I love how the hymns of the Church take the mysteries of Christ and illumine them for us as we participate in the rhythms of the Church. They are full of such profound beauty. They can simultaneously be a balm for our aching hearts and also a joyful exclamation. The hymns show us how everything is connected to Christ and therefore help us understand more of how everything in our lives is also connected to Him and brought into wholeness by Him.
The hymns for the Feast of the Transfiguration are some of my favorites, and over the last couple weeks, they are ones I’ve kept coming back to and rereading. Last week I packed a rental van’s worth of my things and moved from my home in Atlanta to St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York to be near my fiancé as he finishes his last year of seminary here. There is so much joy in this transition, but it’s also a painful one. I am so thankful for this chance to be here this year as my fiancé and I prepare for then begin our married life together, but leaving behind my home, family, and community is something I am grieving. I want to grieve and process it well.
I’ve been reading a book called Abandonment to Divine Providence. The author writes that the two thieves crucified on either side of Jesus experienced the same thing so differently. Part of me balks at the concept of suffering or grieving well, because I think of those I know who are experiencing suffering and grief I can’t even comprehend. The concept of suffering well seems to add further burden on those already extremely burdened. However, it’s not that suffering has to look a certain way or that we have to make additional great strides while in great pain. All that is required for us to suffer well is to allow Christ to be present to us in our suffering.
There is so much that takes place within the services of the Church, more than we can take in all at once. I love how in different seasons of life different parts of the Liturgy become meaningful for me in new ways. A line that I have never paid much attention to before suddenly is exactly what I need for comfort or conviction or hope. The hymns for the Transfiguration have always been lovely to me, but this year, so many of the lines in them stood out to me.
“…that, having seen Thy wondrous works,
they might not be afraid of Thy sufferings.”
The hymns for the Transfiguration show us a relationship between joy and suffering. Christ knew what Peter, James, and John would experience in the days to come. He allowed them to see Him as He truly is so that they might have more peace at His death. Our joy and our pain are not disjointed. They both allow us to know Christ more.
“The mountain that once was veiled in gloom and smoke,
is now holy and revered,
since Thy feet, O Lord, have stood upon it.”
Christ’s very presence in our pain is transformative. What Christ’s presence did to the gloomy mountain is what His presence can do for our lives as He offers Himself to us in new ways moment by moment. He sanctifies our pain to us by being present to us in it.
“He was transfigured before them,
manifesting the loveliness of the original beauty,
though short of full perfection;
for He spared them as He assured them, lest seeing, they die.
Yet they perceived as far as they were able with their bodily eyes.”
It was mercy that kept them from seeing and experiencing more than they did. I want to learn to trust His mercy more and more. Before I was taught to pray “Lord, have mercy” I often found myself at a loss for how to pray for others or my own life. I don’t know what the ramifications of different outcomes will be. I can’t say I know how to discern what a manifestation of the Lord’s mercy looks like when it happens. I have to trust His goodness and His mercy both. Christ in both His mercy and goodness allowed Peter, James, and John to experience His Divinity enough to strengthen them for what was to come but not more than they could humanly bear.
“In His own person He showed them the nature of man
arrayed in the original beauty of the Image.”
“…making the image that had grown dark in Adam to shine once
again like lightning,
and transforming it into the glory and splendor of Thine own Divinity.”
Christ showed the glory of man by showing the glory of God. By showing us Himself, He shows us our true selves as well.
“The cloud of light shone around them on every side,
and they heard the voice of the Father
confirming the mystery of Thine incarnation,
that even after taking flesh,
Thou remainest the only-begotten Son
and the Savior of the world!”
The hymnography of the Church shows us how the story of God all fits together and relates to everything else. The Feast of the Transfiguration, where Christ’s Divinity is seen, is celebrated during the fast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, where we focus on she who gave God flesh. In this we see both natures of Christ.
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of our God,
and behold the glory of His Transfiguration,
the glory of the Only-begotten Son of the Father!
Let us receive light from His light!
Let us be uplifted in spirit,
and forever sing the praises of the
It is so easy to hear or sing the words of the Church’s hymns and not pay attention to them, but when we don’t let them penetrate our hearts, we fail to experience the beauty, the verbal icon, that they offer us. This Transfiguration hymn gives us a charge to not only go on our way, but to also behold Christ and be transformed by Him, to receive light from His light. May it be so.