How many of us watched the Olympics these past two weeks? What beauty and wonder, what glory and tragedy, triumph and heartbreak. For example, imagine being Sandi Morris, a medal hopeful in the pole vault, and having your pole snap in the middle of a jump and injuring yourself, forcing you to withdraw from the games. Of course, we all know about the trials of Simone Biles, the GOAT of gymnastics getting the “twisties” at the worst possible time and needing to withdraw from numerous events. Her heartbreak, however, turned into triumph for some of her teammates who never thought they would win a gold because of Biles. Suni Lee wins a gold in the all around competition. MyKalya Skinner was an alternate and ready to leave Tokyo without evening competing, and then gets a last second call up to compete and ends up winning a silver medal. So many amazing, inspiring stories from the Olympics.
Just imagine being the best in the entire world in a particular skill. Of course, to reach such a level takes unbelievable preparation, training, together with immense skill and good opportunities. How many athletes have been training from a young age, and we only see the ones who make it to the Olympics. How many others missed out literally by a split second or by less than an inch.
Whenever I watch the Olympics, I think about the potential fulfilled that each of these athletes have. Obviously, they are extremely talented but we can’t say they are the most talented athletes in the world. They are extremely talented but each of these Olympians took their talents and developed them, honed them, perfected them so that they could reach their potential. They surely didn’t do it alone but with a team of coaches and colleagues who pushed them toward perfection throughout their lives. They were surely given opportunities, which maybe other athletes of similar talent don’t necessarily have, and they seized the opportunities and used them to fulfill their athletic potential.
This all makes me wonder, though, about the potential each one of us is given and how seriously and carefully we strive to develop and fulfill our God given potential. For many of us, we push ourselves and our children to fulfill a certain part of our intellectual potential, wanting to do well in school, to find a profession in which we will use our intellect and charisma to its fullest. Some of us push their children in athletics, in the arts, in other areas where we see obvious skill, or where we have a passion ourselves.
How serious are we, though, in trying to understand our spiritual potential and striving to fulfill our God-given possibilities? Saint Paul used the metaphor of physical training and compared it to our spiritual training. He says, “While physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 1:4)
What is our Godly potential? Each of us were created in the image and likeness of God. Reflect on this for a moment! Being created in the image and likeness of God is what distinguishes humans from the rest of the animal world. Every single person was created in the image of God – He’s given us creativity, intellect, reason, passion, desire, and the freedom to use it how we choose. The Fathers of the Church distinguished between image and likeness by highlighting that being created in the likeness of God is the divine potential we each possess. Each one of us, without exception, have the potential to be united with God and so filled with His Spirit that we can become Christ-like. We have the potential to become saints, holy ones who are so enlightened and filled with God’s grace that we become one with Him.
This past week we celebrated the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus* when he climbed up Mount Tabor with three of his disciples – Peter, John and James – and spent a night in prayer with them. In the middle of the night, Jesus suddenly becomes illumined, brighter than the sun and radiating the uncreated light of God from His very being. This experience overwhelms the disciples who fall down with their faces to the ground. They hear a voice from heaven say, “This is my beloved son in whom I am pleased. Listen to him.” (Matthew 17:1-9) The disciples also see Jesus speaking with Elijah and Moses, two of the greatest figures of the Old Testament who represent the law and the prophets. This feast of the Transfiguration highlights the divine nature of Jesus Christ and how He is the fulfillment of all the Law and Prophets. Jesus is God Himself who has become a human being.
Now, instead of focusing on what this feast says about who Jesus is, I want us to listen to how the Apostle Peter reflects upon this experience in his second epistle. He doesn’t simply confirm what he saw: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”
St. Peter focused on something else related to the divine potential that each one of us possess. “He has given us, through His divine power, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature.” (1 Peter 1:4) The Transfiguration revealed to Peter that we can escape the corruption of the world and become participants in the divine nature! Think about what this means; take a moment to truly understand what God offers to each one of us. The world around us is filled with darkness, dirtiness, lust, corruption, and evil. We all know this and are influenced in various ways with the darkness of the world. Instead of lamenting about this fallenness of the world, however, St. Peter points out how we can escape from the worldly corruption and become participants in the “divine nature.”
Here lies our potential. Our call in life is so much more and so much greater than simply focusing on some earthly, temporary, superficial pleasures and dreams. Even if we could be an Olympian and become the greatest athlete in the world, or if we could use our brains and intellect and become a world renown doctor or physicist or writer or whatever else we might dream about, as great as these accomplishments might seem, what are they in comparison to partaking in God’s nature and becoming one with our Creator!
Our potential as human beings is lifted up from any earthly, limited, finite boundary into an eternal, unending, and infinite journey in the Divine Love of God!
We can participate in God’s nature!!! Yet, to fulfill this potential we have to do something. Just as the Olympians couldn’t simply rely on their athletic potential but had to spend countless hours, days and years training, learning, growing, and perfecting their skill, the Apostle Peter teaches us that to fulfill our divine potential we must nurture “our faith with goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, affection, and love.” Divine grace is a gift that God gives us, helping us fulfill our potential, but we are co-workers with the Almighty and we must consciously and diligently cultivate the virtues that will increase our faith. By nourishing our faith we will participate in God’s nature.
Goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. Each of these are areas we must focus on if we are serious in our desire to “become participants in the divine nature.” We must give not just as much attention, but much more attention and time and effort to nurturing our faith than nurturing our pursuits for earthly and temporary dreams and pleasures.
Remember who you are. Remember the potential God has placed in each one of us. Remember “God’s precious and very great promises, so that through them we may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature.”
*The Russian Orthodox Church will celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ on August 19.