Some thoughts on a comment by Archbishop DMITRI of Dallas:
Commenting on the stories of the Transfiguration in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Archbishop DMITRI of Dallas observed that each of the stories contains the phrase “coming down” in reference to the disciples’ descent from the mount of glory into the world of daily ministry. In each gospel, he noted, they come down to controversy and difficulties. In drawing a conclusion he stated:
We ourselves are filled with the same glory in the Divine Liturgy. But like the disciples, we have to ‘come down’ and face the consequences of our faith.
The icon of the Transfiguration, like the icon of Pascha and the icon of the Ascension, places Christ in a “parenthetical” position, portrayed in the midst of an artistic figure that is known as a “mandorla.” In the grammar of icons it frames Christ in a moment that is transcendent – a moment that somehow escapes our ability to see clearly or describe. They are moments of Christ revealed in His glory and moments that reveal the fullness of truth that is found in Him.
But the danger for us as believers is to make Christ Himself a “parenthetical” moment in our lives – occasions and encounters marked off from the rest of the day or week – sometimes from the rest of our lives – and kept somewhere under the heading of “religion” or “faith.” This is especially true when faith in Christ becomes a “private” matter – occasionally distorted with the name of “my personal faith.”
Encountering Christ in His glory – whether that of the Transfiguration when we know Him as God – or that of Pascha when we know His glory in the humility of the Cross – or that of the Ascension when we see Him return to the right hand of the Father – however we encounter Christ – there must and should be consequences to our faith.
To live as a faithful believer in this world is an assurance of difficulties. It is the promise of Christ to us:
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life (Mk. 10:29-30).
And St. Paul:
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12).
There are many who have read the word “persecution” and have thought only of the literal persecution inflicted by a legal authority – which has not been uncommon in the history of Christianity but has not been nearly as universal as the promise. We have to understand persecution in a broader sense – that obedience to the gospel of Christ inherently brings us into conflict with the world, and even with much that is within our own lives. The gospel will have consequences.
I would argue that the gospel not only will have consequences, but that it must have consequences. The very action of its consequences in our lives is part of the saving grace of God working in us the treasure of our salvation.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us (Romans 8:15-18).
Returning to the image given us in the Transfiguration stories – we are shown the way through the “sufferings of this present time.” We must “come down”. That is, we follow Christ on the way of the Cross in which His self-emptying before the sufferings of this world were, in fact, the humility of God, indeed the power of God that is victorious over all things.
May God give us grace to “face the consequences” of the Gospel and to share in His victorious suffering. This same inevitability of suffering also makes it incumbent on the faithful to live in such a way that we can support one another in the sufferings each bears. This is part of the essential life of the Church and perhaps the part that is most often neglected or least developed. It is particularly difficult in the culture of individualism to understand that the sufferings of one are the sufferings of all, just as the joy of one is the joy of all. We are tempted to suffer alone rather that ask for help and we are hesitant to help when we are asked. But the consequences of the gospel would demand both of us – to humble ourselves to receive help and to help others in our humility.
Again – it is what the gospel terms: love.