On Tuesday, August 6, 2013, we celebrate the Great Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor. (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36) It is the custom in our parish to serve the Akathist “Glory to God for all Things” on Thanksgiving day, and I have always been struck by the following words from this amazing Akathist (we also read verses from this Akathist every year at our Eastern Orthodox Youth Camp) that connect directly to our celebration of Transfiguration:
“Why does all nature smile mysteriously on feast days? Why is the heart filled at these times with a wonderful lightness that is incomparable to anything on earth; how is it that the very air at the altar and in the church become light bearing? This is the breath of Your grace, the glow of the light of Tabor: the sky and the earth are singing at these times in praise: Alleluia!”
“Why does all nature smile mysteriously on feast days?” The simple answer is that God loves us! Every one of the Feasts of the Church reminds us of God’s unconditional love for His creatures made in His image and likeness. “How is it that the very air at the altar and in the church become light bearing?” I think there is an endless list of answers! The Church is the home of Christ! As we gaze into the dome of our church we see Christ in glory blessing us. Christ is the Light! Therefore the church is “light bearing.” On the Feasts, we read from Holy Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) about the event at hand. On the Holy Altar is the Gospel which contains the Good News of Jesus Christ—the Light! The air of the church, filled with incense and the echoes of the hymnography sung resonate with the Light of Christ and the Love of God the Father.
But, I think, most importantly, this is all experiential. We must be there to hear the scripture read, to smell the incense, to sing the hymns, to make the sign of the Cross with other believers and to listen and learn. Without our own personal experience of this hymn from the Akathist “Glory to God for all Things,” the words are just words. And, lest we be deceived, it’s not that we go to the services of the church to become good or to find peace, but that we experience God’s love for us, even in our sinfulness. These words from St. Maria of Paris are helpful: “It would be a great lie to tell searching souls” ‘Go to church, because there you will find peace.’ The opposite is true. The Church tells those who are at peace and asleep: “Go to church, because there you will feel real anguish for your sins, for your perdition, for the world’s sins and perdition. There you will find an unappeasable hunger for Christ’s truth. There, instead of becoming lukewarm, you will be set on fire; instead of pacified, you will become alarmed; instead of learning the wisdom of this world you will become fools for Christ.” And these words from C.S Lewis as well: “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” On this Feast of Transfiguration may we all be awakened from sleep and experience a lightness that is incomparable to anything on earth and the Grace of God from the glow of the Light on Mt. Tabor and join in the sky and earth singing praises to God:
You were Transfigured on the Mount, O Christ God,
Revealing Your glory to Your disciples as far as they could bear it.
Let Your everlasting Light shine upon us sinners!
Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giver of Light, glory to You!
(Troparion for Transfiguration)