|46 - MAKING THE INCARNATION INCARNATE IN ME, August 8, 2021|
This morning we are still in the Feast of the Savior’s Transfiguration on the mountain when His Face and Body and even His garments shone like the sun in the uncreated Light of His divinity. The Church gives us to understand that this is an epiphany; it shows forth how we were originally created by God. We were created to shine like the sun ‘arrayed in the original beauty of the Image.’ (FM 476) This means that, in the way we exist now, subject to corruption and death, we are ‘disfigured’ (FM 468), for we were created by God for life and immortality (Wisd. 1.13-15).
But, dear faithful, in our baptism we were clothed in the glory of the LORD’s Transfiguration, for we were raised from death to life and clothed in the Robe of Light. And, in our baptism, we were the blind men in this morning’s Gospel who were made to see, for in our baptism, we were illumined, our eyes were opened, our spiritual eyes were healed of the blindness that disfigured them.
This reveals to us that salvation is to be transfigured body and soul in the knowledge of God (this divine knowledge is the mystery of faith), transfigured back to the divine beauty of our original nature. When we put on Christ in Holy Baptism, we are overshadowed by the Glory of God as were Peter, James and John on the mountain (Mt 17.5, Lk 9.34), as was the temple of the OT (Ex 40.34-35), and as was the Virgin (Lk 1.34); that is, we become living temples of God, made to shine like the sun in the uncreated Light of the Savior’s divinity that overshadows us and fills us and deifies us even in our human nature. (FM 468)
Today we also honor St Herman of Alaska who, as are all the saints, is an epiphany of the true anthropology that shines forth from the mountain of the Savior’s Transfiguration. As a saint, St Herman was transfigured in both his inner and outer man to become an incarnation of the uncreated glory of Jesus, the Son of God incarnate.
And so, we have before us, not just in words and images but also in the saints and holy martyrs, living examples in the flesh of what a Christian looks like. It is to look like Christ; it is to become an incarnation of the incarnate Christ. Then, both our dying daily in Christ (1 Cor 15.31) and our final repose become moments of our disfigured body and soul being transfigured back to the Image of Christ because in Christ, our death is made to be the death of our death, the transfiguration of our disfigurement, the restoration of our body and soul in our original beauty in the Image of God, which is Christ Himself (Col 1.15). So how do we make the incarnation of Christ incarnate in our soul and body so that we live in faith, in the knowledge of God, and not in the knowledge of the world that is spiritual blindness?
St Maximos (7th cent.) writes: ‘Since man is composed of body and soul, he is moved by two laws, that of the flesh and that of the Spirit. The law of the flesh operates by virtue of the senses and therefore automatically binds one closely to matter; the law of the Spirit operates by virtue of our spirit or our heart and brings about direct union with God.’ (VarTxts 2.9) So, when we live according to the flesh, even if we have been baptized, we activate the law of the flesh in us. The eyes of the body then dominate our understanding, and the eyes of the soul grow weak until they finally become altogether blind. Spiritual blindness, says St Maximos, has become rooted so deeply in our nature, because we live according to the law of the flesh, that most people think that man is nothing more than flesh, and that we possess a body and the bodily senses because our ultimate purpose is nothing more than to enjoy this present life.’ (VarTxts 2.10)
Or, in the words of St Macarius (4th cent.): ‘The world that you see around you is in confusion and disorder and battle, and does not know the reason, or that it is the manifestation of the evil which crept in through Adam’s disobedience, the sting of death [the world is blind]. For the sin which crept in, being a kind of invisible power of Satan, and a reality, implanted all evils. Without being detected it works upon the inner man and upon the mind, and contends with the thoughts; but men…think it all to be natural [they are blind to their disfigurement], and that they do these things of their own determination, while those who have the peace of Christ in their minds, and His enlightenment [whose spiritual eyes have been opened], know very well the source of these movements.’ (Hom 15.49).
That is to say, the world is blind to its confusion and constant strife, thinking it to be natural, because men live according to the law of the flesh and not according to the law of the Spirit. As a result, they cannot see God nor can they see the beauty of the divine Image in which they were originally clothed.
With this understanding, we go back up the mountain and are struck by how Peter, James and John were smitten by the beauty of what they saw. For Peter says: ‘How beautiful [kalos] it is to be here! Let us make three tabernacles, one for each of you!’ But now the Cloud of God’s Glory overshadows them, and when the Father says, ‘This is My Beloved Son! Hear Him!’ they fall down to the ground, exceedingly afraid, it says. Why?
This is Paschal language. The myrrhbearers, for example, fled the tomb of the risen LORD in fear and trembling! Note what the Father says: Hear Him! He does not say, Go and tell everybody what you saw! And the LORD commands them as they come down the mountain: ‘See that you tell no one of this vision until the Son of Man is risen from the dead!’ Again, note the reference to the Savior’s Pascha. Something Paschal is going on here and it is exceedingly fearsome! Why?
This takes us to this morning’s Gospel. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind men just as, according to St Peter, their eyes were ‘opened’ on the mountain to see the LORD in His Glory (2 Pt 1.16). And, as the LORD commanded the disciples on the mountain, so He sternly warns the two blind men whose eyes He has just opened; or rather, following the Greek, He says to them, literally, ‘snorting with anger’: ‘Look at me!’ as though to say, look at the threatening visage of my face! ‘Don’t let anyone know about this!’
Well, the blind men ignored the LORD’s warning, and we never hear of them again. Peter, James and John did heed the LORD’s commandment and, even though Peter fell, he repented and wept bitterly, and the LORD raised him up and he became the chief of the apostles, and they all lived and died a martyr’s death in the power of the LORD’s Glory that they saw on the mountain and then in His Holy Resurrection. That is, they were transfigured in body and soul such that they became strong enough to live and die for the sake of Christ! Clearly, a teaching of the profoundest importance is in this warning of the LORD to the disciples and these two blind men; and I believe the teaching is precisely to our question: how do I make the LORD’s incarnation incarnate in me so that I am transfigured body and soul in the Glory of the LORD’s Transfiguration, in the Glory of His Resurrection?
This is not, in fact, an esoteric teaching that we can only guess at. It falls like a torrential rain in Holy Scripture, in the prayers of the Church, in the writings of the holy fathers. The root of our sin that has disfigured us in body and soul is self-love, says St Maximos. And if we do not undertake the struggle to crucify our self-love out of love for Christ, we will continue to be puffed up with the conceit that self-love generates; we will continue to prance around as though we were gods (Gn 3.23) and instead of looking like Christ we will look like Lucifer, and our disfigurement, our blindness, will only deepen even as we are convinced we see! (Jn 9.41) I wonder if this is what happened to the two blind men, and why we never hear of them again!
Therefore, the beginning of making the LORD’s incarnation incarnate in me, the beginning of my being transfigured in body and soul so that I, too, begin to shine in the Glory of the LORD’s Transfiguration and Holy Resurrection, is to continue the descent into the baptismal font in order to enter the tomb of my heart and sow in it the seed of the extreme humility of the crucified God. This, I submit, is why the command of both the Father and the Son are so exceedingly fearsome—they are leading us to the LORD’s Tomb by way of the tomb of our own heart! For my life and my death are at stake! And I cannot learn humility if I take it upon myself to teach everyone about the LORD before He has risen from the dead in the tomb of my heart; that is, before His holy Resurrection—the glorious blossom of His extreme humility—has become incarnate in my body and soul, rooted firmly in my heart, transfiguring my heart into the bridal chamber! For otherwise, I’m just teaching my idea about the LORD, my own experience with the LORD, and it is not the LORD I am showing off to you but my ego!
And so, returning to St Maximos, we who have begun to follow a holy way of life, if we wish to gain our hope of salvation, of being transfigured in body and soul back to our original beauty, we must devote ourselves simply to hearing the LORD, closing our mouths and opening our ears, and obeying His commandments, living a moral life, and leaving knowledge of the inner meaning of the LORD’s commandments to those who are being perfected, transfigured, in the Glory of God; i.e., to those in whom the humility of the LORD has begun to shine, has begun to be incarnate in their body and soul. May the LORD have mercy on us and help us! Amen!