Dr. Nos’hi Abdel-Shaheed
The third stage: Christ Our Passover.
5- The Triumph of the Lamb (2nd continuation)
The Transfiguration (contd.)
The Orthodox emphasis on the Transfiguration is linked to two other important ideas of the Eastern Fathers: the deification and the vision:
As we have mentioned at the beginning of our talk on Orthodox spirituality, that the deification, i.e. a union with God, is the crown of spiritual life and the ultimate goal of Orthodox spirituality and of human destiny. St. Gregory Nazianzen says: “Let us become God because of Him, since He became man because of us.1 St. Athanasius the Apostolic says, “For He [the Son of God] was made man that we might be made God”2 The essence of man’s nature does not change in deification, or be transformed from a creature to a Creator. Rather, the existence of a human being is dependent on the divine grace given to him by the Holy Spirit, and then the tendencies of a person, his desires and ideas change and become under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit elevates the human spirit, completely sanctifies it and fills it with a divine non-created light. A true union occurs between the soul and God through love, which some fathers call “a compete union.” Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul meant when he said, “to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:19).
Deification may be a constant and progressive union, and it may also be very sporadic without continuity. It can be also disrupted by occasional falls. For the Christian, it is not something extraordinary, but the quite ordinary development and stabilization of the state that a person is called to experience after Baptism, after Chrismation, and after Eucharistic communion, as we have already mentioned at the beginning of the part of the three spiritual stages. In general, the more a person adheres to God with all his heart, mind and soul, the more he enters into this experience. Therefore, deification is simpler and more frequent than we often think.
Deification has several stages: These stages represent the growth of Christ in us, and the increase of Christ’s possession of the depths of our hearts. And the perfect deification of any person occurs when Christ has attained in him the stature allowed by God to the capacity of that person. As the Apostle Paul says: “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). The fullness of Christ is not entirely given to one person, but only to the entire mystical body of Christ (the Church), that is, to the Bride of Christ, who is glorified with His same glory.
The process of deification cannot be considered apart from the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It occurs and takes its course in a person through Christ’s Sacred Humanity. The incarnate Christ remains the A and Z of our spiritual life. Practically, we find that the secret union between the soul and Christ initiates in us a very strong warmth and vitality, as the words of the Bible say: “Abide in Me, and I in you (or be in Me and I in you) … I am the vine, you are the branches.” (John 15:4-5). And also “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:23). “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (Song of Songs 2:16).
The life of the union is not necessarily accompanied by ecstasies or visions. However, the history of spirituality shows that there is a close bond between the union and the vision. We shall not dwell here on the psycho-physiological description of the visions of the mystics, but we’ll outline the basic theological background of the concept of “vision.”
We should not limit the concept of “vision” within the frame of what our physical eyes see by the direct work of God in us, without adequate external and material causes. We should rather give a very broad meaning to the word “vision.” There are real, physical visions that come from God, which a person sees in front of his eyes outside himself. There are also inner visions, i.e., mental visions, without anything that we see from the outside. The divine vision may be without any precise image. It may be an overall vague sense that there is an external or internal light, or an awareness of a certain atmosphere, that is, a person becomes conscious of a certain “presence,” i.e., feels the presence of a person. Perhaps this vision is recognition of a certain “goal” given to our will, and the realization of a certain Divine guidance for us. This vision also can be a “prophetic dream.”
“The Vision” is a ladder with many steps. But all these forms are just a simple participation, more or less precise, in the heavenly vision that is saved for us, as the apostle Paul says: “as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”” (1 Cor. 2:9). John the Apostle says, “It has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2).
Therefore, we can say that any “vision” granted to us on earth is an anticipation, however dim, of the vision of God in heaven. In general, there is an ascending gradation in the external phenomena of spiritual life. This gradation begins with “words” and ends with “vision.” At first, a person begins to listen to God, and in the end he “sees” Him.
We know that many “visions” have been granted to saints and prophets. Spiritual giants such as the Prophet Moses and the Apostle Paul, were given a special vision of God which the tradition of the Church has placed above all others. As the apostle Paul says, “I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord … I know a man in Christ … He was caught up to the third heaven … and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (cf. 2 Cor. 12:1-4). The Apostle Paul adds after this. “Yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities.” His position is the position of all the mystics of the Church, that is, not to boast of talents and visions, but to boast of weaknesses.
We cannot talk about the vision without coming to the theme of ”light.” This theme is very important. All of the mysticism of the Old Testament is centered around the “Shekinah” that is, God’s dwelling among people, or, the “abiding presence.” The Shekinah appeared visibly in the form of light, which is the divine “glory” (whether in the burning bush in the wilderness or the glory of God in the Tabernacle …). In the New Testament, the ideas of “glory” and “glorification” often recur, and they must be understood, not in a merely moral sense, but rather in reference to the divine, and eventually visible light. St. John writes: “God is light” (1 John 1:5). The Lord Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). So our Passover Lamb is connected with light. As the Revelation says, “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.” (Rev. 21:23).
There is a profound sentence of the Apostle Paul explaining at the same time the meaning of “Transfiguration” and the inner process of “glorification” of the Lord Jesus in our souls when he says, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6). St. Paul himself, when he met the Lord Jesus on the way to Damascus, was suddenly surrounded by the splendor of a light from Heaven (see Acts 9:3). If we carefully examine all the New Testament references to the “light” and the “glory,” we will discover the important place these two ideas occupy in the Christian spirituality of the first generation of Christianity. There is a natural inclination among the believers since the Old Testament to the notions of “light” and “luminosity.” This is the reason for the pivotal role of “transfiguration” and the importance of the idea of ”light” and “glory” in Orthodox spirituality.
Some Fathers of the Eastern Church speak very normally in their commentaries on the Eucharist that it illuminates the mind and the heart, and that it radiates a divine light within the soul because it is the glorified body of Christ that radiates with light of the divinity into the souls that accept Him with faith.
(To be contd.)