As we approach the glorious Feast of the Transfiguration I wonder if we truly believe what occurred on Mt. Tabor can occur in us? It was nothing less than a foretaste of the glory of the Kingdom of God. This Feast calls us to believe that this same transfigured Lord seeks to reveal himself in glory to us. That the same voice that spoke and commanded us to hear the Lord Jesus is speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit today. How do we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit today?
It is not in some subjective personal experience of emotion or feeling. The living voice of the Holy Spirit is the Tradition of the Orthodox Church. We must enter the church. For real change to happen there must be real contact with the risen Jesus. Everyone who enters this church must enter through the experience of Baptism (new Resurrection life) and Chrismation (the Baptism of the Holy Spirit). Chrismation is our experience of Pentecost, the revelation of the Holy Spirit to the heart of each member of the Body of Christ. It is the initial dispensation of the grace of God through the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Apart from this grace there is no transfiguration. Each of us now has everything in seed form to become holy or completely transformed (deified). This is the greatest gift because it imparts Christ in all His power to us.
The problem is that we quickly find out that sins and passions form like rust on the newly purified heart, hiding or obscuring the virtues planted at our Baptism. This rust of the passions causes us to lose our original destiny for which we were created. This very fact is why the modern idea of believing more, or being acquitted (justified) of our sins will never get to the root of the problem. People in the prison of sin do not need to be forgiven only, they want to be freed and healed so they don't go back to that prison. So often we forget and become ignorant of what Christ really did through His incarnation. Everything we need now for life and godliness has been provided (2 Pet. 1:3). We have been potentially restored to our true humanity, our true nature.
This means that if I can find a way to be completely united to the risen Jesus I can be completely healed of my sins. St. Nicholas Cabasilas said, "the Savior alone is the first to have realized the authentic and perfect man." He came down to us in order to take us up to Him. Christ united our human nature with His divine nature so that we might live as a new creation, a third race, as the Holy Fathers said. Having been made in God's image, we must acquire His likeness. How do we do this? The Orthodox Church has been teaching for two thousand years how to do this, and many Saints have been glorified by following this ancient pathway of healing the soul. We must enter the Church and follow this pathway.
1 Corinthians 1:30 says, "But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption". As a Protestant pastor I was so confused at this verse. How are we to be in Christ Jesus? Is it more prayer? More Bible reading? More faith? And how has Christ been made my sanctification? It was only after understanding how God works ascetically and sacramentally to heal us that it made sense.
After Baptism and Chrismation we must continue to participate in Christ, who became for us sanctification. One primary way we do this is through the other sacraments in the Orthodox Church. Sacraments operate only by and through divine grace. Something real occurs in these Mysteries of the Church. They are not magic, but they are the means by which change occurs in us and in the created order. Through these sacraments, the Eucharist, Confession, Healing, etc,. by faith we assimilate Christ into our very heart and life. God truly becomes our sanctification, everywhere present and filling all things within the experience of the Church.
But there is another secret to healing that is very important: the ascetical practice of the virtues. The virtues are also called perfections, graces, or energies. They are how we welcome the life of Jesus into our life. The virtues are found in obedience to the commandments. The commandments are not just some legal code meant to ruin our lives and make them filled with guilt. The commands are the door to the virtues. The seed of virtue that we have been given at our Baptism must be tended, cared for, and eventually reach full bloom. Obedience is how we water the seed planted in our hearts through Baptism.
The problem here is that we have been given a free will or self determination, which often is drawn down towards the earthly passions rather than up towards the heavenly fruits. Temptations from our own sinful flesh, the devil and the fallen world system we live in constantly seek to shipwreck our faith. The struggle is sometimes quite overwhelming. Many times as a Protestant Pastor I felt so alone in this struggle and so lost in a strategy to win against my sin. Scripture (and the church) says we must learn to work out our salvation, to fight the good fight, to run so as to win.
American Christianity has morphed away from this manly struggle for virtue into a pseudo- religion in which the old man is forever seeking to reform itself, but to no avail. We have lost the self-martyrdom, the self-denying, the life losing, and the cross bearing. We take Christ and His sacrifice only as long as we do not have to be crucified with Him (Galatians 2:20). All the while the world watches and sees that modern Christianity is becoming increasingly irrelevant as it seeks to attract an uninterested world. This is why the modern pseudo-church has or eventually will consent to the culture around it and compromise the truth of Christ. The Bible teaches that in these last days faith will waver (Lk.18:8), and love will grow cold (Mt.24:12). Is it any wonder why? When you remove the struggle for virtue then you remove the potential for power and authentic Christ like transformation. Christianity is no longer Christianity but a dead form of religion without the power (2 Tim.3:5).
If we say that sin is so powerful we have no hope, lets just seek forgiveness, rather than soul healing victory, then we become another dead philosophy. Jesus didn't need to come down, he could have just sent a book. What separates Orthodox Christianity from all other religions is its unique call to die and thus live, to assimilate Christ into your very being and come alive as a new creation (2 Cor.5:17). Orthodoxy believes that to participate in Christ's virtues is to participate in Christ. It requires a struggle and great faith. The entire mind of the church is geared toward a humble struggle to love Jesus and die to myself. It is so joyful and so painful at the same time. How often my own laziness keeps me from this holy struggle, and dulls me to the longing of the Holy Spirit's call within me. Do I really believe that within me is the Spirit jealously longing to make me like Jesus (James 4:5)? Is there a destiny which God has for me beyond just my own life agenda (1 Cor.2:9)? Am I forever consigned to the tyranny of the urgent, or is there more than what I am currently experiencing of Christ (Mt. 6:33)? These are the things that call me deeper into the Lord Jesus, as I seek my own personal transfiguration at this Feast.