Today, we continue the celebration of one of my favorite feasts of the Year, just behind Christmas and Pascha, The Holy Transfiguration of our Lord! In the middle of fasting and remembering the holiness of the Theotokos, we take a pause to get a glimpse of the Kingdom!
The Transfiguration wasn’t just some small miracle or a footnote in the earthly ministry of our Lord. It is, rather, the very center of our salvation. In this feast, our future is revealed to us and our destiny as Christians is shown to us. That common future that all those who are moving towards Christ are called to share is revealed on Mt. Tabor.
One of the truly beautiful teachings in Orthodoxy, is that this Glory…this Kingdom of Heaven…is something that we can experience in this life. Even today, it is possible with us to reflect and be engulfed by what many Fathers and Mothers of the Church call “The Light of Tabor”; the Energies of God entering into our very being, bringing indescribable heavenly joy.
The way to get there is given to us in the Gospel of Luke…three short words in the Transfiguration account that describe this process that the Church calls “Theosis”, or a “union with God”. Jesus went up to the mountain…and “as He prayed…the appearance of His face was altered…and His robe became white and glistening”.
Our Lord is teaching us something very fundamental and basic. You want the Kingdom? Do you want your own Transfiguration by Grace? Do you desire your Own Sight and The Peace of God? Be assured that it is coming to you…BY PRAYER.
Personal Transfiguration, reflecting the Glory of God, isn’t some fairytale that we read to our Children. It is a reality. One of the ways that I have been trying to warm my heart during these past several months, is to read more of the lives of the Saints. I cannot tell you how many real examples we have of people that witnessed this same Divine Light emanating from Holy Men and Women while they were in prayer.
Perhaps one of the more famous ones that many of you have read in classes with me, is the story of Motovilov, sitting in the woods and having a conversation with St. Seraphim of Sarov, who while He was praying, became too bright for Motovilov to look at Him! The Divine Light shone all around the forest where they were sitting, and enveloped both the Saint and Motovilov. They just sat in the midst of the snow, basking in the radiance.
When St. Seraphim asked Motovilov how he felt, he responded with words like: “indescribably calm…extraordinary sweetness…extraordinary joy….extraordinary warmth…and the smell, like nothing on earth that could match this fragrance.” Those of you who have been in the presence of Holiness at a weeping Icon know what smell this is!
St. Seraphim is but one example. Saint Paisios, a wonderful Saint of our own lifetimes, called these moments: “Sweet Candies from God’s Pastry Shop!” There is a wonderful story written by a young man who travelled the world looking for answers to deep spiritual questions. His travels once took him into the presence of Saint Paisios, who showed him first hand what holiness feels like:
“As we reached the gate, I was again in a spiritual state of watchful inebriation. Looking down at me from his yard, the Elder started making jokes about “God’s Pastry Shop.” I felt so joyful…it was even embarrassing. I didn’t want to leave his presence…
The elder then placed his hands on my head and momentarily lifted up his eyes to heaven. I was flooded by a spiritual torrent. I felt such a fullness of light and life…of peace and joy…that it took my breath away. Words are insufficient to express what I felt…it was beyond all measurement and comparison…”
I think that sometimes, we fall into this trap of thinking that our faith is a kind of Western Moralism. “Do the Right thing, don’t sin…pray every once in a while…and you will get into heaven.” But there is a depth of our faith and our relationship with God that goes SO MUCH deeper than that. There are spiritual aspects of our nature that we simply don’t make the time for in our busy secular lives. There is a real connection that can be made with God…something indescribable and beyond any joy that we can receive from the material world. This taste of heaven, which is brought on by prayer, is shown to us at the Feast of the Transfiguration. The joys of the Kingdom are available to us right here and right now, if we only decide to start walking the path towards that eternal blessedness.
Until we get to that moment, and while we are practicing our own prayer, may we all continue to be inspired by both the Lives of the Saints, and by the Holy Feasts like Transfiguration, which are there to remind us that we too are destined for indescribable Joy that can only be found in the arms of God.