Sermon of His Eminence, Bishop Parthenius of Antania, Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, delivered at the Vespers on the feast of the Transfiguration at the Prechista monastery on August 18th, 2020 AD
Let us be grateful to God, my dear ones, for he has made us worthy of celebrating the Eve of this great feast-The Transfiguration of our Lord.
Those of you who read the Holy Gospel, know that this unusual event from the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ, happened right before the beginning of His passions and the Crucifixion. He took his three disciples, Peter, Jacob, and John with Him, climbed with them on Mount Tabor and He transfigured in front of them. And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. (Matthew 17,2), says the Evangelist. He transfigured to strengthen their faith, showing them the fullness of his Divine nature, but also introducing the mystery of the Cross, of the Crucifixion, as well as the reason for His coming to Earth, and that is the deification of the man, so the man can regain his Divine dignity. The Lord transfigured in front of His three disciples, who, according to the tradition of the Holy Fathers, represent in a symbolical way the three fundamental virtues: faith, hope, and love. And He blazed them with His Divine glory to the point they could bear, that is, to the extent human nature was able to see and bear. Thus, they became witnesses of his majesty (2. Peter 1,16), witnesses of His Divine light, participants of His uncreated energies.
During the Transfiguration, the Lord had a conversation with the two Old Testament Prophets, the righteous Moses, and Elias, showing in this way, that He is the God of the living and the dead, or more precisely, that in Him everyone is alive. After that, a bright cloud covered Mount Tabor and a voice from Heaven was heard: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. (Matthew 17,5)
With this unusual transformation and with the statement of the Father, the Son of God ascertained the disciples of His Divine nature, but also showed them, that only through obedience man can reach the state of deification and fulfil his calling, the original predestination of his creation – to be the son of God by grace. Because, as we know from the Scripture every human is created in God’s image and likeness. The image of God represents the reasoning, and the likeness of God is actually, the holiness that God endowed us with, but we lost it after the original sin, turning Earth into hell and a valley of misery. To restore our likeness to God, we need to cherish the Christian obedience and humbleness towards God, manifested through the obedience to the Church, which is His Body.
The beauty of being close to God cannot be described and explained. We can conclude this from the words of apostle Peter, who have felt the Divine grace of God, the beauty of His presence, the amazing love that caressed their hearts, exclaimed as if enchanted: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. (Matthew 17,4) Simply, he wanted to stay in that blissful state forever. He and the two other Apostles tasted the bliss of eternity, of Paradise.
The grace of our Lord’s Transfiguration is not given exclusively to those three Apostles, Peter, Jacob, and John. Of course, they were the only one present on Mount Tabor at that time, but, after the Resurrection and the Ascension of God and after Pentecost, the graceful light of Mount Tabor can be felt by every dedicated Christian. It is present in the Holy Mysteries of the Church, especially in the Divine Liturgy, in which the uncreated energies of God can be powerfully felt. Through them, the faithful are made holy. At every Liturgy, the Holy Sacraments, the bread and the wine, through the Holy Spirit transform into the Body and the Blood of Christ and through them, we unite with God.
The communion with God’s energies also takes place through the prayer of the mind in the heart. You know, during the monastic tonsure, the monks give vows that they will strive to practice the Jesus prayer at all time, unconditionally, according to apostle Paul: Pray without ceasing (Thess. 5,17). Aiming at unceasing prayer, the monks usually built their dwellings in high places, on mountains, and in the desert. These monastic dwellings are the tabernacles that the Apostle Peter spoke about in Divine exaltation. Those who completely dedicated their hearts to God, who wanted to be near Him and with Him forever, to climbed high and distant places, to be able to communicate freely with Him.
However, this internal desire to be in the beauty of God’s presence goes not only for the monks but also for all the people. For he who has tasted the sweetness of God’s grace knows that there can be nothing more beautiful. All the worldly joy, luxury, and pleasure can never be compared to the joy, love, and peace that come from God. By His grace, the man returns to his true, natural state and fulfils his predestination. Those, on the other hand, who have not experienced that spiritual sweetness, do not know what the real and permanent joy is like. When I was in my first year at the Seminary, we had a professor who liked visually explaining things, with comparisons. Once, he wanted to explain to us what grace is, what it means to be close to God. He told us: “My children, if a person has not tasted a beautiful cake or something sweet, however, you try to explain to him what that taste is like he would never be able to understand it. It is the same with grace. If someone does not taste it personally, you can hardly explain what it means.”
And the way to get near it is indicated in today’s event, where God taught us that we should rise up, above every worldly, vain thing, above the passions that drag us down to the hell of this world, to the darkness of egoism. It is essential, therefore, to rise up spiritually, in order to reach the place of the Divine grace. For that, as mentioned before, we need humble obedience. Because, it was not the Apostles who took Christ on Tabor, but rather He took them: And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart (Matthew 17,1). The egoism that we all have within us, because of our fallen nature, can be overcome only through obedience. On the contrary, the egoism will always hold us anchored down. Egoism is the fulfilment of passions. That is what makes someone an egoist. The person who surrenders himself to the passions, always trying to fulfil them, does not think of anybody, does not care for anyone, even for the close ones. Thinking that he is happy and pleased, he actually builds his hell and endless disaster.
Therefore, my dear monks and faithful – practice holy obedience! You, younger ones are obedient to the elderly, but also your elders are obedient to the young. In fact, the elders serve the younger ones in goodness. The Bishop serves the clergy and the faithful and vice versa. In marriage, the so-called small Church is the same: the wife is invited to be obedient to the husband, but also the husband should serve his wife. This is Christianity whose benefit is the Holy Mystery of marriage. After all, everything that is beautiful, noble, sublime comes from Christianity, because its Creator and Founder of the Church is the One who is the Light, the Way of Life and the Truth – Christ our Lord.
Having been given such a great responsibility, my dear ones, let us pray to the Saints of the heavenly Church, so that the Lord may hear the prayers of the members of the earthly Church, and have mercy, making the miracle of the transfiguration of all those who live in ignorance and darkness. So that they could seek Him, the Most Wonderful, with all their hearts, to take part in the grace of His light and become true Christians, children of God, people of worship.
Let us always remember the grace of this feast, which shows us what the purpose of our life is – the union with Him, so that we could exclaim in this life: Lord, it is good for us to be here! Then His presence will overwhelm our soul with affection and sweetness so that it will be very nice not only for us but also for those around us. To be a Christian means that you should be light; carrying the blaze of Tabor in your soul.
Forgive me and pray that all feel the sweet beauty of God’s grace!