“Thou was transfigured upon Mt. Tabor, O Jesus, and a shining cloud, spread out like a tent, covered the Apostles with Thy glory! Their gaze fell to the ground, because they could not bear to look upon the brightness of the unapproachable glory of Thy face, O Savior Christ…our God Who art without beginning! Do Thou Who has shone upon them with Thy Light, give light now to our souls!”
These past two days we have been celebrating the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord. The Vespers and Divine Liturgy for the feast offered us such hymns as the one above, giving color and depth to what we read about it in the Gospel of Matthew. The Church does this so beautifully in all of its sacred feasts, and if we take the time to really study the ancient services, we gain a deeper appreciation and love for these feasts every single time they come around!
Hearing the hymns, blessing and eating the fruit, and gazing upon the icons are all wonderful ways in which we understand the feast days, but what I wanted to draw our attention to in this article is what we are supposed to DO with it in our lives. I was reading from the works of St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain this week, who really has a wonderful gift for relating the spiritual life to simple folks like me. He once said:
“According to Abba Isaac, Wisdom that is not based on righteous activity, is a deposit of disgrace.
There are many people who are interested in sports, who read magazines and newspapers while they are sitting down. They may all be like the fatted calf, but they still marvel at the athletes! “He is marvelous! He is great! Bravo!” Yet, they don’t work up any sweat and they don’t lose any pounds! They read and read about athletic events, and then they go lie down and gain nothing! They are satisfied with the pleasure of reading.
The same is often done by some people who read spiritual things. They may spend the whole night reading spiritual books with great intensity and be content. They take a spiritual book, sit comfortably, and begin reading. “Oh, I profited from that” they say…but this is not profit. We profit when we understand what we read, when we censure ourselves and discipline ourselves by applying it. What does this mean and where do I stand in relation to this spiritual truth? What must I do now?””
If we are to follow the words of St. Paisios, we should all be asking ourselves the following questions after celebrating the Feast of Transfiguration
1.) What have I learned this year from the Feast of Transfiguration? News flash, if you didn’t participate in the feasting, the answer is “nothing”. But know that despite your absence, you were prayed for!
2.) The second, and equally important question: “What do I do now?”
We are given this tremendous Grace on Transfiguration…this promise that we are destined to be something much greater than what we have ever known in this life. We are called to a connection with God that goes beyond our imagination! What do I do with this tremendous blessing when I leave the four walls of the Church today? We climb the mountain dear ones. We don’t just sit here and learn about it. We do something about it!
Doing something, rather than sitting on our couches, requires effort and nourishment. St. Paisios tells us that we have to take our “Spiritual vitamins” in order to begin our ascent. This is a rather fitting term isn’t it? In a physical climb up a mountain, we rely on strengthening our bodies through good nutrients and water. We take vitamins to make us stronger so we can endure the climb! Spiritual vitamins work the same way! They are completely necessary if we are to begin to grow in our relationship with God! And we have a treasure trove of spiritual vitamins with which to strengthen us.
We already mentioned two spiritual vitamins in this article! Coming to the Major Feast days of the Church, listening and reading the hymns that were composed millennia ago that describe what exactly God has done for us, and what we must do in order to move towards Him! If we never opened one book about the Spiritual Life, coming to all of the services would be more than enough spiritual vitamins for us to climb the mountain towards God!
Reading the lives of the Saints is another Spiritual Vitamin! How did they begin their ascent? What things did they do in their life to be able to reflect that light on Mt. Tabor? We can get a jolt of energy by reading their actions and their words, but as St. Paisios said, it isn’t enough to get inspired. Taking a spiritual vitamin might make us feel better and stronger, but it goes to waste unless we do something with it!
Perhaps the strongest spiritual vitamin that leads to action that is given to us, and one in which we hear about directly in the Gospels, is that of prayer. There are numerous transcripts and writings of the saints, examples in scripture, homilies, and books written about the incredible power of prayer and how it literally transfigures us and changes us. But reading these books about prayer and hearing about its importance from a priest on Sunday isn’t enough.
Drawing closer to God through prayer requires effort on our part. If anyone reading this has never had a regular prayer rule, has never said morning prayers or evening prayers, or have never made it a part of their daily routine to escape the noise of the world and to quiet their mind to pray to God every single day…what is stopping you? What is holding you back? Whatever it is, rid yourself of it…because it is of no profit to you!
Living as a Christian requires effort dear ones! This is how we get to the top of the mountain to be united with God and to experience the Divine Life and Light that mankind was destined for, no matter how many times the devil tries to trip us up! As we continue in these holy days of fasting and preparation, my prayer for our parish family is that we not only take the time to be inspired and in awe of the Feasts like Transfiguration, but that we make the effort to transform our lives in such a way, that we don’t only stare up at Mt. Tabor…but that we begin to climb it to reach new heights in our relationship with God and with each other.