The Transfiguration—A lasting mystery

People today are always bragging about their achievements and the heights to which they think they have ascended, whether it’s in science or some other discipline. We boast that we have made the greatest discoveries, that we possess all knowledge, and that we have evolved at the highest levels, not only on earth but in the heights of heaven, in the cosmos. But despite all that, there is only one ascent that truly transforms and dignifies us: the ascent to the Lord’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Up there everything is pure, white, and shining, even brighter than the Sun. On this mysterious mountain, we encounter the heights of truth, love, and holiness. The light of the Transfiguration is the uncreated light of the Kingdom of God, which came into the world with the advent of Christ. Flooded by the light of Christ’s love, the divine disciples and apostles tasted the sweetness and glory of eternity in the Lord Jesus Christ on Tabor, in as much as they could bear.

Yesterday evening at festal hierarchical vespers, which was served by our beloved Elder, Bishop Partenij, the abbot of Bigorski Monastery, the Holy Monastery of Prečista shined with the joy of the light of Tabor. The hearts of all those present were especially warmed and cheered by the Elder’s consoling sermon about the joy of being with Christ and in Christ and living the Light of Tabor:

My beloved, may this great feast of the Lord that we started celebrating tonight, the Transfiguration of the Lord, be unto our spiritual strengthening and enlightenment. I would like to ask you to think back to Vespers and recall the three Old Testament passages that we read. The first two were from the Prophet Moses’s Book of Genesis, where the dialogue on Mount Sinai between the Lord God of Hosts and His servant Moses is presented, and the third was from the Book of Kings, where the Lord’s appearance to the Holy Prophet Elijah is described.

With these readings, first and foremost, the Church wants to remind us that God did not abandon humanity after the fall in the Garden of Eden, but rather constantly gave it strength and enlightened it through His angels, the prophets, and those who sought to do His Will. Therefore, He did not reject or forget His creation, but He constantly called out to it, instructed it, and transformed it. With such great love, Providence brought up humanity in such a spirit that it could come to know the Triune Godhead in the incarnation of the Son of God and the grace-filled actions of the Holy Spirit. Through the incarnation of the Son and Word of God here on Earth, God revealed Himself to the world in His fullness and perfection. In the person of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, we come to know the Faith revealed by God Himself, the only Truth. In Him, the Truth became available for everyone to contemplate. The human person, though mortal by nature, was allowed to experience God Himself, to dwell in His Light, to commune with His Glory, so that mortal humans could pass into immortality, become light itself, be deified through the Divine Light, and become gods by grace.

The Church calls out to us and lifts us up to these exalted things through this feast and the divine services we celebrate for it. When the Son of God wanted to strengthen the disciples’ faith in His Divinity before His Crucifixion, “He led them up on a high mountain by themselves, and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.”  “As much as they were able,” the apostles became witnesses to and participants in a measure of Christ’s Divine light and glory, where He dwells constantly together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. While the Apostles were thus outside themselves, they cried out: “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah(Matthew 17:1-2,4). It is God’s beauty that our souls are perpetually longing for. They find themselves in an endless longing for that Divine light, out of which and for which they were created. Essentially, this is communion with God. This is because they were created by Him and thus seek after Him. This is why the human soul cannot be calmed by anything else except the true knowledge of God, by which we mean communion with God and assimilation into God’s image. The Apostles’ words on this are indisputable: It is good for us to be here!

The Feast of the Wondrous Transfiguration, my beloved, calls us to just such a knowledge of God. As we know from the Church’s mystical experience and riches, the feasts of the Church are not just a memory, some kind of factual recollection of something that once happened historically. Of course, they are also that, but more importantly, they are true, grace-filled life and experience of salvific events, and as such, we are directly involved in them. In the Church and in its holy mysteries, we constantly live today’s feast and are transfigured. This is what we are called to today. Let’s transform ourselves from carnal into spiritual people, into people of God’s light, which is the purpose of our existence. It was not by chance, but to teach us an important lesson, that God called Moses to Mount Tabor, as he had long since passed away, as well as Elijah, who had ascended to Heaven. God wished to show us that it is He Who unifies the earthly and spiritual worlds, that it is He Who rules over the souls of both the living and the dead, and that in Him there are no dead, but all are alive.

Thus, in the Church, we live the Transfiguration every day. Isn’t the greatest transfiguration the Liturgy itself? Through the action of the Holy Spirit, ordinary bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ and then transform us as well, if we receive them with reverence, faith, and love. Isn’t monasticism a round-the-clock personal transfiguration of the soul that has chosen God and devoted itself entirely to Him? Isn’t it the mystery of the Transfiguration when a person is called by God and renounces everything in this world, and lives an assuredly very difficult, monastic life? It is a complete transformation of the person. That is why the monk even changes his name. Every day he tries to be a stranger to this world, to not have any dealings with it, to not even notice it. Of course, he sees the world with the eyes of the body, but nothing in the world should tempt him or draw him in. He should not remember this world. In one of the vows during the service of monastic tonsure, the monk promises, among other things, that he will not worry about anything in the world unnecessarily or without a blessing. It does not mean that we hate the world, no, but rather the evil and sin that are at work in it. Monks voluntarily remove themselves from the world, so that through their personal transformation, silently fighting the evil within themselves, they can also transform the world. The monk’s life becomes one constant transfiguration in which he becomes one with God, flowing into the Divine Light.

Most of you here are married people. You should know that marriage is also a mysterious transfiguration, a blessed journey toward eternity. This is because spouses make a vow to each other, they promise that their marriage will be a movement towards perfecting their love for each other and for God, that it will be a transformation and deification in the light of God’s beauty. So, marriage is also a great feat of personal correction and spiritual perfection. There is no person without mistakes, weaknesses, or failures, and as a result, it is not at all easy to suffer and endure someone else’s weaknesses for the rest of your life. From the creation of the world until now, there have never been two completely identical persons, with the same characters, desires, and thoughts. God, That great transcendent Mind, created and coded all humans to be different. So, isn’t it a mystery of the Transfiguration that two characters, two different personalities, two completely independent identities merge into one body and one spirit, to become one before the Lord? For the perfect realization of this mystery, you need the same effort and struggle as we do in monasticism, and as a result, both life paths are equally blessed by the Church.

Such exalted things are found only in our faith that has been revealed by God. I think that perhaps now, like never before in the past two thousand years, we can see and ascertain what Christianity means to the world and what great contributions it has made, and on the other hand, what it means when people depart from Him and forget Christ. Take a look at the Christian nations of Europe of today, including our own, because that same spiritual desolation is happening here, and what we have become. Where are our human dignity, spiritual purity, moral maturity, fairness, common sense, and moderation? They are drying up, they are disappearing. Quite simply, there is no universal moral principle that has not been trampled over and is not in dire crisis. Everything that the human race has achieved, all its achievements and discoveries which, by the way, can be very useful in our transformation into the light of God and for the acquisition of salvation and eternal life, all this has been misused. Just look at how we can openly say that technology is now equated with the satisfaction of our basest passions, which is not because technology is bad by nature, but because man abuses it to the extreme. And there will never be complete satisfaction of the passions. The improperly directed internal energies of the soul and body grow into passions, and these, in turn, are measured with hell. It is true that heavenly beauty has no end and cannot be measured, because it is Divine and endless. But we also see that there is no end to evil. What have we turned into today? Evil all around us, and evil in ourselves too.

But, my beloved, that’s why we said that through its feast days, the Church shows us, reminds us what our goal is because we really are here for a very short time. I rejoice to see your faces gathered here, in this Tabor of ours that our ancestors built. And they built it because they knew that the most beautiful thing is to be with Christ. Lord, it is good for us to be here! They knew from experience that by building churches, temples, and monasteries, they would achieve the goal of being with Christ. To see His beauty, to be illuminated by His light. We heard in the Old Testament readings that God said to Moses: “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” God’s essence has no face, no flesh, no form, and we cannot describe it in any way. Above all, God is Spirit. And then God said to the prophet: “So it shall be, when My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back(Exodus 33:20-23). The God-seer Moses, therefore, saw some incomprehensible and indescribable light, but he was not able to endure it because it was so strong, so God sheltered him in the crack of a rock. And now, my beloved, after the incarnation of the Son and the Word of God, we can see His face on an icon. We saw Him here on Earth and beat Him, spit on His cheeks, and crucified Him. Even today, we crucify Him with our actions, but He does not leave us. He loves us. We, on the other hand, have come here to look at Him, not only in the icons, but even more strongly, to look at Him in our neighbors, to contemplate Him on the inside, in our hearts, in His most beloved home. While I was reading the verses, I cried when God spoke to Moses: “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name(Exodus 33:17). Imagine, God obeys His servant because He found a good heart in him, a place where He can settle and dwell. At that time, it was difficult for God to find a friend on Earth. If you read the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, you will see that the friends of God were rare, those people with big and innocent hearts, such as Moses, Jacob, Elijah, and all the Old Testament prophets up to St. John the Baptist. But with the incarnation of the Lord Christ, He makes us all His friends. Therefore, let us not be ungrateful, let us not leave Him, but let us live the Transfiguration from now until eternity, where one day we will all be together in His light and glory. Because, as the Divine Paul says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead…For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive(1 Corinthians 15:19,22).

May you all be blessed and have a joyous feast of the Transfiguration!