Holy Transfiguration – Orthodox Homily on What does the Transfiguration Mean For Us

This is a day of great joy but also one of astounding awe as we celebrate Christ’s transfiguration on Mount Tabor. By „transfiguration” we understand that Christ’s divine glory—that of His holy divine essence—was revealed to His foremost disciples Peter, James, and John. In the words of the Troparion of the Feast, they beheld God’s glory of the Divine essence in Christ „as far as they could bear it”. And in this amazing encounter with God’s uncreated, eternal and divine radiance, a great revelation is imparted, giving us fuller meaning to our own life in Christ.

For the disciples, even this ‚glimpse’ of the divine essence is too much, as we see so vividly in the festal icon. They fall on their faces, even backwards seeing the transfigured God-Man.

Lest there be any doubt in their minds that the light they are seeing is from God, Moses and Elijah appear, confirming. Why Moses and Elijah? These two, more than any others, foretold of Messiah’s coming. Moses, who received the revelation of the Law and the Ten Commandments written on stone on Mount Horeb, represents the Law. Elijah, the foremost of the prophets, represents all who foresaw Christ the Messiah’s coming and knew of the triumph over sin and death He would bring. These are the greatest of the forefathers of Israel, but they appear alongside the transfigured Messiah, affirming His superiority, His divinity.

Together, Moses and Elijah reveal the fulfilment of all that God has promised, not only to His people Israel, but to the whole world. Moses first encountered the pre-incarnate God in the burning bush. God revealed Himself to Him in the fire—and—through His spoken word (the Logos of God), revealed Himself as, „I AM that I AM,” and reminded Moses that „No one can see My face and live.” Through this encournter with the Word of the living God, Who created all things (creation was spoken into being), Moses came to understand a piece of the future imminence of the transcendent God of the universe to be made manifest through His Incarnation.

Elijah too encountered God first-hand, as we hear in I Kings for Vespers of the Feast.

“ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountain, and broke in pieces the rock before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a voice of a gentle breeze, and the Lord was there. And it came to pass when Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his mantle and went out and stood before the cave.”

Again, it was in God’s Word (Logos), that „voice” as gentle as a breeze, that Elijah knew as is written, „the Lord was there” and that he subsequently „covered his face with his mantle” because of the awe and holiness of God’s glory passing before him.

This same Word of God, through Whom all creation was spoken into creation has become incarnate, taking on human nature, and becoming a man that this fallen human nature of ours, wearied by sin, may be once again made whole, find healing, and claim eternal life in Christ, returning to Eden. The divine glory of Christ revealed on Mount Tabor is the sign of the Son of Man’s power to accomplish all that the Law and Prophets foretold of this coming victory, of paradise being opened again to all willing to „put on Christ” and live for Him as God. Fittingly, as the Lord and His disciples descend Mt. Tabor, He reminds them of His coming Passion.

There is, then, in the mind of the Church regarding this Feast a direct link between the Transfiguration, the Incarnation, our baptism into Christ, His death on the cross to defeat death, and His glorious resurrection—the fruit of which is made present to us in the Eucharist we celebrate this day and which we are about to receive.

St. Clement of Rome, writing in the Second Century, says, „Naked on the cross, He was pierced, so that we may be clothed in the unperishable garment (that is, that of baptism). He hungered and thirsted, so that He might sate us with the eternal food and the drink of immortality (that is, the Eucharist of Christ’s holy and precious Body and Blood).

It is once Christ has accomplished His earthly mission, defeating sin and death, and making a path again to Eden, that the disciples are to share what they experienced of God’s glory in the Transfiguration. It is then that they are called to action, to go to the ends of the earth to testify of Christ God’s victory and calling to new life in Him who first created us.

As Christ labored and labors still for the salvation of the human race, so we too are called to do likewise. By this we’ll be judged, that is, on how we have ministered and shared the Gospel, as we read in Matthew 25. In light of this judgment, St. Clement says, „We feed the hungry and clothe the naked when we bring them to Christ and His holy Church, when we feed them both physically and spiritually, bringing them to put on the same garment of salvation through baptism, to eat and drink of the same eternal and immortal food, Christ’s Body and Blood, that nourishes, deifies, unites our souls with God.

In light of this great revelation, the manifestation of Christ as God, the One who will save all from their sins, the Father proclaims, „This is My Beloved Son… Listen to Him!” Simultaneously, the cloud of the Spirit overshadows the disciples. This Feast is meant to so edify us that we too are awed by the glory and holiness of God so much so that our faith is enlivened, strengthened to live more boldly for Christ.

The God who made the ages has been revealed to us this day—as far as we can bear it. His abiding presence is with us still, Emmanuel, God with us, is made manifest in the Eucharist as He was in the burning bush and the still, small voice that spoke to Elijah. And so, we invite Christ, Who is transfigured this day, to shine His light, the smallest measure of His radiance, into all the hidden and still dark places of our hearts and souls, that we may be purged of all not in keeping with His Kingdom and divine glory. If we do so, as St. Peter promises in today’s Epistle, then, and only then, “the Morning Star, Christ our true God, will rise in our hearts,” strengthening us and furthering us in faith by our encounter with the living God, the Great I AM.

Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
Holy Transfiguration
August 6, 2018

Epistle: II Peter 1:10-19
Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9