Experiencing Paradise — Holy Transfiguration
Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to have a piece of heaven delivered to you to experience. Paradise. A world without sorrow or suffering. Freedom from death, corruption and sin. Most importantly and brilliantly of all is complete communion and oneness with God, where we can converse with Him face to face.
Before His death and Resurrection, Christ desired that the disciples have an idea of what it would mean to experience paradise. He brought Peter the Rock, James his brother, and John the soon to be son and care-taker of His mother to mount Tabor. There the disciples experienced the trinity in Its glory. The troparion describes that they saw “what each could bear.” Christ’s vestments were transfigured and His face shone like the sun. (Gospel Reading for Transfiguration)
The disciples saw Moses and Elijah, Moses representing the law and those who have died, and Elijah representing those who are alive in Christ. The two prophets conversed with Christ face to face, just as we have the opportunity to do and as the saints have already achieved.
The sight was so brilliant, the disciples did not want to leave. Peter was ready to build booths for each in order to remain there forever! Who would, after all, have any desire to leave paradise once they had a chance to truly experience even a taste of it?
Why would Christ do this? On the one hand, He was showing them the reason for his death and Resurrection. Through His death, He opens the door to our own salvation. On the other hand, by experiencing this glory, the disciples could do nothing but only yearn for it once more. The church fathers and monastics write that only rarely does one truly experience the grace of God. In this way, they know what their hearts are yearning for and all the more seek to achieve it again. In this way we cannot become desensitized by the Glory, or comfortable in our own efforts. Rather, we are able to work more vigorously for the Glory of God and the Salvation of our own souls.
St Athanasius states,
“Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and – I speak boldly – it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.“
Christ transfigured in His glory is what we are all seeking to achieve for our own beings. St. Athanasius also states in his writings On the Incarnation that, “God became man, so man could become god” Jesus, as human, was transfigured in shining light by the presence of the Holy Spirit. We too can also live so that our faces shine with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
St Athanasius continues,
“Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: Lord, it is good for us to be here. It is indeed good to be here, as you have said, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honor could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?“
While we are part of the church militant, we are in a constant battle and struggle for our salvation and oneness with God. Each day we must live with Christ constantly in our mind, heart and soul so that by the grace of the Holy Spirit, our grace can be multiplied. In this way, out bodies, as temples of the Holy Spirit, may be pure, clean and shining vessels.