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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Homily on the Transfiguration by St. Gregory Palamas

About the power of the Divine Spirit, through Whom the Kingdom of God is to be revealed, the Lord predicted: “There are some standing here who shall not taste death, until they have seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Mt 16:28). Everywhere and in every way the King will be present, and everywhere will be His Kingdom, since the advent of His Kingdom does not signify the passing over from one place to another, but rather the revelation of its power of the Divine Spirit. That is why it is said: “come in power.” And this power is not manifest to simply ordinary people, but to those standing with the Lord, that is to say, those who have affirmed their faith in Him like Peter, James and John, and especially those who are free of our natural abasement. Therefore, and precisely because of this, God manifests Himself upon the Mount, on the one hand coming down from His heights, and on the other, raising us up from the depths of abasement, since the Transcendent One takes on mortal nature. Certainly, such a manifest appearance by far transcends the utmost limits of the mind’s grasp, as effectualized by the power of the Divine Spirit. 

Thus, the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord is not something that comes to be and then vanishes, nor is it subject to the sensory faculties, although it was contemplated by corporeal eyes for a short while upon an inconsequential mountaintop. But the initiates of the Mystery, (the disciples) of the Lord at this time passed beyond mere flesh into spirit through a transformation of their senses, effectualized within them by the Spirit, and in such a way that they beheld what, and to what extent, the Divine Spirit had wrought blessedness in them to behold the Ineffable Light. 

Those not grasping this point have conjectured that the chosen from among the Apostles beheld the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord by a sensual and creaturely faculty, and through this they attempt to reduce to a creaturely level (i.e., as something “created”) not only this Light, the Kingdom and the Glory of God, but also the Power of the Divine Spirit, through Whom it is meet for Divine Mysteries to be revealed. In all likelihood, such persons have not heeded the words of the Apostle Paul: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him. But to us God has revealed them through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Cor 2:9-10). 

So, with the onset of the Eighth Day, the Lord, taking Peter, James and John, went up on the Mount to pray. He always prayed alone, withdrawing from everyone, even from the Apostles themselves, as for example when with five loaves and two fish He fed the five thousand men, besides women and children (Mt 14:19-23). Or, taking with Him those who excelled others, as at the approach of His Saving Passion, when He said to the other disciples: “Sit here while I go over there and pray” (Mt 26:36). Then He took with Him Peter, James and John. But in our instance right here and now, having taken only these same three, the Lord led them up onto a high mountain by themselves and was transfigured before them, that is to say, before their very eyes. 

“What does it mean to say: He was transfigured?” asks the Golden-Mouthed Theologian (Chrysostom). He answers this by saying: “It revealed something of His Divinity to them, as much and insofar as they were able to apprehend it, and it showed the indwelling of God within Him.” The Evangelist Luke says: “And as He prayed, His countenance was altered” (Lk 9:29); and from the Evangelist Matthew we read: “And His face shone as the sun” (Mt 17:2). But the Evangelist said this, not in the context that this Light be thought of as subsistent for the senses (let us put aside the blindness of mind of those who can conceive of nothing higher than what is known through the senses). Rather, it is to show that Christ God, for those living and contemplating by the Spirit, is the same as the sun is for those living in the flesh and contemplating by the senses. Therefore, some other Light for the knowing the Divinity is not necessary for those who are enriched by Divine gifts. 

That same Inscrutable Light shone and was mysteriously manifest to the Apostles and the foremost of the Prophets at that moment, when (the Lord) was praying. This shows that what brought forth this blessed sight was prayer, and that the radiance occured and was manifest by uniting the mind with God, and that it is granted to all who, with constant exercise in efforts of virtue and prayer, strive with their mind towards God. True beauty, essentially, can be contemplated only with a purified mind. To gaze upon its luminance assumes a sort of participation in it, as though some bright ray etches itself upon the face. 

Even the face of Moses was illumined by his association with God. Do you not know that Moses was transfigured when he went up the mountain, and there beheld the Glory of God? But he (Moses) did not effect this, but rather he underwent a transfiguration. However, our Lord Jesus Christ possessed that Light Himself. In this regard, actually, He did not need prayer for His flesh to radiate with the Divine Light; it was but to show from whence that Light descends upon the saints of God, and how to contemplate it. For it is written that even the saints “will shine forth like the sun” (Mt 13:43), which is to say, entirely permeated by Divine Light as they gaze upon Christ, divinely and inexpressibly shining forth His Radiance, issuing from His Divine Nature. On Mount Tabor it was manifest also in His Flesh, by reason of the Hypostatic Union (i.e., the union of the two perfect natures, divine and human, within the divine Person [Hypostasis] of Christ, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity). The Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon defined this Hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, as “without mingling, without change, without division, without separation.” 

We believe that at the Transfiguration He manifested not some other sort of light, but only that which was concealed beneath His fleshly exterior. This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine. So also, in the teachings of the Fathers, Jesus Christ was transfigured on the Mount, not taking upon Himself something new nor being changed into something new, nor something which formerly He did not possess. Rather, it was to show His disciples that which He already was, opening their eyes and bringing them from blindness to sight. For do you not see that eyes that can perceive natural things would be blind to this Light? 

Thus, this Light is not a light of the senses, and those contemplating it do not simply see with sensual eyes, but rather they are changed by the power of the Divine Spirit. They were transformed, and only in this way did they see the transformation taking place amidst the very assumption of our perishability, with the deification through union with the Word of God in place of this. 

So also she who miraculously conceived and gave birth recognized that the One born of her is God Incarnate. So it was also for Simeon, who only received this Infant into his arms, and the aged Anna, coming out [from the Jerusalem Temple] for the Meeting, since the Divine Power illumined, as through a glass windowpane, giving light for those having pure eyes of heart. 

And why did the Lord, before the beginning of the Transfiguration, choose the foremost of the Apostles and lead them up onto the Mount with Him? Certainly, it was to show them something great and mysterious. What is particularly great or mysterious in showing a sensory light, which not only the foremost, but all the other Apostles already abundantly possessed? Why would they need a transforming of their eyes by the power of the Holy Spirit for a contemplation of this Light, if it were merely sensory and created? How could the Glory and the Kingdom of the Father and the Holy Spirit project forth in some sort of sensory light? Indeed, in what sort of Glory and Kingdom would Christ the Lord come at the end of the ages, when there would not be necessary anything in the air, nor in expanse, nor anything similar, but when, in the words of the Apostle, “God will be all in all” (1 Cor 15: 28)? That is to say, will He alter everything for all? If so, then it follows that light is included. 

Hence it is clear that the Light of Tabor was a Divine Light. And the Evangelist John, inspired by Divine Revelation, says clearly that the future eternal and enduring city “has no need of the sun or moon to shine upon it. For the Glory of God lights it up, and the Lamb will be its lamp” (Rev 21:23). Is it not clear, that he points out here that this [Lamb] is Jesus, Who is divinely transfigured now upon Tabor, and the flesh of Whom shines, is the lamp manifesting the Glory of divinity for those ascending the mountain with Him? 

John the Theologian also says about the inhabitants of this city: “they will not need light from lamps, nor the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shed light upon them, and night shall be no more” (Rev 22:5). But how, we might ask, is there this other light, in which “there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (Jas 1:17)? What light is there that is constant and unsetting, unless it be the Light of God? Moreover, could Moses and Elias (and particularly the former, who clearly was present only in spirit, and not in flesh [Elias having ascended bodily to Heaven on the fiery chariot]) be shining with any sort of sensory light, and be seen and known? Especially since it was written of them: “they appeared in glory, and spoke of his death, which he was about to fulfill at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:30-31). And how otherwise could the Apostles recognize those whom they had never seen before, unless through the mysterious power of the Divine Light, opening their mental eyes? 

But let us not tire our attention with the furthermost interpretations of the words of the Gospel. We shall believe thus, as those same ones have taught us, who themselves were enlightened by the Lord Himself, insofar as they alone know this well: the Mysteries of God, in the words of a prophet, are known to God alone and His perpetual proximity. Let us, considering the Mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord in accord with their teaching, strive to be illumined by this Light ourselves and encourage in ourselves love and striving towards the Unfading Glory and Beauty, purifying our spiritual eyes of worldly thoughts and refraining from perishable and quickly passing delights and beauty which darken the garb of the soul and lead to the fire of Gehenna and everlasting darkness. Let us be freed from these by the illumination and knowledge of the incorporeal and ever-existing Light of our Savior transfigured on Tabor, in His Glory, and of His Father from all eternity, and His Life-Creating Spirit, Whom are One Radiance, One Godhead, and Glory, and Kingdom, and Power now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Sermon on the day of the Holy Prophet Elias

20th July / 2nd August
Gospel Reading: St Luke 4:22-30

NOW we are making a prayerful commemoration in honour of one of the greatest prophets of ancient time, Elias the Thesbite (i.e. from the town of Thesbe). We generally think that people are called prophets who can foretell the future. But this is far from true. The prophets, these were pious people chosen by God, who instructed the people in the Faith, who dared to convict the dishonourable, threatening them with punishments from God. Pious people, however, they comforted with the hope of the coming into the world of the promised Saviour, and, to confirm that they had been sent by God, the Lord gave them the power to work miracles and to foretell the future.

In doing this, they sincerely and often boldly besought the Heavenly King with regard to those sinners who were dallying in lawlessness. And it is exactly such a man that the glorious Elias was, who is called an angel in the flesh by the Church because of his rigorous manner of life, full of every kind of deprivation, and the constant striving of his heart and mind towards God. He appeared in the days of the impious Israelite King Ahab and the latter’s evil wife, Jezebel, when almost all the people, forgetting the true God, had sunk into lawlessness. As stern instruction did not work, some other, stronger remedy was necessary. And so Elias appeared before Ahab and remonstrated with him: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, in these years there shall be neither dew nor rain except at my word.”

The heavens were shut up, the earth dried up, and a great famine fell upon that land. Seeing such affliction, the people came to the understanding that this was a punishment from God, and little by little they began to repent. Ahab and his Jezebel alone would not humble themselves at all, and they sought Elias everywhere, because they considered that he was responsible for what had come to pass. How like our situation this is! When our behaviour is shown us as bad in some way, we never think of correcting this, but before anything else we dig ourselves in lest anyone might see this. Grant us here and now such a man that he might make us aware!

In the end Elias appeared before Ahab, his wife Jezebel and a multitude of pagan priests, all of whom still worhipped idols, and he proposed that he would demonstrate the power of the true God before all the people. For this purpose, two altars with sacrifices were made ready, one in honour of Baal and the other for the God Whom Elias worshipped. And it was agreed among all the people that the One who sent down fire from heaven on His sacrifice would be accepted as the true God.

The pagan priests of Baal prayed long and until they grew weak, and, of course, as soon as Elias prayed immediately a heavenly fire fell upon the sacrifice though it was soaked in the water, which had been poured around abundantly. And then all the people, struck by such a wonder, cried out: “The Lord, Whom Elias worhippeth, is the true God!” On that very day, at Elias’ word, rain fell, though there had been none for three years and six months.

Even before this the Lord had several times been attentive to the supplication of His servant. It is known that through the prayers of Elias a handful of flour and a small quantity of oil, belonging to a certain pious widow of Sarepta in Sidon, were sufficient, to feed several persons in the days of that dreadful famine. When the son of this widow died, then Elias prayed and he rose again. Such is the power of prayer!

But someone will say, he was a great prophet. Yes, that is true. That is why the Church calls us to emulate him, which is fully possible for Elias was a man like unto us (James 5:17). Know that it was not to the prophets and Apostles only that Christ said, “Ask and it shall be given you,” but it was said in general to all His true followers. Listen: “it shall be given you” provided only that we pray with perseverance, with deep faith, and that the object of our petition is not contrary to the wisdom and goodness of God or the good of the person who prays. Unfortunately, we confine ourselves only to exterior prayers. In actual fact, two or three prayers we have learned, the sign of the Cross with a prostration - and that is all! We skate, as one might say, on the surface, and we think that we have already prayed. No, this is only a preparation for real prayer. 

Imagine a cold, unheated room. Then you put wood in the stove; it flares up but still the room is not warmed. The desired temperature will be reached later, when the wood is burning through and the stove closed down. It is something like this with prayer. The holy words that you have learned are like the logs, warming up your soul and bringing it to the boil. Then, and only then, the reading of the appointed prayers may be curtailed, the soul speaks herself, and from the eyes tears of joy will flow.

Oh, what a blessed condition!… It does not last for long, and of course, it rarely happens, but should we experience it only once we will unremittingly yearn for it to be repeated. Here, indeed, is the prayer which is capable of bowing Heaven down and the mercy of God to work great signs and even miracles….

Holy Prophet of God, glorious Elias, such was thy power in prayer that the heavens were shut up, and again fire and water were called down from heaven, help us sinners that our hearts may be set alight with the flame of prayer and that tears of repentance might flow, that the Lord might also deem us worthy to be with thee….

Holy, glorious Elias, pray unto God for us! Amen.

From the “Collection of Teachings” of Archpriest Leonid Kolchev, published in Copenhagen in 1938