Archive for December 27th, 2006

The Transfiguration of the Material World – Part 2

December 27, 2006


The transfiguration of the material world is not just a corollary of the doctrine of the Incarnation, but of the complete doctrine of salvation itself. Christ did not come and die, and rise again, only to make us better people. He came to make dead men live. He came to make a creation that is in the grip of death and decay become partakers of the incorruptible Life of heaven.

Orthodoxy is full of practical stories in which this transfiguration is seen to take place. The bodies of many of the saints show no signs of corruption (decay) centuries after death, despite the normal conditions for corruption. There is great devotion in the Church to the relics of these saints. Their incorrupt bodies, though not the resurrection itself, point towards something greater than the laws of nature where death is not having its complete way.

There are many stories as well of nature itself behaving in strange ways. Flowers blooming at the wrong time of year simply because they are in the presence of the Holy. Indeed, a nice Christmas story involves the “Glastonbury Thorn,” a rose which grows at the Abbey of Glastonbury in England that was always known to bloom at Christmas despite the contrary conditions. It was long a place of pilgrimage. I have no idea whether it still grows there or not.

For myself, my interest turns towards these many signposts – most of them small and relatively insignificant – that point to an order of nature that is not the order we know – but an order we do not know. It is an order that makes sense only if Christ is Lord and the Kingdom of God is even now breaking in on our world.

It’s as if the news of Narnia, that Winter is breaking and signs of Christmas have begun to be seen were being announced.

Every miracle, for me, stands in this category. Each one does not have to prove itself over and against all the contrary order. They happen when they should never happen. That they ever happen means that something is losing its grip and that something else is taking its place.

I have been part of miracles from time to time, and have benefitted from them, both for myself and for my family more than once. A Russian monk friend once said, “You Americans! You talk about miracles like you don’t believe in God!”

And he is probably right. We barely believe. But the inbreaking of the Kingdom continues to occur and all the powers of this age cannot hold it back.

The Kingdom of God is among us.

By the way, on the Orthodox calendar, it is my nameday, the feast of St. Stephen the Protomartyr. May he pray for us all and for the ministry of this blog!