Sermon for the Transfiguration (2016)
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
On this day we celebrate an event in which, roughly 2000 years ago, two suns shone upon a mountain top in Palestine. The first sun was the created sun, part of the majesty of God’s created world. And the second sun was the noetic sun, the illumined Son of God, the Uncreated Light, the Son which was God, and which was with God before all things were made. This was the Light of Christ, piercing the darkness of the fallen world. This light, the noetic light of Christ, was manifested to the Apostles “as far as they could bear it.” It was not that Christ was doing something new, or had somehow changed into something that He was not before. Rather, Christ was showing His disciples the true nature of reality – the true nature of Himself. In becoming man, Christ redeemed and transfigured human nature. Though this had occurred in the Incarnation, it was only in the Transfiguration was this reality partially revealed to the disciples.
Here also was revealed the glory of God manifest in Christ, in order that the apostles might see and believe. Just days before this event, Christ proclaimed his Transfiguration when he said: Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power. (Mark 9:1) Foreshadowing His own Crucifixion and death on the Cross, Christ allowed the disciples to see for themselves some of His divinity in order that they might be prepared and strengthened for what was to come. We hear this in our hymnography for today. In one troparia we sing: “Before Thy precious Cross and Thy Passion, taking with Thee those among Thy holy disciples that Thou hadst specially chosen, Thou hast gone up, O Master, into Mount Tabor.” And in the Kontakion of the feast it says: “… that when they saw Thee crucified, they might know that Thy suffering was voluntary, and might proclaim unto the world that Thou art truly the Brighness of the Father.”
This revelation of God is accompanied by two major figures of the Old Testament, Moses and Elias. Not only do they represent the Law and the Prophets, but they as well were two people who also saw God in their lives – Elias in the “still, small voice,” and certainly Moses as he spoke with the Lord in a cloud on Mt. Sinai, even to the point where his own face began to shine with the uncreated light. And at this vision on Mt. Tabor, and cloud began to overshadow them, and a voice came out of the cloud saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. (Matthew 17:5)
All this was to reveal Christ as God – but also to reveal our transfigured and illumined human nature, which had been darkened and blackened by sin and the Fall. Christ – the Alpha and Omega – showed us, in the Transfiguration, human nature as it ought to be – as God created it to be. In his purity and innocence in Paradise, Adam received the rays of this divine light and was in a state of illumination. Though this light was darkened and obscured after the Fall, it was not altogether lost, and it is through Christ’s Incarnation that mankind is lifted back to his former glory and called to an even higher illumination through saintliness and deification – through a life in Christ and through Christ’s Resurrection. This is human nature in its perfect, redeemed state – shinning in the light and life of Christ – in noetic and uncreated brilliance.
Christ’s Transfiguration was a pivotal event in the Gospels and in the history of mankind – the day when Mt. Tabor received a two-sunned illumination. Yet it was not only on Tabor where two suns shone on this earth. Years later, in a dark and barbarous time, two suns once again shone on the feast of the Transfiguration. This time, the second sun was not the light of God, shining in the darkness, a light to men. Rather, this was a light of man, shining with darkness, casting a long shadow over history. This was the Feast of Transfiguration in 1945. While the Church celebrated the Transfiguration and hymned the light of the divinity of Christ who spreads peace and joy and offers man to overcome death, the light of the the atomic bomb burst over Hiroshima with the flash of a thousand suns, raining down fire and death. The atomic bomb, the product of chiliastic modernism, was tested and perfected at the Trinity Test site in New Mexico, where the “father of the atomic bomb,” Oppenheimer, uttered his now infamous words at the first successful detonation – a quote from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
This light of the atomic second sun unleashed on the Feast of the Transfiguration in 1945 was the unholy light of a godless age – of human hubris, of godless ideologies, of science without ethics, of a world without Christ. It was the crowning scientific achievement of the bloodiest century that the world has ever known. It was the light of that primeval and satanic temptation: Ye shall be as gods. (Genesis 3:5) This was the light that ushered in the atomic age and propelled the world into the modern era. This is the dreadful light of a world which turns its back on God.
In the great feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, in conjunction with the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ, we are shown the purpose and meaning of the existence of man. Yet the further we move away from God and from the light of Christ, the further we slip into darkness – hatred, barbarism and death. We live in a world in which the image of humanity transfigured in the noetic light of Christ is replaced with a distorted image of fallen man. We trade theosis for an ever increasing dehumanization. Sadly, this distortion and dehumanization are publically promoted, and even celebrated as “progress” in our time. While Christ shone with the glory of his divinity on Mt. Tabor so that his apostles might see and believe, there are still many today who do not believe in Christ as God – not merely the unbelieving Jews of old, but even many modern so-called Christians, sadly, think of Christ as merely “a teacher” or a “good person” – but not the Son of God.
This is the darkness of the times and the world we live in.
Yet Christ is the Light which shines in the darkness. Christ is the light which can never be overcome. Christ is the light which has existed before the world began. Christ is the triumphant and everlasting Light that can never be extinguished and never be defeated. Even in the darkness of our world, the light of Christ shines through and is victorious. Christ is victor. He has overcome the world. Even from the blood-soaked soil of a godless 20th century bloomed the many fragrant and noetic flowers of God’s holy martyrs and long-suffering saints. We saw this in places like Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia and Eastern Europe. We continue to see this today in Syria, the Middle East, and everywhere Orthodox Christians are killed and persecuted for their faith by the agents of Satan and the powers of darkness and the prince of this world.
Just as Christ is the light of this world, as He shone in the Uncreated Light on Mt. Tabor, so are we called to be a light to the world. We are called to be the “Church Triumphant” in living a life in Christ – in taking up our Cross and dying with Him, daily – dying to our old selves so that we may live in Christ. All of us are called to this life, the life of the saints who live in the Light of Christ – saints who are nothing more than individuals who are fully the people that God created them to be. We are all called to Mt. Tabor, to live a life fully transfigured in the Light of Christ. In this can we be a light to the world. To paraphrase St. Seraphim of Serov: “Acquire the light of Christ – the light of Tabor – and thousands around will be illumined!”
God does not compel us, nor should we blame our failures on anyone or anything else. It is always our decision who we are. It is up to us to decide which master we are going to serve. The life of man upon earth is warfare we read in the Book of Job. It is warfare not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12) The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11:12) Christ enlists us in this battle, but it is a battle against the Old Man… against our sins, or lusts and our passions. In cleansing our senses and our souls from sin, we cleanse the image of God in us, and Christ will lift us to the heights, so that we can shine with him in the uncreated light of Tabor, if only we will it so. If only we let Christ in to our hearts, so that his light will shine through us and illumine the world. In doing so, we can truly say the Prayer of the First Hour with all our heart and all our being:
O Christ, the True Light, Who enlightenest and sanctifiest every man that cometh into the world: Let the Light of Thy countenance be signed upon us, that in it we may see the Unapproachable Light, and guide our steps in the doing of Thy commandments, through the intercessions of Thy most pure Mother, and of all Thy saints...
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