A sermon of His Eminence, Bishop of Antania, Parthenius, Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, delivered on the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord, at the Holy Liturgy in the Monastery of the Immaculate Holy Mother of God in Kichevo, on August 19, 2021
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
Today, my dear ones, with great joy and honour, we celebrate the glorious Transfiguration of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, before the eyes of His three disciples on Mount Tabor. We can surely say that Christianity cannot be understood without this Divine Transfiguration that God manifested right before His crucifixion. In fact, today’s holiday shows us the purpose of the coming of our Saviour Christ to Earth, and that is to transform, renew, recreate the world and humanity in the light of His Divine love, as well as to establish and open the door to the eternal Kingdom – where all the people of Christ will dwell, from Adam to the present day, transformed and blessed to live in the light of the Triune God.
After the hard climbing to Mount Tabor, which represents the necessary struggle for spiritual ascension, the Lord began to pray before His disciples Peter, James and John and was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His raiment became as bright as the light (Matthew 17: 2). In essence, Christ manifested part of his true Divine nature; presented himself as he has always been. The miracle is not the fact that the Word and Son of God shone with His uncreated light, but rather the fact that He – the perfect God and Creator, became a man and concealed His Deity with human nature. And he did it only to be able to approach people, because man cannot stand before the Divine light and nature. That is why in the troparion of the Feast we have heard many times that Christ revealed His glory to the disciples to the extent that they could perceive, according to their human nature.
The Lord was transfigured before His disciples just before the beginning of His passion on the cross, to support them in the coming struggles, but also to show them that through the cross and suffering they will achieve their own personal transformation, resurrection, and ascension to the Heavenly Kingdom, to which, of course, we all aspire. There, in the Land of the Eternal Living, in the new Heaven and the New Earth (Rev. 21: 1), in the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22), where all the Saints dwell along with all who got to love God. Today the Lord has shown us the reality of that Homeland by calling the Prophets Moses and Elijah to speak to Him not as if He Were any of the other Prophets, but rather addressed Him as a sovereign God Who gives resurrection. Although Moses had been dead for centuries and his soul, like the souls of all the Old Testament Prophets, was asleep in the darkness of Hades, He summoned him from the dark realm for a moment just to talk to him on Mount Tabor. He is the One Who once upon a time, having given for the second time the Tablets of the Law to Moses, revealed to His beloved only a part of His Divine glory. Namely, when Prophet Moses asked God to show him His glory, the Lord answered him: you will see Me from behind, but you will not be able to see My face (Exodus 33:23). Of course, this should not be taken literally and assume that God has a back, but rather implies that it is impossible for man to see the face of God, i.e., see the face of the One Who is essentially an immeasurable light, an incomprehensible love and beauty, incomparably more beautiful than all that is most beautiful – something that cannot simply be grasped by any human language. The same Moses now, having been reposed for centuries, is summoned by the Saviour and the Risen One. He once spoke to Moses through the cloud, in the foggy Mount Sinai, and now speaks to him in His uncreated light and the Prophet sees the face of Christ as a God and Man. After the Resurrection of Christ, all the righteous men from Adam to St. John entered the eternal Kingdom and recognized each other in the light of Christ. This is the meaning of this holiday, that we should all strive for that Kingdom of the eternal life in order to recognize all those who have aspired and strove for the light of Christ. Let us see all the Saints, and our ancestors and contemporaries endowed with a sacrificial love for God and men and let us pray one day to be all together in the City of the Saints, in the Heavenly Jerusalem. Christ united His disciples with Himself, made them partakers of the uncreated energy of God. And everything that is united with Him will be saved and will be eternal. On one occasion the God-man Christ says: whoever comes to Me, I will not cast him out (John 6:37); and elsewhere: I came not to judge the world, but to save the world (John 12:47), while in His prayer to God the Father, He prayed thus: I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. (John 17: 11-12).
With the event of the Transfiguration, my dear ones, the Lord calls us all to His uncreated light. He calls us to transform our lives from bad to good; to come out of the darkness, from the darkness of wrong thoughts and deeds in which we live, and to rise to the light of God. Christ became man to make us gods by grace, bearers of His light. He says in the Gospel: I am the light of the world (John 8:12), and elsewhere: You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). With this he seems to want to tell us: “I created you in My own image and likeness. In the image, because I have given you reason, eloquence and godliness, and in the likeness – to become Divine like Me, to be the light as I am “. We carry the image of God within us, but we should acquire the likeness in this life. How? He Himself gave us the answer with the example of an immeasurable and utter humility, from His birth in Bethlehem to the crucifixion at Golgotha. He showed us that salvation and Divinity cannot be attained and that we cannot become residents of the Kingdom of the Eternal Living, unless we humble ourselves.
The loving Christ, therefore, wants to save us all through His Divine love. That is why he founded His Holy Church, which is, above all, the Church of the living God, the pillar and stronghold of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Here, in the Church, especially at the Holy Liturgy, we meet Christ in His Divine light and many things become clear and revealed to us; Something inexplicably beautiful happens to us, like it did to Apostle Peter, who today during the Transfiguration cried out: Lord, it is good for us to be here (Matthew 17: 4). Here we are enlightened by rays of the Heavenly Kingdom, from the light of our Savior Christ, from the Triune God, and then everything will be clearer, if we really try to get there with all our heart.
The church is, consequently, the ship of salvation. For the people outside the Church, we say that they live in ignorance and darkness, but, as I have noticed lately, it is more frightening that many of the Christians who are in the Church – deviate from the Christian path. We are witnessing a terrible phenomenon in the Church: everyone wants to teach, to interpret, to preach, to prophesy… the social networks are filled with various “concerned preachers”, who may have read one or more books, browsed something on the Internet and we see that they immediately became “theologians”. In this context, yesterday a spiritual child came to me for confession and, among other things, told me how he came across a man who works as a security guard, who started talking to him about the Revelation, the number 666, that the covid vaccines contain the mark of the beast and so on. At the same time, he “warned” that in the Church nobody speaks about it, that all Bishops and Priests are corrupt and that under the pressure of the authorities they hide it all, etc. Just imagine – such a theological “expert” and a true “Orthodox” is given public space for preaching. Absurd! You know very well what is happening on social networks nowadays. Therefore, be careful, keep your soul humble and joyful, abiding in the Church, which alone sails towards the port of salvation. Nowhere in the Gospel does the Lord Christ say that in the last days there will remain only a certain Elder, or an Abbot, a Bishop, a Priest, who will speak the truth, and all the others will supposedly go astray. No, there is no such thing anywhere in the Gospel. Rather, He says: I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). The Church as the Body of Christ, as a community of the faithful, will remain until the end of the world as a criterion of what is true and what is false. So, it is catholicity in the Church which is the true criterion according to which we should grow and learn from it, and not some individuals or groups on social networks. Investigate it by yourself: What are they? Are they theologians? Bishops? Priests? Monks? Even if someone is a Bishop, or an Elder or a monk or a priest, if his opinion is not in accordance with the catholicity of the Church, then we cannot accept it. Only catholicity is the measure of truth.Speaking of the current issues regarding vaccines, let us emphasize once again that they should by no means be turned into a theology, nor should they be treated as an ecclesiastical issue. If anyone should have doubts, uncertainties, let him consult with his personal doctor, or with some other specialist and a competent institution. It is not the job of the clergy to talk about the effectiveness of or danger from vaccines. Let us not confuse these things, because, otherwise, you see, it humiliates us all, makes us primitive, decadent, it humiliates Christianity, which is a faith of enlightenment, of the sublime. Moreover, let us not forget that the Church of Christ has always supported and encouraged medicine. The apostle and evangelist Luke, for example, was a physician by profession. The first organized hospitals and medical centers were founded at the monasteries. So, God bless doctors and medical science. And now we find that some of those uneducated “scholars” know everything, they understand both medical science and virology, they know exactly what vaccines contain and they write about it all. So be careful not to trust anyone who writes about this topic online. Today there is a great danger from such ignorant people, because they are given a lot of space on social networks. St. John the Theologian, even at a time when there was no internet and when mockers and ignorant people did not have such opportunities to spread their influence, still felt the need to warn Christians: check the spirits: are they from God, because many false prophets have appeared in the world (1 John 4: 1). Because we know that even back then there were those in the Church who dared to say something that disagrees with the apostolic teaching. Therefore, my dear ones, let us open our hearts today, so that we could understand the message of the Transfiguration of our Savior, Who calls us all to that bliss, to holiness, to the uncreated light. The apostles felt so good that they did not want this feeling to end. Let us cling to Christ, let us make our souls palaces for Him, let us ask of Him, with humility and gratitude, to reveal Himself to us even in this life through His uncreated Divine energies. Through them we will overcome all the temptations in life because life is a permanent crucifix, and that means suffering, but at the same time it means transfiguration and resurrection. The sufferings we must endure are the medicine that will heal us and bring us closer to Christ, only if we are grateful to Him for everything in life, and give Him the glory and honor He deserves, worshiping Him together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen!