|45 - TO BE SAVED IS TO BE TRANSFIGURED, August 7 2022|
1 Corinthians 1.10 – 18
Matthew 14.14 – 22
We are coming into the end of meteorological summer when we come into the season of the Falling Asleep, the Dormition, of Our Blessed Lady Theotokos. Nature is in its full glory, creation’s way of praising the beauty and goodness of the LORD’s Mother and bearing witness to the eternal joy hidden in Her falling asleep. On Pascha, we rejoiced in the bodily resurrection of Her Son and our God who, by His death, destroyed death. In the Dormition of the Mother of God, we rejoice in the goodness of the LORD who protects His Holy Ones. For, as the first creature to enter into the Resurrection of the LORD, the Theotokos bears witness in Her Falling Asleep to the real hope that those who love the LORD live in: those who believe in Him—those who love Him and seek to do His will—even though they die, yet they shall live.
Indeed, we begin to live in the mystery of the Theotokos’ Dormition even now as soon as we turn to Her Son and our God and begin following Him. From our own experience we may experience that in the very moment we deny ourselves and take up our cross and put to death what’s earthly in us we feel ourselves coming to life.
We make our way to the Theotokos’ Dormition in the mystery of the LORD transfigured on the Mount. Seeing Him transfigured in the Body He received from His Mother, the Holy Virgin, we see the ‘heavenly pattern’ that was revealed to Moses on Mt Sinai and that the tabernacle of Israel with all its appointments, ablutions and sacrifices was the copy of. We see the LORD appearing to Moses in the Burning Bush on Mt Horeb, (Ex 3.3ff). We see the LORD appearing to Elijah in the gentle breeze on the mountain. (1 Kgs 19) But we also see the Fire of the LORD that came down from heaven on Mount Carmel to consume the sacrifice of Elijah and to rout the priests of Ba’al (1 Kgs 18), revealing Himself as the only True God of Israel.
But all of these prophetic images are the same as what happens to the faithful when they receive the Fire of God’s Holy Spirit upon them in their baptism, and in the confession of their sins, when they are purged and made worthy to receive the Fire of God as their food and drink in Holy Eucharist.
This all bears witness to the mystery of our salvation in Christ. If you want to say that we receive a message, a doctrine, then understand that the doctrine is directing us to a way of living that is no longer a living in the world but in the mystery of Christ God incarnate, living in the mystery of His Body that He received from His Holy Mother, the Theotokos, and that He transfigured and deified and filled with the Fire of His Glory, and that He then gives to us through the hands of His holy apostles, the bishops and priests of His Church, to transfigure us bodily and spiritually so that we become divine fire and our death becomes the death of death and the beginning of life everlasting in the resurrection of Christ.
This is a hidden mystery. Worldly eyes cannot see it. It is known in the inner man of those who believe. It is ‘seen’ in an unseeing way by our spirit. It is known truly precisely because it is not a school of ideas that one ‘knows’ discursively; it is known in faith, and faith is knowledge that cannot be rationally demonstrated because faith is a supranatural relationship through which, in an unknowable and so undemonstrable manner, we are united to God in a union that is beyond intellection. [Philo II, St Maximos, 190]. It is not, that is to say, a set of ideas the learning of which makes one ‘smart.’ It is a mystery of becoming united to God that transfigures one body and soul, that makes one a ‘new creation,’ that makes one to be alive in God in one’s ‘inner man,’ so that even though one dies, yet one lives because what dies in one’s body and soul is not the life of Christ that now lives in the believer but the death that separated us from God.
In the Church, then, we are not in love with ideas, as beautiful as those ideas are. We are in love with God and with His Son and with His Holy Mother; we are in love with the saints; we are in love with people made in the image of God. We rejoice in one another because we have received the Heavenly Spirit; we have received the LORD, the Giver of Life; we have received the living Fire of God who now burns in us as He burned in the Bush on Mt Horeb that was not consumed; as He burned in the womb of the Most Blessed Virgin, and far from consuming us in His Fire, the Holy Spirit makes us to be all Fire, He makes us to become mothers of God; He makes our bodies and souls that were dead in sins and trespasses to be alive and transfigured in the Glory of His all-consuming Fire; He makes us who were darkness to be Light; He transfigures our hearts, the sanctuary of our inner man, from being a tomb that housed a dead soul into a bridal chamber that houses the Heavenly Bridegroom, who comes to us in our fallenness, and becomes bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh, so that we can become bone of His bones, flesh of His flesh, so that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us, transfiguring us body and soul, deifying us through faith, through a ‘relational power that brings about the immediate, perfect and supranatural union of the believer with the God in whom he believes.’ [Philo II, St Maximos, 189]
In the beauty and mystery of the LORD God becoming flesh of the Holy Virgin, creation is transfigured. In the Church, we enter into the mystery of this transfiguration of creation in its movement of time. The Feast of Transfiguration, on Aug 6, begins a 40 day period, a kind of lent, that concludes on the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross on Sept 14. This Lenten period was heralded by the Feast of the Procession of the Cross on Aug 1. In this Lenten period, we ‘pass over’ from the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos on Aug 15 to Her birth as the Daughter of God on Sept 8. We pass over from the old year into the New Year of the Church. Do you see how the ‘pascha’ of the Theotokos, Her passing over from Her Dormition to Her Nativity, shows us as it were the substance of our transfiguration in Christ? And that to be transfigured in Christ is to be translated from death to life, and that this is if you will the ‘face’ of salvation in Christ; and that our transfiguring salvation is realized and experienced in the Theotokos, not apart from Her; for the mystery of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us would not have happened without the Holy Virgin’s loving obedience to the will of God? And that He did become flesh of the Holy Virgin means that salvation is not the cognitive embracing of a school of ideas. It is a mystery of flesh and spirit. It is the renewing transformation of our body and soul by which we become temples of God, even mothers of God! It is an inner experience of joy, of light, of hope, of a heart that is being transfigured from stone to flesh. Can you see how the very structure of the Church’s liturgical seasons, centered as they are on the mystery of the Theotokos’ Pascha and of the LORD’s Pascha that takes place wholly within the maternal embrace of Her birth and death, reveals the ‘essence’ of salvation in Christ to be the love of the Son for His Mother, and the love of the Mother for Her Son?
That is, to take up our cross, as we will do on Sept 14, in order to be transfigured body and soul, in order to be saved in the love of Christ and His Holy Mother, is not a cold, dry, abstraction of rational propositions; it is to learn the love of Christ and His Holy Mother. It is to begin living, breathing and having our being in our hearts, in the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us, in the LORD who dwells in the ‘house’ of our heart.
The LORD sends the five thousand this morning on their way after satisfying them with the breads and fishes—both of these are emblems of His own Body and Blood. Where does He send them? Where does He send us after feeding us with His Body and Blood? We have seen the True Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit. We have found the True Faith. We can see where we are going. And where are we going in this life if we are not going with the risen LORD Jesus to our Heavenly Home? Let us renew our resolve to take up the transfiguring and life-giving Cross of the Savior and in the loving embrace of His Holy Mother, let us strive to love the LORD and His Holy Mother, and to do the will of God. Amen!