Holy Hieromartyr Seraphim (Chichagov), Metropolitan of Petrograd (+1937)
Sermon on the Transfiguration of the Lord
The three favorite disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ witnessed His Transfiguration—Peter, John and James. Peter—as the first in faith; John as the first in love, and James as the first in patience and the martyric crown. But as we know, none left firsthand accounts of this most grandiose event in the earthly life of the Savior. Apostle Peter recalls only in one of his epistles that he and other disciples were on the holy mountain with Christ, when they were eyewitnesses to Him receiving from God the Father honor and glory (2 Peter 1:16-18). It was Holy Apostles Matthew, Mark and Luke who gave detailed accounts, though they themselves did not accompany their Teacher to Mt Tabor, they did not themselves behold the glory of the Son of God and only later heard of this from His favorite disciples, to whom Christ had actually foretold this beforehand. Is this not remarkable? How can we explain this? That no one doubted the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mt Tabor—that not one but three Evangelists wrote about it—yet they were not eyewitnesses themselves!
Let us examined, my beloved, why and for whose sake Divine Providence chose them to be reporters of the truth of the power and glory of the Transfiguration of the Lord, though they were not themselves witnesses. According to our faith, we cannot doubt that if Divine Providence chose three of Christ’s favorite Apostles to be witnesses, and then the three Evangelists as the heralds of this event, that there was some necessity for this. The reason for the selection of the favorite disciples of the Lord to behold the Transfiguration was explained by Holy Evangelist Luke. He begins his account with these words: “And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28). What were these sayings, after which the Lord ascended Mt Tabor? What happened eight days before the Transfiguration? It was not for naught that the Holy Evangelist denotes the time when this great event took place, specifically, eight days later after another event; consequently, there is some close inner bond.
This is what happened: firstly, Peter, despite what the people thought, who took Jesus for Elijah or as one of the Prophets, confessed Him to be the Son of God. Secondly, Peter, having heard for the first time of the coming crucifixion of Christ, felt it his duty to rebuke Him, expressing the notion that such a terrible fate is utterly incompatible with the dignity of the Son of God (Matthew 16:22-23). Therefore, after this, the Lord took Peter, John and James with Him, as the most prepared for beholding His true glory. It was necessary that Christ, after His appearance in the “form of a slave,” would secretly show them His Kingdom. He prophesied eight days before His Transfiguration: “But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27). It was necessary that the Apostles, even only for a moment, would behold the Kingdom of God in its glory, so that they would be strengthened in their nascent faith, for the terrible day of the voluntary submission of the Son of God into the hands of His enemies was approaching, and these disciples were to be witnesses of His sufferings, torture, humiliation and death on the Cross. Such was the goal of the Transfiguration of the Lord, that was its inherent significance!
Beholding the glory of God, the Apostles saw the Prophets Elias and Moses speaking with Christ. Surrounded by the cloud, they heard the voice of the Heavenly Father confirming the divine nature of His Son and commanding obedience and submission to Him. Hearing the discussion by the Prophets on the Cross, they heard that the Son of God is subjecting Himself willingly to crucifixion and that this is necessary for the salvation of mankind.
But the beloved disciples saw the glory of Christ only with their physical eyes, since they could not yet at the time spiritually grasp the divine goals of the glorification of the Son of God on Mt Tabor and the importance of this event for all future followers of Jesus Christ. Only when the Holy Spirit descended upon them were they given spiritual sight. “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me,” said Christ to them. “And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27). Therefore, all eleven Apostles upon whom the Holy Spirit descended on Mt Zion, and then the elected Paul, were made true witnesses of the life, glory and death by Crucifixion of Christ the Savior, as the Holy Spirit bore witness to them of the Son of God, and they were the first to be with Him.
Yet the three Evangelists selected to be the heralds of this event were determined by another Divine purpose. This was done for our sake. You heard today, beloved ones, songs of the great holiday composed by the Holy Fathers. During Liturgy we sing: “Come, let us climb the mount of the Lord and enter the house of our God and behold the glory of His Transfiguration!” The Holy Church invites us to behold all the glory of the Transfiguration of the Lord. And if the Church calls, this means it is necessary and fully possible. How can we behold the glory of the Son of God? Of course, spiritually, as the Holy Evangelists did after the Holy Spirit descended upon them and what the most beloved of the disciples could not at first comprehend during the Transfiguration of the Lord. We all received the Holy Spirit by inheritance from the Apostles in the Mysteries of the Church, beginning from our Holy Baptism, and so we are granted spiritual sight. Now we understand that Divine Providence selected these three Evangelists for this—and not the three disciples who were with the Lord on Mt Tabor—to be the couriers of the news of the Transfiguration of the Lord, to prove to us the possibility of spiritually seeing what the disciples of Christ saw. Thus it is to serve as an example to us, to edify us and inspire us to emulate them in faith.
But, my beloved, it is not enough for Christian life to only ponder the truth, it is necessary to believe the truth as it is, and so to follow it. Holy Apostle Paul says that the Transfiguration of the Lord is an event which must repeat itself for all true followers of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:6-18). Who does not yet know that we have a hidden man of the heart, as the Holy Apostles say (2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:3-4; Ephesians 3:16), is not a Christian. It is this inner person that we are obliged to move from perfection to perfection, from glory to glory, subsuming the truths of the faith, rooting out passions, obtaining virtues and preserving the grace given to us through the Mysteries of the Church. Those who are not internally transfigured from the earthly to the heavenly will not enter into the glory of the Only-Begotten Son of God!
We are all obliged to know in Christianity what is Divine and what is of mankind. So can we rebuke Christ, as did Peter, and doubt that His death on the cross is incompatible with the dignity of the Son of God, or that our sufferings, our tribulations, the crosses we bear are incompatible with the love of God for Christians? Shall we strive to prove out of ignorance that our internal transfiguration or rebirth is impossible under today’s difficult circumstances and with our feeble struggle against sin? Such “proofs” and self-justifications are easily countered by the Gospel reading of today. It explains under what horrifying circumstances the Transfiguration of the Lord occurred, how the soul of the Son of God was overfilled with thoughts of the coming sufferings and the Cross, in what prayerful solitude he abided with the Heavenly Father and how he discussed with the Prophets His forthcoming tortures and His Crucifixion. Thus, our inner transfiguration even under the most difficult circumstances of life is possible, for it demands only prayerful unity with Christ and the patient bearing of one’s cross. There is but one Cross, the true path to glorious transfiguration! And when our mind humbles itself before the constant evidence of the limitless love of God towards mankind, then our soul will spill over with thoughts of the salvific commandment of Christ: “Take up thy cross, that thou mayst follow Me.” Amen.