A HOMILY FOR THE LEAVE-TAKING
OF THE TRANFIGURATION OF THE LORD

          Brothers and sisters!

          Last Sunday, our Holy Orthodox Church celebrated the Transfiguration of the Lord, and today is the leave-taking of this great feast, so I would like to say a few words about the theological and eschatological meaning of the glorious events on Tabor.  Our Lord Jesus Christ, being perfect man as well as perfect God, ascended Mount Tabor to pray to His Father.  So doing, He demonstrated that He has a true human nature, with a true human will and energy or operation; for it is not the characteristic of the Divinity to pray to anyone, but to receive the petitions of all creation, visible and invisible.  While at the summit of the mountain, He revealed both the glory of His divinity and the glory of the eternal Kingdom of God.

This is a brief summary of the events on Tabor:  Suddenly, while the God-man was praying, the ineffable light of the Divinity was manifested visibly in His flesh.  His face did shine like the sun,1 and His rainment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller can white them.2  By this He showed that beside possessing a human nature, He also possesses a true divine nature, hypostatically united to His human nature in one person, and that the properties of the divine nature permeate the human nature:  for it was the glory of His divinity that radiated from His flesh.  Christ took three disciples, Peter, James, and John, to serve as witnesses to the Transfiguration; and there also appeared two ancient prophets, Moses and Elijah.  These latter spoke with Him about His sufferings and decease, which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.3  Peter, seeing the Saviour’s glory and that of Moses and Elijah, exclaimed in ecstasy, Master, it is good for us to be here:  and let us make three tabernacles (that is, shelters); one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias, not knowing what he said.4  And while he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them:  and behold, a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.5  The voice was God the Father’s, and when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.  And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise and be not afraid.  And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.  And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.6

          According to the Holy Fathers, the light seen by the apostles on Mount Tabor is intrinsic to God the Word.  Eternal and existing outside space and time, it appeared in the theophanies of the Old Testament, terrifying the beholders, because foreign and external to unregenerate human nature:  to human nature as it was before the coming of Christ, Holy Baptism, and the New Testament Church.  At the moment of the Incarnation, the supernal light was concentrated in the God-man, in Whom, says Saint Paul, dwelleth the whole fulness of the Godhead bodily.7  The human nature of Christ was deified by its hypostatic union with the divine nature, but the distinction between the natures was not obliterated.  Christ during His earthly life always shed forth this light of the godhead, but until His Transfiguration, it remained invisible to others.  Nevertheless, as the Transfiguration was not a phenomenon circumscribed in time and space, our Lord underwent no actual change at that moment; rather, a change occurred in the awareness of the apostles, who received a glimpse of the incarnate Word as He really is, resplendent in everlasting light.  The apostles glimpsed eternity:  as Saint Gregory Palamas says, “The light of our Lord’s Transfiguration had neither beginning nor end; it remained unbounded in time and space and imperceptible to the senses, although seen by bodily eyes.”

          In the New Testament dispensation of grace, Christ shares with the Christians, His sons and daughters according to grace, the divine energy He manifested in Himself at the Transfiguration.

Whether the uncreated energy of the Godhead reveals itself as the visible light of Tabor or as the invisible inner light of grace, it is always a fire radiating spiritual warmth.  “God is a fire which warms and kindles our hearts.  If we feel in our hearts the cold which comes from the devil – for the devil is cold – let us pray to the Lord, and He will come and warm our hearts with love for Him and our neighbor,” teaches Saint Seraphim.  Grace makes itself known as joy, peace, inner warmth, and light.  If we are plunged in spiritual coldness and darkness, it is because we are deliberately choosing to alienate ourselves from God, or because the Lord is testing us so that we learn to mortify our desire for pleasure, even for pleasure in the form of spiritual gratification.  We must rise above these states and the turmoil or discouragement that accompany them, displaying patience, obedience, humility, and zeal, to which God will respond by revealing Himself to the soul and shedding His light.

          The experience of divine illumination described by the saints cannot be communicated to those completely foreign to it, but is in some measure comprehensible to every person who has experienced it even partially, through the inward manifestation of grace.  “God comes with a certain image,” Saint Symeon the New Theologian tells us, “but makes Himself seen in His simplicity, formed in light without form.  I can say no more.  He is perfectly recognizable, He speaks, and listens in a manner which cannot be expressed.  He Who is God by nature holds converse with those He has made gods by grace, as a man talks with his friends, face to face.  They cannot fully explain His presence, but neither can they keep silence.  The Holy Spirit becomes in them all that the Scriptures say about the Kingdom of God:  the pearl, the grain of mustard seed, the leaven, the water, the fire, the bread, the life-giving draught, the couch, the bridegroom, the friend, the brother, the father.”  Thus, in the divine light, the light of Tabor, we discern the hidden depth of the dogmas, the mystery of the eight day:  the mystery of the age to come, the fullness of which the world cannot contain before the restoration of creation.  The splendor of the Transfiguration also reveals the meaning of repentance, as Saint Symeon explains:  “When in the present life we enter freely and of our own will by repentance into the divine light, we find ourselves accused and under judgment; but owing to the divine love and compassion, the accusation and judgment is made in secret, in the depths of our soul, to purify us, that we may receive pardon of our sins.  Those who in this life undergo such a judgment will have nothing to fear from another tribunal; but for those who will not, in this life, enter into the light, that they may be accused and judged, the second coming of Christ will disclose the light which at present remains hidden, and will make everything manifest.”

          At the second coming of the Lord, all men will awake, not merely in the sense of the resurrection of the body, but by becoming fully conscious in the power of the divine light revealed on Tabor.  It will not be, however, a free response of the will to grace, as is repentance and spiritual awakening in this life, but a consciousness coming against the will, “outside grace” as Saint Maximus the Confessor has it.  This light, this fire of awareness, according to Saint Isaac the Syrian, will warm and illumine the saints in heaven, and scorch those in Hades who freely rejected faith, repentance, and the light and love of God in the present life.

          In the resurrection, the external condition of everything created will reflect its inner reality, like Christ’s flesh at the Transfiguration.  God will become all in all, in the sense of penetrating everything with uncreated light.  The bodies of the saints will be like the glorious body of the Lord on the mountain.  The radiance of divinity will shine in the multitude of human hypostases, so that they become new suns in the Kingdom of the Father.  They will closely resemble the eternal Son, and be transformed by the Holy Spirit, the Giver of life.

          And so you see, brothers and sisters, how the holy Transfiguration is not just an event that occurred two thousand years ago to bolster the apostles before the Lord’s Passion, but that it reveals to us the true identity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man perfect in two natures, human and divine.  Moreover, it also reveals that the divine energy that suffused Christ’s flesh on Tabor is the same which sanctifies and deifies us throughout our lifetime, to the degree that we lead the life of repentance and holy grace.  Finally, the holy Transfiguration is the earnest of our own transfiguration in the eternal Kingdom of God, when Christ will be all in all and we shall bask forever in the light of His divinity.

This, then, dear Christians, is the promise of the Saviour’s Transfiguration, which we celebrate so magnificently every year during this season.  As we glorify our Christ on this beautiful and radiant feast, let us remember that the Lord shone with glory on Tabor not only to reassure the disciples that His Passion was voluntary, as we chant in the Kontakion, but to manifest His own glory at the right hand of the Father, and to attest the splendor in which we, as sharers in His humanity by nature and His divinity by grace, are called to participate, now in part and fully after in the resurrection of the dead.  Amen.

 

1. Matt. 17:2

2. Mark 9:3

3. Luke 9:31

4. Luke 9:33

5. Matt. 17:5

6. Matt. 17:6-9

7. Col. 2:9