Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up onto a high mountain apart. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light.
The Transfiguration of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is one of those feasts that is kind of an odd duck, if you will. It’s important because it is a feast of our Lord, yet it’s not at all like the feast of His Nativity or His Resurrection. This doesn’t make it less important, it simply makes it different.
The Transfiguration of Jesus on the holy mountain is found in all three of the synoptic Gospels – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They’re called synoptic Gospels because they share a great deal of similar material: life events, stories, parables, and timelines, much of it nearly identical, almost as though each Evangelist copied the other. This event experienced by the three elect Apostles is referenced by St. Peter in his Epistle. He calls upon it as evidence of the trustworthiness of the apostolic word which is also the prophetic word made more sure. He declares to us that this indescribable and incomprehensible event shared in common by the three Disciples who formed Jesus’ inner core was, in fact, a precursor of our Lord’s Second Coming. In the Transfiguration on the mountain, Peter, James, and John were “eyewitnesses of His majesty” described by St. Peter as “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In all of this, fantastic as it may seem, we are assured that none of the Apostles are storytellers of “cunningly devised fables.” Peter sees this unique, once-in-a-lifetime event as a linchpin in the apostolic word (2 Pe. 1:10-19). This is critical, because what St. Peter offers to all of us is the chance to become participants in the Transfiguration, just as he and James and John had been participants in the glory of Jesus made manifest on the holy mountain. He offers us to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pe. 1:4).
If we listened closely to the story told here (interestingly not told by an eyewitness, but by one to whom the story had been told), we no doubt heard remnants of the story of our Lord’s Theophany – His Baptism in the Jordan River. For in that event the voice of the Father is likewise heard “suddenly” coming from Heaven or from the cloud (both indicators of the divine Presence) declaring, “’This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased’” (Mt. 3:13-17). The Baptism of our Lord and His Transfiguration sort of bookend the life and ministry of Jesus. The divine revelation that Jesus is the Son of God, one of the Holy Trinity revealed in both events, inaugurates His ministry and, for all intents and purposes, concludes it or brings it full circle. For the Transfiguration stands on the verge of His Great and Holy Passion, and as our hymnody would say, it both prepares the Disciples and bolsters them for what they all are about to experience in that Great and Holy Week, assuring them that, despite all evidence to the contrary, Jesus’ suffering was, in fact, voluntary and that He was and is and always will be, in fact, the true “Radiance of the Father” (Kontakion). Ever since His Baptism by the hand of the Forerunner, Jesus has been about the business of revealing His Father and the execution of His divine and holy will (Ps. 39 :6-8; Hb. 10:5-10). It is for good reason, then, that we would all do well to follow our Lord and heed His Father’s word to us in this Transfiguration account, that is, to “’Hear Him!,’” which is, translated into Orthodox lingo, “Wisdom! Let us attend! Let us listen to the Holy Gospel.” When we hear Jesus and attend to His wisdom, we do the words of our Lord and make them integral to our lives which is the only way to make sense of His words. They are fully intended for the living out of faith or, to use St. Paul’s language, for “the obedience of faith” (Rm. 1:5; 16:26).
The Transfiguration of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is most assuredly a unique, if not extraordinary, event. This isn’t to say the other feasts of our Lord aren’t. It is only to say that what transpires there on the holy mountain is a revelation – a theophany – of the Shekinah Glory of God, what St. Peter calls “the Excellent Glory.” It is that uncreated, incomprehensible Glory made known in the Old Testament in numinous ways such as brilliant light and awesome sounds and thick clouds. These are all indicators or signs of the holy Presence of God. What is revealed here to the chosen three on the mountain has always been present in our Lord, but it has been masked, if you will, hidden from the sight of mortal eyes until now. Hints of the divine fire have been “seen” in the miracles of our Lord, but now that divine and holy fire is made known, but still only insofar as they could bear it (Troparion; Kontakion). The divinity of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is momentarily unleashed as it flashes forth, if you will, engulfing the startled Disciples who fall prostrate on their faces, as our icons depict, in an act of “the fear of God” which is true worship when we are encountered by God, and they are participants in Jesus’ transfiguration, that is, they partake of His Glory, not in essence, but in its energy, so that by grace they share in Jesus’ divine nature. Here the divinity of Jesus literally shines forth more brilliant than the sun, confirming our confession that He is “Light of Light, true God of true God; . . .; of one essence with the Father, . . . .” (Nicene Creed). The anticipated Kingdom of God is already present in and revealed through the Son of God.
But, what interests us here today is that we see in our Lord’s Transfiguration our future, what awaits each of us in His coming Kingdom now already present but not to its fullest extent. This is, as I said early on, what St. Peter links it to when he assures us that God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him Who called us by glory and virtue, . . . that [we] may be partakers of the divine nature, . . . .” (2 Pe. 1:3-4). In short, to say as the Fathers, “God became man that man might become god.” What Jesus is by nature, we dare to hope to become by grace because of Him. This is what St. John means when he tells us that we must be “born again” or “born of God” (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:3-8) and it’s what St. Paul means when he declares that we become the adopted sons of God through the Son of God Himself (Ga. 3:26-29; Ep. 1:5). The Holy Spirit makes all of this a divine reality “for us men and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed). We will hear more about this this Sunday.
Let us be assured, brethren, or, as St. Peter says, let us “be even more diligent to make [our] call and election sure,” by partaking of the light and the glory of God offered to us in the eating of Christ God’s Body and in the drinking of His Blood – all full of His divinity communicated to us here at the Holy Altar. Here, in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus transfigures disfigured man (Small Vespers). Here, in the Church, which is the very Body of Christ God Himself, we are being transfigured by His Transfiguration! Immersed in Christ God, washed with His grace, baptized into Him and His Mystery, covered with His robe of righteousness, and clothed in His garment of salvation. Jesus Christ is, in fact, the Light of the world because He is, in fact, God in the flesh (Jn. 8:12; 9:5)! And, if we are in Him (Baptism) and He in us (Eucharist), then we are being transfigured in Him and by Him. If we live in Him, that is, if we walk in Him, we cannot do so and do not do so in the darkness of sin and death any longer because we are made “sons of the Light” (Jn. 12:35-36). The glory of God, from which we have fallen, is, now through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, being restored to us who have been disfigured by sin and death (Rm. 3:23; Ep. 4:24; Co. 3:10).
In this place and on this holy mountain, then, it is indeed good for us to be here.
Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Ex. 33:11-23; 34:4-6, 8
3 Kg. [1 Kg.]:19:3-9, 11-13, 15-16
2 Pe. 1:10-19