45 - Holy Transfiguration, August 6, 2017

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II Peter 1:10-19

Matthew 17:1-9

We began the Dormition Fast on Tuesday last with services for the Procession of the Precious Wood of the life-creating Cross. We will end the Dormition Fast with services to our beloved and Most Holy Theotokos.

There is an inner mystery that unites the two, as we can see in iconography and in liturgical texts. The mystery that unites them is the LORD’s Incarnation, His Passion and His Glorification. For, the Theotokos is the Ladder or Bridge by whom the Son of God descended and became flesh and dwelt among us (cf. Jn 1:14 & Jn 2:19) as the Son of Man; and the Cross is the Ladder or Bridge by which the Savior ascended back to heaven where He was before in the Glory He had with the Father before the world was (Jn 17:5). Through the Theotokos and the Cross, the way is open to us to become one with God, that He might be in us and we in Him (Jn 17:21) as partakers or communicants of the divine nature (II Pt 1:4). 

Today, we come to the Church as to Mt Tabor, as the Church says in her liturgical texts: “Come, let us go up with Jesus who ascends the holy mountain, and illumined in mind, let us gaze upon Light in light” (Vespers, LORD I call). But, the Church also instructs us on how we come to the Feast today that we may be illumined in mind, and even transformed in the light of the Holy Trinity, that we may become, with Peter, James and John, eyewitnesses (epoptai) of His Glory, as we heard in our epistle this morning (II Pt 1:16). “Let us purify ourselves,” the Church calls out, “and faithfully prepare for divine entry into the dwelling place of the transcendent God” (ibid).

How do we purify ourselves, how do we prepare that we may enter the dwelling place of the transcendent God that we may become with Peter, James and John not just eyewitnesses but even partakers, communicants of His Glory, radiant with the Light of the Holy Trinity? This, how we purify ourselves and prepare to enter the dwelling place of God, is what I hope we will see this morning.

In a word, through the Theotokos, we receive the Light who descends to dwell in us as in His holy temple; and, through the Cross, we ascend the Holy Mountain in the Glory of Christ’s Resurrection that we may dwell in the uncreated Light of the Holy Trinity, God in us and we in God, communicants of the divine nature born from above as children of God (cf. Jn 1:13 & 3:5 & 7).

At the Feast for the precious wood of the life-creating Cross when we began the Dormition Fast this Tuesday last, we heard: “Let creation rise up and rejoice, for the Cross has shone forth today from heaven, illumining those on earth. Shining forth more brightly than the sun, it illumines all creation with grace, and makes radiant and save those who honor it with faith” (Vespers at LORD I Call). Note how the Cross is transfigured in Glory just as is the LORD on Mt Tabor.

Forty days from now, we celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross; and the katavasia hymns for the Matins of Holy Transfiguration are from the Feast of the Elevation. The Feast of the Transfiguration opens a kind of Lenten season in which we will “pass over” from the falling asleep of the Theotokos to her birth as the Daughter of God, from the old year to the New Year, even from the beheading of JnBapt to his conception (on Sept 23).

We see from this liturgical structure how the Transfiguration of the Savior is one with His Cross, and how there is a transfiguration of the Theotokos within that mystery; from her Falling Asleep at the end of the old year to her birth, as the daughter of God, which appears liturgically as a likeness of her resurrection to begin the New Year. In this structure of the liturgical year, the movement of time is shown in the Church to be the life-creating movement of our transfiguration, or our passing over from death to life, rooted in the mystery of the two Ladders, the Theotokos and the Cross in whom we see Christ in the Glory (the Holy Spirit!) He has with the Father from before the world was.

On the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, there seems to be a parallel between the wood of the Cross and our human nature, so that the Cross transfigured and made to shine more brilliantly than the sun means that our human nature is transfigured and illumined with the uncreated radiance of God.

Through the Theotokos, Christ is able to descend into the tomb of our heart. We receive Him in the holy mysteries, the sacraments of the Church. We receive Him in His Holy Spirit in our baptism. In Holy Eucharist, we receive the Temple of His Body into the temple of our bodies, and our bodies become the Temple of God in which Christ dwells, destroying our death by His death and transfiguring the tomb of our heart into a bridal chamber in which we become one with God, partakers of His divine nature, God in us and we in Him.

And now, dear faithful, having received the LORD Jesus Christ not just in theory, not just in mind, but physically, concretely, as did the Theotokos, in the sacraments of the Church, we are called to purify ourselves, to prepare for divine entry into the dwelling-place of the transcendent God, the tomb of our heart now transfigured into a bridal chamber, and to go up with Jesus who ascends the holy mountain, there to see His Glory and to hear the voice of the Father in the Light of the Heavenly Spirit. How do we do that?

By taking up our Cross, the ladder by which we may ascend with Jesus Christ the Holy Mountain of Eden. Dear faithful, we are able to ascend the Holy Mountain noetically, in our mind, precisely because we don’t take up our Cross noetically, in our mind. We take it up concretely in a physical way. In obedience to the Church – for, obedience to Christ (and the Church is the Body of Christ) is the principle of creation, it is life-creating – we observe seasons of fasting in prayer, participating as fully as we can in the worship of the Church, making her liturgical rhythm to be the rhythm of our daily life, her altar the center of our life.

As we hear in the liturgical texts, the Cross shines with the Light of Christ on Mt Tabor and in Heaven in the Glory of His Resurrection. When we therefore take up our cross physically, concretely, in the ascetic disciplines of the Church, the wood of the Cross, i.e., the deified humanity of Christ is embodied in us and its divine, life-creating power becomes active in us, which is to say that the uncreated radiance of God, more brilliant than the sun, begins to shine in us, transfiguring us into the image and likeness of Christ our God Himself.

The centrality of the ascetic disciplines of the Cross in the Christian Faith is seen in our epistle this morning. St Peter prays that we his readers may become communicants of the divine nature, which we will do, however, as we flee the corrupting fleshly desires of the world; i.e., as we take up the cross. For, St Peter immediately shows us how we go about fleeing the corrupting desires of the flesh by putting before us a kind of “ladder”, i.e., the cross, that ascends from faith to virtue to knowledge of the unseen (gnosis) to self-control to patience to godliness to brotherly love to the love of God (1:5-7)

If in taking up the cross, this ladder of divine ascent, we are fleeing the corrupting desires of the flesh, are we not ascending the Holy Mountain and drawing near to Christ in His Glory?

This is what it is to die in Christ, to lose our life for His sake. To die in Christ is altogether different from dying as we would die if we are in the world. To die in Christ is immediately to begin ascending the Holy Mountain and to pass from darkness to light, from shame to glory, from death to life. In the very moment we die to anger, to lust, to gluttony, to vanity for the sake of Christ, in that moment we begin to live in the Glory of Christ.

This, dear faithful, is the essence of the Christian Faith; not simply to believe that Christ died on the cross for our sins, but to deny ourselves, to confess our sins, to receive Christ, and then to take up our cross in order to follow Christ in the fear of God, with faith and in love, that we may become lights shining in this dark world until the day dawns and the morning star, Christ our hope of Glory, shines in our hearts. Amen!