Monday, August 18, 2014
Transfiguration and Transformation
Today, Our Lord's physical nature has been transfigured by the Holy Spirit within the witness of three of the apostles. The Holy Spirit, proceeding forth from the Father and whose voice testified of the Son, has given irrefuteable witness to the divinity of the Son.
But this has happened before in the witness of the Holy Scriptures, hasn't it? We must remember the Baptism of our Lord, which the Church calls and celebrates as Theophany is but another such occasion as the one we see before us here on the Transfiguration of our Lord.
The Father sends down the Holy Spirit upon Jesus as a dove. This is a proof positive that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. So many outside of the Church forget this fact and fall into grievous error by mistakenly stating that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. These two great Feasts of the Church contain within them the essential basis of what we in the Church term "Christology"... meaning, the study of Christ's person and nature.
In the action of the Holy Spirit descending from God the Father we are given an important truth about Christ and it is important in that we should be fully aware of who Christ is to realize all that He has done and continues to do for us.
Theophany and the Transfiguration teach us that the human and divine natures of Christ are united in One Person. Christ is not a disembodied spirit and neither is He simply a man claiming to be God, for such a man as this would be a madman with delusions of grandeur. We are shown in the alighting of the Holy Spirit upon Christ that there is no unity without the presence of the Holy Spirit. For it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that reveals the glory that belongs to Christ. In the presence and witness of Moses and Elijah, we see that our Saviour is Lord over Life and Death, for Moses, who died, worships Him, and Elijah, who did not die, also worships Him. This is to be the answer to those Jews who would say that they have Moses as their father and that by some claim of birthright that they are owed a part and parcel in the Kingdom of God. This will prove to be a sure testimony against such claims.
But what the Transfiguration and Theophany really teach us is the value of and the journey towards repentance. You see, in our own journey as Orthodox Christians, we travel towards a sort of transformation ourselves. In fear and trembling we confess and repent of our many and manifold sins, hoping to be transfigured into that which Christ has called us to become. This process is called Theosis and it is the Orthodox Christian ideal of salvation. We are all at different points along the road of this journey. That's Ok. We are not in a competition with our fellow brother or sister. We are all running towards God. And let us not forget that we have been transfigured already. When you might ask? Well, at our own baptism, of course! Each of us went down into the waters as Christ descended into the grave. In this way, we died to ourselves. This process is even spoken in the Baptism Rite itself, when it says that we have put away the Old Man and his acts. We arise, alive, following Christ in His own resurrection from the dead... It is our own old nature that is left in the tomb for we have been transformed into a new creation in Christ. Behold, it is as Christ said from the cross, "Behold... I make all things new."
Being made new creations in Christ in our baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit from God the Father and are sealed in the Chrism of the Church as being now, the Faithful. No longer do we sit in the outer places of the Church during the Liturgy. No longer do we depart during the Litany of the Catechumens. We are fully present and partake of the full gifts and sacraments of the Church; which She has been given by Christ to sustain the Faithful until His coming again in glory.
And so, in the lesson of the Transfiguration, we are given an example to follow. In our own lives, we are gradually being transformed by the Holy Spirit and our own cooperation with the Holy Spirit. You see, the Christian life is likened to a fish in a swiftly moving stream. A fish that is alive swims against the current and succeeds by it's effort and life, which it possesses. One that is dead is swiftly carried away by the stream into oblivion. It is true also for the Christian. For he has been given life anew and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Now, it is up to him to persevere and to put forth the effort to journey against the currents of this present fallen age to attain to that far and distant shore where he is ever being drawn by the Holy Spirit within him. To that safe harbor of our Lord's love for us.
But remember, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Our own spiritual transformation is not a passive, automatic process within us. It does not simply occur just because we have the Holy Spirit within us. For we can both go against the current and allow ourselves to be swept away with it in our complacency. We can spiritually progress, and we can also spiritually regress. We can be transfigured by the love of God or we can be disfigured by the love of sin. And like progress, regress is not sudden and dramatic, regression can be gradual, almost imperceptible until it becomes a swift moving current that drags us to the oblivion at the bottom of the falls.
Let us take heed and be watchful... and ever swimming strongly.