When the Lord Jesus revealed himself transfigured, he was manifesting that divine glory which im-penetrated his humanity, but which in a divine humility he kept veiled from sight. His humanity was the same as our own, liable to pain and suffering on the cross, able to experience death, yet it was filled with divine glory because it was the humanity of not just an ordinary man, but of God the Word himself and was filled with divine life even though it was humanity like ours except without sin.
The Virgin Mary was also one of whom it was said that she was ‘full of grace’. This was part of the angelic salutation to her at the Annunciation. The angel said…
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
In the Orthodox Church the Virgin Mary is honoured because she was that one in whom God had found favour, and who was filled with the divine grace of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus Christ himself the glory of transfiguration which the disciples saw was his own glory as God. In the Virgin Mary, as an entirely created being, it is the glory of God which is revealed in her and we see her as the example of the Christian life lived to the full, in which Christ himself is brought to life and birth in the believer. This is the divine glory which God wishes to fill each one of us with, so that we might shine with his own divine life and love in the darkness of the world. Indeed this is the purpose of God becoming man, and of each one of us becoming united to him in the Church. It is not so that we might one day in the distant future find an entry into heaven, but so that we might be filled with the life and light and glory of God in this life. This life was made visible in the humanity of the Lord Jesus at the Transfiguration, and according to God’s will it becomes visible in a manifest way in the lives of the great saints. But it is present as a hidden and interior life and light in all of us who seek God with all our heart and mind and soul.
Elizabeth, the cousin of the Virgin Mary, saw this hidden glory. In her greeting she says…
Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost and cried with a loud voice: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
This hidden and divine glory was seen and known by those who were also filled with the Holy Spirit. It was the same transfiguring divine presence. In Christ himself it is his own glory with which he is transfigured. In the Virgin Mary it is the same glory of God manifested in her life of humble obedience to the will and word of God. And in our own lives? What is the manifestation of that same divine presence?
It will be found in the same humble obedience to God. In that same seeking after being filled with the Holy Spirit. In that same union with God in the heart which the Virgin St Mary experienced in an overwhelming sense, but which may be our own experience. In that same wholehearted giving of self to the service of God.
It is not our own glory. And when we seek to glorify ourselves we cannot experience this divine transfiguration at all. It is when we have abandoned all desire for self, all pride, all selfish ambition and given all that we are and all that we have and all that we hope to be to God, that filling us with his divine presence we begin to manifest a glory that is not our own but which transfigures us and reveals the glory of God, his love and life, in us and through us to the world.
The Lord Jesus Christ will make his own glory manifest in our lives if we sacrifice every aspect of our life to his service, and for his glory. As we give ourselves to him in humility, he glorifies himself in us by his own divine presence. In humble service of each other here in this place, in putting every other person first, in seeking the last place always, we discover this divine glory, this presence of Christ, in our own lives, in the lives of others, and filling our service in the Church and in the world.
Scriptures – Matthew 17
1 After six days, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain by themselves. 2 He was changed before them. His face shone like the sun, and his garments became as white as the light. 3 Behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them talking with him. 4 Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, let’s make three tents here: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them. Behold, a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces, and were very afraid. 7 Jesus came and touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid.” 8 Lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus alone. 9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Don’t tell anyone what you saw, until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” 10 His disciples asked him, saying, “Then why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11 Jesus answered them, “Elijah indeed comes first, and will restore all things; 12 but I tell you that Elijah has come already, and they didn’t recognise him, but did to him whatever they wanted to. Even so the Son of Man will also suffer by them.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he spoke to them of John the Baptiser. 14 When they came to the multitude, a man came to him, kneeling down to him and saying, 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is epileptic and suffers grievously; for he often falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 So I brought him to your disciples, and they could not cure him.” 17 Jesus answered, “Faithless and perverse generation! How long will I be with you? How long will I bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it went out of him, and the boy was cured from that hour. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately, and said, “Why weren’t we able to cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your unbelief. For most certainly I tell you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 But this kind doesn’t go out except by prayer and fasting.” 22 While they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered up into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and the third day he will be raised up.” They were exceedingly sorry. 24 When they had come to Capernaum, those who collected the didrachma coins‡ came to Peter, and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the didrachma?” 25 He said, “Yes.” When he came into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive toll or tribute? From their children, or from strangers?” 26 Peter said to him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Therefore the children are exempt. 27 But, lest we cause them to stumble, go to the sea, cast a hook, and take up the first fish that comes up. When you have opened its mouth, you will find a stater coin. Take that, and give it to them for me and you.”
From the Fathers
Origen (184-253 A.D.)
Do you wish to see the transfiguration of Jesus? Behold with me the Jesus of the Gospels. Let him be simply apprehended. There he is beheld both “according to the flesh” and at the same time in his true divinity. He is beheld in the form of God according to our capacity for knowledge. This is how he was beheld by those who went up upon the lofty mountain to be apart with him. Meanwhile those who do not go up the mountain can still behold his works and hear his words, which are uplifting.
It is before those who go up that Jesus is transfigured, and not to those below. When he is transfigured, his face shines as the sun, that he may be manifested to the children of light, who have put off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. They are no longer the children of darkness or night but have become the children of day. They walk honestly as in the day. Being manifested, he will shine to them not simply as the sun but as he is demonstrated to be, the sun of righteousness.
[In this interesting passage Origen describes how Jesus Christ is seen and heard by all, and his words are helpful and useful. But if we want to see the divine glory of Christ we have to ascend the mountain with him. We have to rise above our sinfulness and weakness. We have to put aside the things that belong to the darkness and seek the things of the light and the day. Then, as if rising above the clouds, we do not see the Sun, but the Sun of Righteousness whose glory shines upon us. ]
Continuing with the thoughts of St Isaiah the Solitary, discussing how we are to engage in a deeper life of prayer. He writes,
I entreat you not to leave your heart unguarded, so long as you are in the body. Just as a farmer cannot feel confident about the crop growing in his fields, because he does not know what will happen to it before it is stored away in his granary, so a man should not leave his heart unguarded so long as he still has breath in his nostrils. Up to his last breath he cannot know what passion will attack him; so long as he breathes, therefore, he must not leave his heart unguarded, but should at every moment pray to God for His help and mercy.
This is an important lesson. If we imagine that the spiritual life requires only a few minutes of prayer in the morning and evening then we will not make progress. In every moment we find ourselves engaged in spiritual combat, and in every moment we are invited to take hold of the divine strength and help through unceasing prayer. At the beginning it is useful to turn back to prayer every time we are aware that we have stopped keeping the rememberance of God. This will require us to often become aware that we have detached ourselves from God. We will find growth and security and progress as we seek to pray as much as possible.
1. Be sure to pray the Lord’s Prayer in the morning and evening, with warmth and attention.
2. Prayerfully read Psalm 1 in the morning. This is part of the traditional Coptic Orthodox prayers of the morning.
3. Pray the Jesus Prayer in the morning and evening. Prayerfully repeat the words of the prayer to 25 times in the morning or evening.
4. Read the Gospel again carefully, and listen for the words that come alive by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Write this in your notebook and reflect on them through the day.
5. Do not forget to pray for those on your intercession list in the morning and evening, with warmth of heart and attention.
6. Pray Psalm 134 again in the evening. Which phrase sticks out most to you this evening.
7. Reflect on how well you were able to turn back to prayer when you realised you had stopped. How much did you notice this through the day?
In the West we might imagine that baptism has only ever been by pouring a little water on a child’s forehead, or even merely sprinking some water. This is what we see in other churches, even when adults are baptised. But in fact in the UK, until the introduction of Protestant ideas, baptisms were almost always by immersion, by plunging the infant into the water three times in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Many of the things which seem different in the West are of relatively recent origin. For 1500 years almost every child and convert would have been baptised by immersion. It is this which most clearly represents what is actually happening to us. We are really experiencing a spiritual rebirth by the grace and compassion of God. And Orthodoxy preserves this practice of baptism by immersion so that what is experienced is powerfully represented by being buried in the water and rising to new life. It is not an alien and unusual practice but it was something that all Western Christians would once have been familiar with.