The transfigured Lord reveals the splendor of a human being fully alive, for Christ reveals to us the perfect image of humanity transfigured by the glory of God.  That is why “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light” (Matthew 17:2). 

The hymnography of the Feast makes this point over and over:

“In His own person He showed them the nature of man, arrayed in the original beauty of the image…  Thou has made the nature that had grown dark in Adam to shine again as lightning transforming it into the glory and splendor of Thy divinity” (Vespers Aposticha of the Feast).  

Christ reveals both our origin and our destiny on Mount Tabor.  As the “radiance of the Father” (Hebrews 1:3), He is the perfect and natural icon/Image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).  As human beings created according to the image and likeness of God, we are actually “images of the Image.”  What Christ is, by nature, is what we are meant to be by grace - “partakers of the divine nature” (1 Peter 1:4).  This is promised and pledged to us in the Age to Come when “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43), but revealed now in Christ, Who is the incarnate Son of God — a revelation, no doubt, of extraordinary beauty!  Thus, the Transfiguration is a Feast of divine and human beauty.  Can anything more splendid possibly be envisioned?

In other words, whatever Christ does or says is what a perfect human being united to God would do or say.  He not only reveals God to us, but also humanity.  Look at Christ and you are looking at what it means to be truly and genuinely human.  He is what Adam was meant to be, but failed to become because of sin. 

As Christ is without sin, He is the “last (and perfect) Adam.”  He is also the “man of heaven”  because He reveals to us what heaven is like, where we will bear His image (1 Corinthians 15: 47-49).  All of this was revealed to the disciples on Mount Tabor when, with even more than the dazzling and startling power of an unexpected flash of lightning, Christ was “transfigured before them.”  In that glorious splendor, the disciples Peter, James and John received a glimpse of the End of Time before it has actually come. 

That is a good deal to take in at once, so it is no wonder that the disciples “fell on their faces and were filled with awe” (Matthew 17:2,6)!  It is simultaneously no wonder that Peter made a suggestion to the Lord—“I will make three booths”—in the hope of prolonging this experience.  Through them, and our celebration of the Feast, we receive that same glimpse.  The King reveals to us His Kingdom, so that we may be attracted to it and then live for it.  In that sense we are future-oriented as Christians.

But if Christ is the perfect human being, then He is such because of His obedience to His heavenly Father.  He is always “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).  This is why the Lord came down from the mountain. Neither He nor the disciples were able to linger there.  He had yet to accomplish His “exodus” at Jerusalem ( Luke 9:31).  This is clearly an allusion to the Cross and Resurrection. 

In fact, Christ was “made perfect” because “He learned obedience through what He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8-9).  Christ was never not obedient to His Father!  He always said to His heavenly Father, “not my will, but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).  His authority and glory are firmly grounded in that obedience.  The result and consequence of this obedience is expressed by the Apostle Paul by his use of the word “therefore” in the following passage: 

“Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).

Saint Paul, however, is not finished with drawing out further consequences for us with another “therefore” as he continues,

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

It seems rather clear, “therefore,” that we must be obedient to God—like Christ was at all times and in all things—if we are to share in His glory both here and at the End of Time.

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