Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Greater Appearance than the Transfiguration

Below you will find an excerpt from a homily by St. John Chrysostom on the Transfiguration of Christ.  The entire sermon may be read at All people have the promise to see Christ in a far greater brightness than the disciples did on the mount of transfiguration, because He will appear in order to judge every single person that has ever lived or will live.  As St. John Chrysostom so eloquently states it, "No man will there appear rich or poor, mighty or weak, wise or unwise, bond or free; but these masks will be dashed in pieces, and the inquiry will be into their works only."  

The threat of judgment is a sobering thought.  To accept the thought can bring about an opportunity for transformation, though.  If I am slighted, or hurt, or caught up in the middle of some distressing situation where I would normally become angry, yell, speak ill, or become vengeful, it is the thought of my own judgment that can calm me down and hold my will captive to God.  If it is present in my mind that my behavior in that moment - even every idle word (Mt. 12:37) - must be answered for by me, then I will choose my words with caution and discretion, as well as my actions, thoughts, and heart.  We are not given anyone else to judge and to bend according to our judgments other than ourselves (and maybe our children as we guide them in choosing good over evil, but even that with compassion and respect for the adults they one day must be!).  

That judgment is assured also clarifies Christ's commandments in the gospels. He has acquired everything we need for our rehabilitation and adoption into the household of God, and He has left us with instructions that tell us how to use that rehabilitation and adoption.  He's accomplished everything for us, given us the fullness of His grace and kingdom within us by the Holy Spirit in His Church, leaving to us only what pertains to free will.  That is the only thing He has left to us to rein in under His reign, though even there He gives us great assistance through His grace and sacraments.  If it is only free will that I must be concerned about - with all of heaven ready to support it - then that is truly an easy yoke and light burden.  

And when it is in that one area, my free choice, that I fall short, it then is all the more shameful and sad.  What more can Christ do for me than what He has already done?  What more can He give?  What more can He teach?  What more can He promise?  

Of course the answer is 'nothing more.'  The mystery of a man or woman's salvation lies in his or her freedom.  The mystery of the crucified and risen Christ's victory lies in that His kingdom advances without overturning but instead upholding free will.  He does not have to force us, but wins us over by truth and love.  And when in our freedom we embrace Christ and endeavor to be the friends of Christ (Jn. 15:14), then we become living mysteries ourselves in the Christian sense of the word - i.e. living sacraments of the kingdom.  And in this friendship lies true freedom that no man can take from you, for it is hidden with Christ in God.

In connection with my thoughts above, I am linking the article from which I found the icon of the Last Judgment.  The article is entitled, "The Basis of God's Judgment."

From Homily 56 on St. Matthew
by St. John Chrysostom

6. And when they heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. Matthew 17:6-8

How was it that, when they heard these words, they were dismayed? And yet before this also a like voice was uttered at Jordan, and a multitude was present, and no one felt anything of the kind; and afterwards again, when also they said, It thundered, John 12:28-29 yet neither at that time did they experience anything like this. How then did they fall down in the mount? Because there was solitude, and height, and great quietness, and a transfiguration full of awe, and a pure light, and a cloud stretched out; all which things put them in great alarm. And the amazement came thick on every side, and they fell down both in fear at once and in adoration.

But that the fear abiding so long might not drive out their recollection, presently He puts an end to their alarm, and is seen Himself alone, and commands them to tell no man this, until He is risen from the dead.

For as they came down from the mount, He charged them to tell the vision to no man, until He were risen from the dead. what they were about.

7. Nothing then is more blessed than the apostles, and especially the three, who even in the cloud were counted worthy to be under the same roof with the Lord.

But if we will, we also shall behold Christ, not as they then on the mount, but in far greater brightness. For not thus shall He come hereafter. For whereas then, to spare His disciples, He discovered so much only of His brightness as they were able to bear; hereafter He shall come in the very glory of the Father, not with Moses and Elias only, but with the infinite host of the angels, with the archangels, with the cherubim, with those infinite tribes, not having a cloud over His head, but even heaven itself being folded up.

For as it is with the judges; when they judge publicly, the attendants drawing back the curtains show them to all; even so then likewise all men shall see Him sitting, and all the human race shall stand by, and He will make answers to them by Himself; and to some He will say, Come, you blessed of my Father; for I was an hungered, and you gave me meat; Matthew 25:34-35 to others, Well done, thou good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Matthew 25:23

And again passing an opposite sentence, to some He will answer, Depart into the everlasting fire, that is prepared for the devil and his angels, Matthew 25:41 and to others, O thou wicked and slothful servants. Matthew 25:26 And some He will cut asunder, and deliver to the tormentors; but others He will command to be bound hand and foot, and cast into outer darkness. Matthew 22:13 And after the axe the furnace will follow; and all out of the net, that is cast away, will fall therein.

Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun; Matthew 13:43 or rather more than the sun. But so much is said, not because their light is to be so much and no more, but since we know no other star brighter than this, He chose by the known example to set forth the future brightness of the saints.

Since on the mount too, when He says, He did shine as the sun, for the same cause did He so speak. For that the comparison did not come up to His light, the apostles showed by falling down. For had the brightness not been unalloyed, but comparable to the sun; they would not have fallen, but would easily have borne it.

The righteous therefore will shine as the sun, and more than the sun in that time; but the sinners shall suffer all extremities. Then will there be no need of records, proofs, witnesses. For He who judges is Himself all, both witness, and proof, and judge. For He knows all things exactly; For all things are naked and opened unto His eyes.Hebrews 4:13

No man will there appear rich or poor, mighty or weak, wise or unwise, bond or free; but these masks will be dashed in pieces, and the inquiry will be into their works only. For if in our courts, when any one is tried for usurpation, or murder, whatever he may be, whether governor, or consul, or what you will, all these dignities fleet away, and he that is convicted suffers the utmost penalty; much more will it be so there.