|Painting by Alexander Ivanov, 1824|
It became trendy in the later part of the twentieth century to infuse the word "religion" with negative meaning. People were accused of being "religious" back then, in some church groups implying something less then genuine and sincere. It appears that this trend has only gotten worse, with some of the entertainment minded churches afraid to exhibit crosses, afraid even to be called "churches," opting instead for the designation "worship centers." In these "worship centers" there may be very little worship, but a lot of musical performance. Among the worst of these in recent years was the "Seeker Sensitive" movement, in which the Gospel had no cross and God had no glory.
When we look at the Gospel for this Feast of the Transfiguration, we cannot appreciate its depths if we fear those things which are specifically "religious" in its presentation. Christ our Lord was on the mountain, a place that for Jews symbolized the revelation of God, going all the way back to Moses. It was as He was in prayer that He was transfigured. This is very important. For, the chief reason why trendy Christians step away from their perception of "religion" has everything to do with a hesitation to embrace and love that most important of all doctrines, that central revelation of God, the Incarnation.
They fear the sacraments, specifically the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, the Communion with the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. In all of their very sincere love for Jesus, there comes a point, nonetheless, when they have a very difficult time with those aspects of our faith that involve the senses of taste, touch, seeing, and hearing. Any honorable mention given to the Blessed Virgin mother of our Lord is, for them, uncomfortable. They profess belief in the two natures of Jesus Christ, that He is both Fully God and fully Man in One Person; but in every practical way, they fear and step back from the full implications of what that means. They fear to come close, fearing all of the echoes and ripples of what it means that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." They confuse the implications of this, and misunderstand those things as if they were some sort of idolatry.
But I say these things for your sake, that you will never fear to embrace the saving revelation that "the Word was made flesh and pitched the tent of His human nature among us." I say these things so that you will be liberated in your heart to come close to Christ as he is known and revealed. I say this, because of how Saint John (one of those three apostles who are part of today’s Gospel reading) described what the Church truly is, and what it shall continue to be for all time until Christ returns on the Last Day. In the opening of his first Epistle, the Beloved Disciple wrote:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” (I John 1: 1-4)
We, who would bow down at the feet of the Man Jesus, should He walk into this room right now, would not be idolaters. But, a Unitarian (including that particularly Eastern type of Unitarianism that spreads a barren desert and violent death everywhere it goes), worshiping his notion of a god that is pure of such "adulteration" as the taking of human nature into Himself, can worship only an idol of the human mind, a god who did not reveal himself. His god may very well be a creation of the doctrines of demons, or simply a fantasy. But either way, such a god is not known by revelation, but by imagination. However, our God is not confined to heaven. The true God revealed Himself, most perfectly by taking human nature into the Divine Person of the only and eternally begotten Son of the Everlasting Father.
This is why we are not afraid to, as the hymn says, "touch and handle things unseen"- nor even to look upon visible things that both effect and signify what is invisible. We are not afraid of holy water, or visible reprentations such as icons and crosses. We do not treat the Blessed Virgin Mother, through Whom God the Son recieved His human nature, as some sort of outcast. Furthermore, we know that the bread and wine that will be placed upon this altar today, will be taken into the Person of the Son of God, and given back to us as "the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of...our Saviour Jesus Christ." And, as the Apostle John wrote, we will look upon, and our hands will handle the Word of Life. In this way, you will have fellowship with the Church of the Apostles, and in that fellowship you will have fellowship with God the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, "that your joy may be full."
On the Mount of Transfiguration, which Saint Peter called "the holy mount"- itself a phrase showing the effect of the presence of the incarnate Lord upon all creation- what the Apostles saw was not actually the Divine Nature itself, because that remains invisible to the eyes of every created thing. What they saw was the Shekinah, the manifest Glory of God. They saw a manifestation of our ultimate hope, theosis. They saw that human nature itself is transformed by the presence of God; a certain kind of blindness, that protects the eyes of our yet fallen and imperfect humanity, was removed for a brief glimpse of deified human nature. Christ’s human nature was revealed to be glorious, because in His Person He is fully God. Because of God's human nature in Christ, our transformed and resurrected human nature is destined to be glorified by grace when we partake - κοινωνός (koinōnos) - of the divine nature.
In the Transfiguration of our Lord we see our hope, and we see why we need have no fear of death. Christ let His disciples see why His coming death should not fill them with dread. How strange that in this scene, while shining with the light of His glory, the Lord speaks to Moses and Elijah about the death He would accomplish at Jerusalem. Notice, His death would be His own to give.
This was Luke’s way of telling us the same thing that Jesus told us, as St. John wrote; That no Man took Christ's life away; He laid it down freely, and freely took it again (John 10:17,18). In speaking of His death to Moses, Christ showed that He was going to fulfill all the Law, and be the One Who dies for us, to forever take away all our sins; that in dying He would fulfill the types and shadows of every sacrifice ever offered on the Old Testament altars. In speaking with Elijah, He showed that He is the fulfillment and subject of prophecy itself. It is He of Whom Moses and the prophets spoke. And, in this scene on the holy mountain, it is He of Whom the Father speaks: "This is my Beloved Son; hear Him."
I want the words of this sermon to ring in your ears, because my desire for you is that you never fear to come close and touch the Lord; that you never fear to live within the fellowship of the Church, and by that, within the fellowship of God the Father and of His Son Jesus Christ; that your joy may be full.
And now, unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, glory and power, now and forever. Amen
See also this.