by Deacon Andrei Psarev
Delivered at Holy Trinity Monastery
Jordanville, New York
August 6 / 19, 2020
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit! Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord!
We see that the event of the Transfiguration of the Lord is adjacent to the last period of the earthly ministry of Christ the Savior. A few months after the Transfiguration, Holy Week begins. In today’s Gospel reading1 we hear:
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.
4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.
One of the cornerstone messages of the Gospel is the preaching of joy. Having met the myrrh-bearing women after the resurrection, the Lord says to them: Rejoice!2 And now, on the path toward His suffering on the Cross, He gives His disciples a foretaste of the future of the time of the resurrection. The disciples on Mount Thabor feel, It is good…to be here, like Luke and Cleopa at the breaking of Bread in Emmaus. The holy prophets Moses and Elijah testify that Christ is the Righteous Messiah — thus, confirming the words of our Creed that Christ was resurrected “according to the Scriptures,” that is the prophecies of the Old Testament. The words spoken by God the Father make the Transfiguration a theophany equal to Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, which the Church celebrated on this exact day eight months ago.
At the same time that dwelling with Christ on Thabor and in Emmaus causes joy among the disciples, the words that the Son of Man should suffer from the High Priests and religious people causes revulsion within them. In the Gospel reading of this past Sunday, we hear:
And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.3
There is a reason that in the liturgical calendar the Exaltation of the Cross follows exactly forty days after the Feast of Transfiguration.
But without the cross there is no Resurrection, and can be no joy. It is not without reason that the Apostle Paul says: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.4 The temptation of this stumbling block and foolishness is our Christian cross. While in the modern world Christ is a character of the past, for us faithfulness to His philosophy, to the apostolic Tradition about Him remain vital, life-determining, and in this we join His disciples, the Apostles.
Fear is not productive in every realm of human existence. And now Christ speaks to us in the words of today’s Gospel, Be not afraid! The same words are repeated in many other places in the New Testament5 and, especially remarkably, by the apostle of love – St John the Theologian — who was at Thabor today:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.6
We do not know how our personal transfiguration, our meeting with Christ on Mount Thabor is going to happen. For now, according to the Apostle, we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.7 Let us emulate the apostles’ hope in Him by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.8 And let us pray that our faith will be transfigured into true knowledge of Christ and personal communion with Him.
Deacon Andrei Psarev is Associate Professor of Canon Law and Russian Church History at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary and directs the website, Historical Studies of the Russian Church Abroad. He holds his Ph.D. from Queen’s University, Belfast.