Clarity in a Tarnished World
By Douglas Cramer
Our spiritual sight is what gives us the capacity to discern a path through the problems we encounter, but for most of us, this capacity has been clouded and diminished by everyday life in a tarnished world. St. Symeon the New Theologian, speaking of those who are spiritually blind, writes: “They all live in darkness and walk among shadows until they have shown a contrite heart. For contrition is the gate which leads from darkness into light, and those who have not yet passed worthily through the gate have not yet entered into the light.” If we are going to see God, our spiritual vision will require contrition on our part, and supernatural help from God.
Matthew writes, “When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, ‘Son of David, have mercy on us!’ And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then He touched their eyes, saying, ‘According to your faith let it be to you.’ And their eyes were opened.”
The emphasis on the faith and contrition of the blind men in this story makes it clear that it is not just about physical healing. The spiritual clarity of these men—their ability perceive the things of God—was also restored. Spiritual eyes are what enable a person to see a clear path through the problems of this world, however personal, insidious, or mundane these problems and temptations might be.
Symeon teaches that contrition is the doorway into restored spiritual sight. Contrition entails turning from one path and choosing another. But there is one question that hovers over this choice, which is: If my sight is restored to me, what can I expect to see? And, moreover, will it be something I want to see?
In the days before his Crucifixion, Jesus journeyed to Mt. Tabor with Peter, John, and James. Together, Jesus and His closest disciples ascended the mountain, where his true form was revealed to them. Matthew writes, “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.”
The light that was revealed to the disciples is the visible form of the power of God. It appears that if our spiritual sight is restored, we too will see this power. Each of us must make our own journey to Mount Tabor.
Dr. Papanikolaou writes:
The story of the Transfiguration teaches us what we are called to be, the reason for our creation. We must never forget that in Jesus not only do we see God, but we see humanity, but not just any humanity, but humanity as it was meant to be. In Jesus we must see ourselves and what we are called to be. In short, we are called to be transfigured, to reflect the divine light through our very bodies.
But how is this goal possible? Dr. Papnikolaou goes on to warn us that this goal can seem so extraordinary and remote that we put off trying to achieve it. But, he says, the Church offers us a clear way to achieve this goal step by step.
For although the disciples saw the power of God and the truth of Jesus revealed on Mount Tabor, it is also true that, days later, all of them faltered. The restoration of our spiritual sight, or even a magnificent a vision as the disciples had on Mount Tabor, will not free us from spiritual struggle, any more than a person with 20/20 vision is exempt from all manner of potential pitfalls and errors associated with ordinary vision.
God wants to see our lives transformed. And He will guide us through this transformation. He wants to strengthen us and transform us. He wants our relationships to be stronger, so that his love is made manifest. He wants us to glorify him in our bodies, so that we can avoid the traps of gluttony, sloth, and lust, and be filled with the energy to celebrate and serve him.
We may believe we are far from personal transfiguration. But, as with all of our projects in life, we must find motivation and inspiration each day to transfigure the most mundane and material real-world problems we face. It consists in turning our hearts and minds to God and letting the clarity of his light shine upon our everyday darkness.
The story of Christ’s Transfiguration continues saying, “a bright cloud overshadowed them [the disciples]; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!'” God has commanded each of us, through His words spoken directly to the Apostles: Hear my son!
Take these words to heart. We will falter, but we can limit our faltering, and rise again when we stumble, by hearing the words of Jesus. The solutions to the problems we face in our lives, even the problems we do not think of as spiritual, are found in God. We will not find these solutions until our sight is restored and we see the light.
The story of the Transfiguration reveals to us the majesty of God. It also reveals to us a truth that in some ways is more difficult to grasp: the majesty of humanity. We do not usually shrink from affirming the greatness of God. It can be more difficult, however, to affirm the majesty of humanity.
In one of the hymns for Transfiguration, we sing:
Today on Tabor in the manifestation of thy light, O Lord
Thou light unaltered from the light of the un-begotten Father,
We have seen the Father as light,
And the Spirit as light,
Guiding with light the whole creation.
The light of God, the power of God, is active in this very world; it can guide us and transform us. With our spiritual sight restored we can see this light and happily embrace its transformative power. Three great teachers of the Church speak to this fact:
St. Symeon teaches us that:
This Light shines already in the darkness, in the night and the day, in our hearts, in our spirits. It shines down on us, this Light without turning or change or any decline, unalterable, never eclipsed. It speaks and acts and lives and gives forth life, and whatever it touches it transforms into Light.
Speaking about the Light of God, Bishop Kallistos Ware writes: “He who beholds the divine light is permeated by it through and through, so that his body shines with the glory that he contemplates.”
Finally, St. Macarius says:
Just as the Lord’s body was glorified, when he went up the mountain and was transfigured into the glory of God and into infinite light, so the saints’ bodies also are glorified and shine as lightning. Just as many lamps are lit from one flame, so the bodies of the saints, being members of Christ, must be what Christ is, and nothing else. Our human nature is transformed into the power of God, and it is kindled into fire and light.
This reflection is adapted from a speech originally written for Fr. Christopher Metropulos of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and SCOBA's Orthodox Christian Network. Learn more about the powerful ministries of OCN on their website, www.myocn.net.