What Can We Do to Nourish Our Experience of the Transfiguration of Christ?

Source: Bogovslov.ru
Having been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have the transfiguring power of forgiveness, together with the responsibility of transforming society around us. We have the power to forgive sins, and we have the responsibility, by refusing to condone bad behaviour, to change the spiritual and moral standards of society by withdrawing forgiveness when this is necessary.
Priest Yves Dubois | 19 August 2014

fryvesIn today’s feast, God’s boundless light is revealed shining from the body of the Saviour not long before his Passion. Deathless glory is seen in a human body approaching death. The radiance of immortality penetrates this death-bound universe through the body of the incarnate eternal God, and is spreading from that moment, in all directions of time and space, to all creation. This is the lamp burning in our hearts. Darkness of suffering and sin may hide it from our awareness, yet its truth remains present in our hearts. Suffering in the world is such that the light of faith is frequently plunged into a dark tunnel. The apostles themselves had great difficulty in accepting the Resurrection message of the Myrrhbearers. Let us not be scandalised by the lack of faith around us, and by our own turmoils. The light of Christ is more powerful than any doubt, than any evil or cruelty at work in the world. The Saviour empathises with his entire creation, which is being transfigured by the paradoxical event of the Saviour’s glorification on the Cross. At the Last Supper, Jesus referred to his Passion and death as his glorification. He carries both the sin and the pain of his entire creation. His patience is astonishing. Tragedies are not sent by God for our own good; they are the work of the enemy. All violence will be healed by the power of Christ’s Cross. Violence in God’s Name is a blasphemy. God forgives readily where we do not.

God’s boundless light was revealed briefly on Tabor. Now and then it can also be seen with our eyes of flesh at other times, as it was during Saint Seraphim’s conversation with Motovilov. It is also present at all times in different forms: in scripture, in the holy gifts, in acts of kindness, in the beauty of colour, sound, form, intelligence, in all countries and cultures. We are not meant to be pleasure seekers, because that would destroy us morally. We must not wallow in gloom, because that is a form of suicide. Contemporary society threatens the future of the planet with its irresponsibility, but despair is the most irresponsible attitude. We are not meant to coast along in life: with prayer, with love for truth, with determination, with trust in the power of the Cross, each one of us can make a difference.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov’s life teaches us how we are to nourish our experience of the Transfiguration of Christ. The New Testament, the Psalms, the teaching of Saint Isaac the Syrian, the Jesus Prayer, prayer to the Mother of God, Paschal joy, hiding away from the limelight, compassion and absence of harshness: these were the characteristics of Saint Seraphim’s life. We can acquire some of them. Let us start by seeing what we can do with the New Testament, with the Jesus Prayer, and with the Mother of God.

1. The New Testament and the Transfiguration light.

2. The Jesus Prayer and the Transfiguration light.

3. The Mother of God and the Transfiguration light.

1. The New Testament and the Transfiguration light.

At the end of the Liturgy of Transfiguration, we bless fruit and say, in thine Only-Begotten Son, our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Vine, thou hast granted us the fruit of immortality; make us partakers of the true Vine. God has given us a simple way of becoming partakers of the true Vine by giving us the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. After his Resurrection, the Saviour said to the Apostles, and through them to the whole Church, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so send I you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’(John 20: 21-23). Scripture lives in the power of the Sacraments of the Church. Having been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have the transfiguring power of forgiveness, together with the responsibility of transforming society around us. We have the power to forgive sins, and we have the responsibility, by refusing to condone bad behaviour, to change the spiritual and moral standards of society by withdrawing forgiveness when this is necessary. This heavy responsibility can be assumed because the fruit of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, self-control – are given to us with power, and not with a licence to irresponsible sentimentality. Not only in Matthew, but in Luke also, Christ reminds us that we are not to ignore the Old Testament revelation and law – Torah is equally revelation and law –, it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped(Luke 16: 17). This cannot be brushed aside and opens a large area of responsibility for us all. Jews and Christians share a tradition of being exiles in this fallen world; yet living responsibly in this world while making the world to come our true home is difficult. You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.(Mark 10: 42-45).

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From the Gospel we learn that the light of Christ can only be perceived when the eyes of our hearts are attuned to the mind of Christ. This means that, even after decades of Christian practice as a baptised person, we need to change our outlook in many respects. The Church community as well as the individual Christian is often far from invariably doing the will of Christ, from living in the divine light of Christ. The Gospels contain harsh words against the Pharisees. These apply to all religious people, not only Jewish ones. The danger of living in contradiction to our religious ideals is omnipresent in every human being, whether our religion is Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or agnostic secularism. Self-righteousness is the lion crouching at the door of everyone, ready to pounce on us all.

Saint Seraphim’s way of life was to keep a constant eye on the Gospel text. This is a priority if we are to benefit from the light of the eternal God, otherwise self-righteousness and other distortions will take over.

2. The Jesus Prayer and the Transfiguration light.

How do we address the problems we encounter with the Jesus Prayer? It is hard to mean the words, to understand the wide range of meaning of the words, and to use the prayer regularly but not mechanically. The Jesus Prayer is hard work, but there is little alternative to it. Used rightly, it can end a tendency to live on automatic pilot, for which we are accountable to God, to ourselves and to those around us. Looking inside our heart, we soon notice the presence of passionate thoughts. These are the veil between us and our awareness of God. We need the help of someone stronger than we are to calm down the disturbance inside our heart. That is why we cry out for help, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.We need two things before the Jesus Prayer can become real rather than mechanical. The first is an acquaintance with the personality of Christ through deep use of the whole New Testament. The second is a genuine consciousness that we need his help to be freed from the tensions and upsets which arise inside the heart. It is difficult to obtain a clear picture of the Saviour if our reading of the New Testament is limited to the daily portions given by the Church calendar. We need a broad knowledge of the complete text, and we need to note down what we discover about him. By reading large chunks of a Gospel or epistle at one sitting, we get a panoramic view. After a while, a conversation with the Saviour becomes a possibility, as clichés recede from our minds.

3. The Mother of God and the Transfiguration light.

She gave the Saviour his entire human nature, body and soul. In the Orthodox Church, we believe that both body and soul are received from our parents. We do not have the belief that God creates souls without the help of human parents, then pops them into a body at conception or at some other time. This would be unhelpful mythology. So Mary gave Christ his soul and body, while the eternal second Person of the Trinity was taking residence inside her womb, without being limited by it. The process of God’s incarnation must not be glossed over or taken as understood when it is not. If we skip over the fact of the Mother of Jesus, the risk grows of ending with a warped understanding of Christ: people believe in a merely human Christ, others in an exclusively divine Christ, and others still in a Christ made up of two persons, a divine one and a human one, sharing one human body. In all those cases, we end up with no real incarnation of God or no deification of human nature. Once we appreciate the role of Jesus’ Mother, we understand him better.

A mother is not a womb on legs, but a person who relates to her children. Jesus was not orphaned at birth. He related and relates to his Mother. He is not confused with her or vice-versa. We do not relate to him better by pushing her out of the picture. As with her Son, the Gospel text is our best introduction to her personality. We first encounter her as a very young teenager visited by the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation. We are astonished to find that such a young child already has the strong religious and political views expressed in the Magnificat. Next, we see her at her encounter with the Baptist’s mother, who greets her with a quotation from the Prophet David’s exclamation about the Ark, why is the ark of the Lord coming to me? Why is the Mother of my Lord coming to me? Before we go any further, we notice that so early on in the Gospel, the title Mother of God is already justified. The text of the Magnificat indicates her concern for all people in need. Our Church’s prayers to her are not hyperbole and departures from Scripture. They are the application of the plain text of Scripture. There is no need to introduce sentimentality into our devotion to her. We need to keep our religion free from syrup. Otherwise we take leave of reality and get sidetracked into phantasy. God is the ultimate reality; we serve him best by seeking always the sober truth. Christ’s Transfiguration, and our Transfiguration by him is reality, not fiction. Amen.

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