The Feast of the Holy Transfiguration
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
August 6, 2017
Our Lord’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor before Peter, James and John was a glimpse of His glory. You and I can be blessed on occasions to experience the grace of God in a way that we have a glimpse of His eternal glory. Holy Pascha is one of them, when after a serious period of prayer and fasting we celebrate the Feast of Feasts and catch a glimpse of our triumphant Lord in the Holy Resurrection.
The word “transfiguration” in Greek is metamorphysis. As we hear in today’s Gospel: And He was transfigured before them, and His face shown like the sun, and His garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him (Matthew 17:2-3). The fact that Moses and Elijah appeared on the mount with the Lord is very significant. These two men were the leading figures of the Old Covenant and confirm the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The Gospel also says that a voice from a bright cloud said, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to Him, further confirming the person of Jesus as the divine Messiah.
The significance of this event as it pertains to our life in this world can best be understood through the writings of St. Gregory of Nyssa. In this life, you and I must be prepared to grow physically, intellectually, and spiritually. This means that the Christian life is a life of many changes, a life of transformation, a life of purification and sanctification. Our spiritual growth, unlike our physical and intellectual maturity is not so easily perceived, largely because it is not readily seen or easily understood.
The spiritual growth and transformation that you and I are called to experience begins with repentance and repentance is born in humility. Inasmuch as what we see depicted in the Feast is a “mountain top experience,” something that you and I experience from time to time, the transformative life to which we are called is a life which involves our determination to act – to do by faith what we are instructed and commanded by God. If we look closely the icon of the Feast we see that our transfigured Lord stands with two feet on the ground. This significant vision reinforces the truth that spiritual growth is a transformation amidst our human experiences. When I was young and zealous, I remember being cautioned by my pastor not to be “so heavenly minded that I would be no earthly good.”
In the writings of St. Gregory Nyssa on the subject, St. Gregory speaks of two kinds of change: 1) an anxiety that is associated with a purely negative concept of change, change that can only be for evil. 2) a higher type of motion, a “good change,” a “change for the better.” It is this sort of movement that St. Paul speaks of when he spoke of our transformation from glory to glory (II Corinthians 3:18). It is the perpetual growth in good.
In a translation of St. Gregory’s work [From Glory to Glory; SVS Press, p. 51], he states: …man does not merely have an inclination to evil; if this were so, it would be impossible for him to grow in goodness. Man’s nature is not possessed with an inclination towards what is evil. In truth the finest aspect of our mutability (our ability to change) is the possibility of growth in what is good; and this capacity for improvement transforms the soul, as it changes, more and more into the divine (theosis). And so, what appears so terrifying can really be a wing in our flight towards higher things, and indeed it would be a hardship if we were not susceptible of the sort of change which is towards the better… [So therefore] let us change in such a way that we may constantly evolve towards what is better, being transformed from glory to glory, and thus always improving and ever becoming more perfect by daily growth, and never arriving at any limit of perfection. For that perfection consists in our never stopping in our growth in good, never circumscribing our perfection by any limitation.
From a very human perspective you and I often wrestle with learning how “to let go.” Letting go is very difficult in many of our experiences: a) death of a loved one, our role as parents; then there are those things that can be very deceptive: they may include temporal things, our fear of aging, etc. Becoming complacent is easy when we are comfortable with the status quo. Very often our fear of change is what results in our failure to make decisions or to do what we must.
For the Christian, every Sacrament: Holy Baptism, Holy Chrismation, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders (ordination), Confession, Unction (Healing), all of which lead to the Sacrament of Sacraments – our receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist is an initiative – a new beginning of growth in the life of the Spirit. They begin the process of renewal, sanctification, purification, healing; they complete that which is lacking. They are our means of salvation.
So even when we hear our Lord’s command: Be ye perfect…[Matthew 5:48], it is best to understand that being made perfect is progress itself: the perfect man is the one who continually makes progress. And with God, our salvation (deification: to be made perfect as a part of a creation that is fallen) means that this kind of growth is without limit and “permanence in good becomes, paradoxically, the principle of authentic change. St. Gregory says: “…a man advances farther on the path of perfection precisely insofar as he remains fixed and immovable in good…”
Therefore, our goal and aim in working out our salvation is a life that is transfigured; meaning a life of growth in God – transformed from a sinful condition and the fallen world. It is not a life that is in denial, escapes or runs from the reality of this world. Most importantly, a transformed life from this fallen world can only happen by God’s mercy and grace. It is not a life that is overcome by weakness but through weakness, with perseverance and repentance you and I can be made a stronger person by God’s grace and mercy. The Apostle Paul described it in this way: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:30b). In his own comments about his personal struggle with sin, he states: “But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (II Corinthians 12: 9a).
In the book of The Revelation of John we hear these words from the throne of God: And behold, I make all things new! (Rev. 21:5a). It is very important to note that he does not say, “…I make all new things.” No. His words are: “…behold, I make all things new!” This is the triumph and victory that we all have in Christ who came to save us and who overcame the world. It is our triumph and victory as we take up our own cross and follow Him.
So then, is it fair to conclude that it is God’s will and desire for us to suffer and hurt? Stop and think for a moment. Christ Himself, could’ve stepped down from the Cross if he wanted to. He could’ve called a host of angels to rescue him from crucifixion. But He did neither, just as he did not succumb to the temptation while on the pinnacle of the Temple. Similarly, we can allow God’s grace to work in us in order that our lives may be transformed.
O Christ our God, assist us, we pray Thee through every struggle and temptation, renewing us by your abounding mercy that we may stand against all the wiles of the Evil One. Strengthen us by Thy grace and shield us from every attack that would diminish our faith in Thee. Help us to behold your glory and to walk in the fullness of your Light that we may remain steadfast in doing Thy will for blessed art Thou together with Thy Father who is unoriginate and Thine all-Holy, good and life-giving Spirit; now and ever and unto ages of ages. A-men.