Glory of God (Apodosis Transfig)
During the season of summer in America, we are inundated with messages of patriotism. Commercials resound with themes of American flags, apple pies, hot dogs, fireworks, and Chevy trucks. No doubt, this is due in large part to the major holiday of the summer, July 4th, on which we celebrate our nation’s independence. We are all very familiar with our national anthem which commemorates, not the War of Independence fought from 1775 to 1783, but rather commemorates a key battle in the War of 1812, which was also against Great Britain. Another famous song of American patriotism is the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I am sure you recognize the words:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; | He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; | He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: | His truth is marching on.
(Chorus) Glory, Glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
What is probably less well known is the author of the hymn, Julie Ward Howe, and that it was written in 1861 as the Civil War was beginning.
I want to focus on its phrase “the glory of the coming of the Lord” and specifically the word “glory” that it repeats throughout its many refrains and choruses. What is the glory of the Lord? I think it is appropriate to do this today on Sunday August 13th because it is the Apodosis of the Transfiguration. In other words, today is the completion of the Feast of our Lord’s Transfiguration which began last Sunday August 6th. The Feast of the Transfiguration commemorates the event when Jesus took three of His disciples, Peter, James and John, upon Mount Tabor, and there was transfigured before them. In the Gospel of Luke, it says that the disciples “saw His glory” (Lk.9:32). In the Gospel of Matthew, it says that Jesus’ “face shined like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light (Mt.17:2). This relates to one of the Old Testament readings associated with the feast, in which we hear about Moses meeting God on Mount Sinai and it said, “the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai” (Ex.24:16), and “the sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain” (Ex.24:17).
So, we have a sense of what the glory of the Lord looks like: bright as the sun, white as light, a consuming fire. But do we know exactly what is the glory of the Lord? The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Arndt & Gingich, 1957, University of Chicago Press) defines ‘glory’ (from the Greek ‘doxa’) as ‘brightness, splendor, radiance, magnificence.” I would say that the glory Moses saw on Mt. Sinai and was revealed to Peter, James and John on Mt. Tabor was the grace of God, or as St. Gregory Palamas would say, the uncreated energies of God. Palamas made the distinction between the nature of God and His energies. We can never know God by His nature but we can know and experience Him in His energies that He reveals to us.
And this is one of the main themes of the Transfiguration Feast. Not only do we come to know Jesus as the Divine Logos, the Son of God the Father, but we come to know that God’s glory can become our glory. After God spoke to Moses face-to-face (Ex.33:11) and gave Him the Tablets of the Law (Ex.34:4), Moses descended from Mt. Sinai, and when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, his face was shining (Ex.34:29-35). This is similar to Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen, whose face shined like an angel as he preached Christ (Acts 6:15). This is what Jesus meant when He prayed to God the Father: 22And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one (John 17:22). Furthermore, the giving of God’s glory to us is underlined in the Wedding service of the Orthodox Church, where we sing Psalm 8:5 as the couple is being crowned: “O Lordour God, crown them with glory and honor. And right after that in the Gospel, when Jesus performs His first miracle, changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. It says, 11This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. (John 2:11)
However, receiving and reflecting the glory of God is not easy nor automatic. It requires great effort on our part. Notice that God revealed His glory Moses, as He revealed to Peter, James and John, on a mountain. Climbing to the top of a mountain is not easy. It requires effort, strength, training, planning and cautiousness. Seeing the glory of God requires a pure heart (Mt.5:8), which is gained through askesis, or spiritual training and discipline. Askesis involves deep self-sacrifice in prayer, fasting, worshipping, almsgiving, repentance, confession, receiving unction and the Eucharist. Jesus emphasized two of them, prayer and fasting, in today’s Gospel reading for today (10th Sunday Matthew 17:14-23)
I have witnessed only few people who truly reflected the glory of God. One is Irena Sendler, the lady who smuggled 2,500 Jewish babies out of the Warsaw Ghetto of Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII. I recently posted her story and a brief biographical video on my Facebook page. I was inspired by her bravery during the war but I was equally inspired by her shining face as a 90 year old woman. She seemed to reflect the glory of God. I remember Bishop Gerasimos of Abydos, the retired bishop of Boston, who lived on our seminary campus, who attended all the chapel services, who occasionally visited the Summer Church Camp of Boston. His face shined also with the glory of the Lord. A third example, is Fr. George Maloney, a Byzantine Rite priest and famous author on Eastern Christian spirituality, whom I had the honor of meeting when he came for our Lenten retreat during the time I served Holy Apostles Church in Chicago. I picked him up at the airport, and on the drive back to the church, we talked quite a bit. I noticed a unique radiance in his face. I asked him how old he was, thinking he was in his mid-fifties. He replied that he was 72 years old. I was astounded. I believe he reflected the glory of God.
As we close today, let us remember the words of the Apolytikion of the Transfiguration—the main hymn of the Feast.
When You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God, You showed Your disciples Your glory as far as they could bear. So now, for us sinners also, let this same eternal light shine forth through the prayers of the Theotokos. O Giver of Light, glory to You.
Thus, we sinners pray that Christ not only reveal His glory to us but that He allow His glory to shine forth through us. We need not only to pray for this, but we also need, especially during the Dormition Fast, the prayers of the Virgin Mary and all the Saints to help us shine with the glory of God. Amen!