A HOMILY ON THE TRANSFIGURATION
OF THE LORD
(August 6/ 19)

          Brothers and sisters!

          Today our Holy Orthodox Church celebrates one of the most beloved feasts of the whole year, the Transfiguration of the Lord.  Today we see God’s temple and servitors bedecked in white, and this joyous sight reminds us of the words from the Gospel:  And Jesus was transfigured before them:  and His face did shine as the sun, and His rainment was white as the light.1  We recall the wondrous events on Tabor, and reflect on how for a brief time the Saviour permitted the apostles to glimpse His pre-eternal glory, and simultaneously permitted every generation to glimpse the effulgence of the kingdom He has prepared for us.

          It was not long before the Passion that our Christ lifted the veil from His flesh to reveal this splendor.  While traveling through the villages in the region of Caesarea Philippi in Galilee, He withdrew for solitary prayer, according to His custom, and afterwards summoned the disciples.  Announcing that some of them would in their lifetime behold the Kingdom of God in its power and brilliance, He also told them, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it.  What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?  For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works.2  So saying, the Lord made it clear that the glorious Kingdom of God is attained through self-renunciation and strenuous labor, and that he who chooses what suits his fallen nature will be put to shame in the age to come.

          And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them.3  It was fitting that after discoursing about self-denial and the salvation of the soul, the Lord should take His chosen witnesses up a mountain to show them the radiance of the Kingdom.  Level, even ground, or walking on flat terrain, symbolizes a life devoid of commitment to Christ, devoid of spiritual exertion.  He who strolls about on flat land enjoys himself, and feels refreshed and invigorated, but finds himself no higher up for the time spent.  A mountain, or climbing a mountain, is an image of commitment, of exertion, of self-discipline and endurance for God’s sake.  The man who climbs a mountain becomes exhausted and drenched in sweat; but if he persists, he attains the summit.  To drive home the lesson He had taught six days earlier, Christ does not allow the disciples to see His glory while they are still in the flatlands, but only after they have struggled up the slope of Tabor.

          And why did our Lord take only three apostles with Him to witness the Transfiguration?  It was because these three represent the several virtues and characteristics of those who lose their life to find it in Christ, and thus they sufficed for His purpose.  Peter stands for renunciation itself, because he was married, but chose following the Saviour over the consolations of domestic life.  Everyone who prefers Christ to personal gratification and self-satisfaction is an imitator of the chief Apostle.  James was martyred before the other apostles, and martyrdom (to which he points us) is the fullest, the most complete expression of losing one’s life for Christ in exchange for glory unfading glory.  Every devout labor undertaken for Christ’s sake entails a certain degree of martyrdom.  John, who leaned on the Lord’s bosom and cleaved to the Master body and soul, is an example for all who daily strive for union with Christ in prayer.  Casting off care for the present age, such people climb to the peak of vision of God.  They are dazzled by the sight of Christ transfigured within themselves, and they are consumed with the contemplation of higher realities.  Their minds are purified by the radiance of Tabor even in this life; they are rendered luminous and burn brightly with outpourings of the heavenly light of Christ, Who dwells within their hearts.

          And so, brothers and sisters in Christ, if you also do not wish to taste of death before you see the Son of man coming in His kingdom,4 resolve to sacrifice your life for Christ’s sake:  to deny yourself, take up the cross, follow the Lord, and keep His commandments.  Believe wholeheartedly in Christ and in all the teachings of His Orthodox Christian faith.  Eagerly divest yourself of every personal opinion and every attitude at variance with the mind of Christ’s Holy Church, which is, as Saint Paul says, the pillar and ground of the truth.5  Offer as an oblation to Christ the desire for ease, self-gratification, and self-satisfaction.  Become a martyr according to your will, even if you are never deemed worthy of physical martyrdom.  Cleave to Jesus Christ with your whole being, yearn for Him like a bride for her bridegroom, and devote yourself to prayer, regarding it not so much as an obligation, as the door to the kingdom revealed on Tabor.  Constantly remind yourself that you are not long for this world, and that everything in it passes away and is a dream, a shadow, a whiff of smoke:  possessing form, but without substance.  Constantly ask yourself, What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?6  Push yourself unflaggingly up the slope of the mount of divine ascent, and you have it from God the Word Himself, the Creator of the ages, that you will attain the summit of sanctification and eternal life.  Gaze constantly within your heart at Christ transfigured, and yourself be clothed with rainment shining exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.7

          Unto the God Who shone in glory on Mount Tabor and Who ever shines in glory within the hearts of His true servants be glory unto all ages!  Amen.

 

1. Matt. 17:2

2. Matt. 16:24-27

3. Matt. 17:1-2

4. Matt. 16:28

5. I Tim. 3:15

6. Matt. 16:26

7. Mark 9:3