Transfigured Life (Part II)
In his “Second Century on Theology,” St Maximus the Confessor makes a startling claim, which was nevertheless understood as both a promise and an exhortation to be received by anyone who lives “in Christ.” “In those found worthy,” he declares, “the Logos of God is transfigured to the degree to which each has advanced in holiness, and he comes to them with his angels in the glory of the Father. For the more spiritual principles in the Law and the prophets—symbolized by Moses and Elijah when they appeared with the Lord at his transfiguration—manifest their glory according to the actual receptive capacity of those to whom it is revealed.” To the faithful believer, Christ’s Transfiguration becomes an inner reality, a transforming gift of grace.
St Gregory Palamas similarly stresses the intimate link between the Transfiguration of Christ and our own transformation into his divine glory. “In his incomparable love for men, the Son of God did not merely unite his divine Hypostasis to our nature…but, O incomparable and magnificent miracle! He unites himself also to human hypostases, joining himself to each of the faithful by communion in his holy Body. For he becomes one body with us (Eph 3:6), making us a temple of the whole Godhead (Col 2:9). How then would he not illuminate those who share worthily in the divine radiance of his Body within us, shining upon their soul as he once shone on the bodies of the apostles on Tabor? For as this Body, the source of the light of grace, was at that time not yet united to our body, it shone exteriorly on those who came near it worthily, transmitting light to the soul through the eyes of sense. But today, since it is united to us and dwells with us, it illumines the soul interiorly” (Triads I.3.38).
Fr John Meyendorff gives a poignant commentary on this passage. “Since the Incarnation, our bodies have become ‘temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us’ (1 Cor 6:19); it is there, within our own bodies, that we must seek the Spirit, within our bodies sanctified by the sacraments and engrafted by the Eucharist into the Body of Christ. God is now to be found within; He is no longer exterior to us. Therefore, we must find the light of Mount Tabor within ourselves. The apostles had only an exterior vision, for Christ had not yet died and risen from the dead, but today we are, all of us, in living reality members of His Body, the Church.”
As we meditate on Christ’s Transfiguration and celebrate the mystery of his glorified life, it is important that we be aware of an aspect of Orthodoxy that stands at the very heart of our faith. It is the fact that we are called—invited—to assume an extraordinary responsibility that can lead to an ineffable end of glory and joy. That responsibility is simply to accept, with gratitude and faithfulness, the ascetic way that leads from repentance and “purification” through “illumination,” and on to “deification.” This was originally proposed as the pathway for catechumens, who progressed toward baptism and full participation in the Body of Christ. Under monastic influence, it came to signify the pilgrimage open to every Christian believer who is drawn toward the eternal Light that illumines all things and gives meaning to it all.
The apostles, on Mount Tabor and in the Upper Room on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, had only an “exterior vision” of that Light, that Presence. Through Eucharistic communion, we, like they in the aftermath of Pentecost, have Christ dwelling in us. We have become the shekinah of the Lord. And if we look hard enough, we can even find within ourselves the Light of Mount Tabor.
~Adapted from John Breck, Transfigured Life, (http://oca.org/reflections/fr.-john-breck/transfigured-life), taken from the website of the Orthodox Church in America (http://oca.org/).