Sermon for the Transfiguration (2017)

August 19, 2017

Sermon for the Transfiguration (2017)

Today is the feast of the revelation of the glory of God, shining forth from the face of the God-man Jesus Christ. On this day on Mount Tabor, He Who opened the eyes of the blind now opens the noetic eyes of the disciples, hitherto blinded by sin, that they might see the glory of God “as far as they could bear it.”

This was not by any means the first revelation to mankind of the glory of God; indeed, His glory was made manifest from the very moment of the creation of the world, as the Psalms witness: “the heavens declare the glory of God.” Moses and Elias, now appearing on the mountaintop conversing with Christ, had both before conversed with God on another mountain, and afterward even the reflection of the divine glory that shone from Moses’ face was more than the Israelites could bear to look upon.

Yet the revelation given today is far different and far surpassing all those that were given before. How so? St. Gregory Palamas writes: “Even the face of Moses was illumined by his association with God. Do you not know that Moses was transfigured when he went up the mountain, and there beheld the Glory of God? But he (Moses) did not effect this, but rather he underwent a transfiguration. However, our Lord Jesus Christ possessed that Light Himself.”

Today the light of the divine glory shines forth from the face of a man, the God-man Jesus Christ. Today is revealed the mystery of God hidden from before the ages, “God hath appeared in the flesh,” showing to us not only Who He is, but also who we are called to be: partakers of the divine nature, sons of God and co-heirs with Christ. The same glory with which He shines today on Mount Tabor He desires to shine forth from us, sinners though we are, in the Kingdom of His Father. This same glory we see shining now in the halos of all the saints whose icons surround us every day.

But the revelation given to us today does not stop there: we see not only that the divine glory has been bestowed upon the sons of men, but we are given even to see, in some measure, of what this glory consists. In olden times Moses could not bear to behold the glory of God in its fullness, and the hand of God covered his face on the mountain until He had passed by. But today on the mountain the hand of God is drawn back while He is yet present before us, face to face, and we begin to discern what the radiance of His glory has up until now concealed. We begin to see that this glory is none other than the glory of the Cross.

It is no coincidence that the Transfiguration happened immediately after the Lord first revealed the mystery of His future Passion to His disciples. It is no accident that what He spoke of with Moses and Elias was “His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” It is no mere chance that this Feast falls during the Dormition Fast, which begins with the Procession of the Cross and ends precisely with the death of Her whom every Christian desires above all to imitate.

There is no glory that is not the glory of the Cross.

Too often and too easily we forget this. We forget that the Resurrection is not the abolition of the Cross, but rather its fulfilment and its most glorious crown. We somehow differentiate the two in our mind, dividing the mystery in which there is no contradiction nor separation, and in doing so we fundamentally misunderstand both. We misunderstand God Himself, and, like Peter before us, are found to “[savour] not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”

The Cross, whether the Cross that our Savior carried or the one that He has given us to carry, is not merely a test to be passed, a trial to be endured, or an obstacle to be overcome, before we reach our destination and receive our heavenly reward. The Cross is Heaven itself, the Cross is itself our destination and our exceeding great reward. Because the Cross is the self-revelation of God Himself. It is the love of God made manifest. And Paradise itself is nothing other than that love, and any Paradise that is not contained and found only within the Cross is a fraud, a mirage, a trap and a dead end. Listen to the hymns of the Church, listen to the lives of the saints: the martyrs rejoiced in their death because it was there, and nowhere else, that they met or could meet the Lord Jesus Christ. And for this reason every Christian life is only and can only be a martyrdom. Until we understand this, we will never know peace, we will never know joy, because we will never know God.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” In this one saying is contained the key to our whole lives as Christians. And this key is the only key that will open to us the great mystery of which Christ spoke only moments later, the mystery which is now being revealed to us today: “Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom.”

“There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death.” These words were spoken not only to Peter, James and John, but also to each and every one of us standing here today. If we truly lay down our lives, if we truly take up the Cross and follow Him, then we shall not taste of death; instead we will see the Son of Man in the glory of His Kingdom, and we will find that every sorrow and every pain of which we have partaken in our lives has been nothing else than a partaking in that same heavenly glory. The mystery of this feast is that the Cross is not death, but rather eternal and radiant glory, the divine glory which existed before all ages. But this mystery ultimately cannot be understood nor comprehended, but only partaken of. The Cross will always look like death until we ascend it. Only then will our eyes be opened, and we will see Christ shining with heavenly glory, “exceeding white as snow,” and we will see ourselves also transfigured by His grace and shining with His own glorious light.

“O Christ God, let Thine everlasting light illumine also us sinners through the intercessions of the Theotokos. O Giver of Light, glory to Thee.” Amen.




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