There are two ways to get to the top of Mount Tabor, the place where our Lord was Transfigured before the eyes of the Disciples…and neither is very pleasant!
The first way is to walk up small and extremely narrow road that winds its way to the top of the mountain. This approach takes someone who not only is in relatively good shape, but also has a bit of a flexible schedule, as it takes some time to get up to the peak!
The second way, is to wait at the base of the mountain near a coffee shop, for a van to pack you and 11 other sardines into it, and begin the nauseating, “hard turn” filled drive up to the Church of the Transfiguration.
Either way you decide to ascend the mountain, there is one certainty that becomes very clear from the moment that you see it from a distance…Tabor is not a small mountain to climb. It is steep, it is treacherous, and during the summer months, the weather is in the upper 90s with a lot of humidity in the air.
Now imagine for a moment all of the challenges that I just mentioned, during a time where there was no Church built on top of Mount Tabor to visit. This was the predicament that the Disciples in the Gospels found themselves in! They knew all of the difficulties and trials that are involved in climbing a mountain, and yet somehow, they cast away all doubts and followed our Lord up that steep climb, not know what to expect when they got to the top.
There is a question that I’m sure many people have asked themselves while sitting in that coffee shop on the base of Mt. Tabor: “If I were the disciples, would I scale such a mountain?”
This is a question that so many Christians who are searching for Truth, struggle with throughout their lives, and it is a question that is answered in several different ways in our day and age. There are some in our society that answer this question with one very simple word. While staring up at the high peak, dripping with sweat, and without any guarantees of what is waiting for them at the top, the word that comes out of their lips is simply: “Nope”.
“No” is a common response to faith that we hear about more often than not in our growing secular culture. There are those in this world that choose to believe in absolutely nothing. They have no faith in God. They have no faith in other people. There is no desire to grow as a human being. Like a plague, this unfortunate response to God has led so many to live in this world to only please themselves…doing anything and everything in their power to quench their earthly desires.
In a sense, those who say “no” to the climb are no different than the animals that roam the earth. They seek only their next meal and comfort, while spending their time in the mud of the world. There is no calling for anything greater, and they spend their entire lives searching for meaning in that mud that simply isn’t there. May the Lord have Mercy on those who refuse to climb the mountain of Divine Ascent!
Would I scale such a mountain?
The second answer to this question probably pertains to many of us. We have a desireto climb the mountain. We believe somewhere in our hearts that there is something deeper than what is on the surface of life...and we answer “yes”.
So we begin our climb. We make an effort to draw closer to Christ. We begin to fast. We start a regular prayer rule. We study the scriptures. We come to work and worship in the Church more than we had before. But then we get to a point on that climb where, rather than continuing to look up towards the peak, our gaze turns down towards how far we have climbed. As our arms begin to tremble and the sweat being to pour off of our heads, we gaze upon those who said “no”, who are sitting comfortably in the mud. And despite saying “yes” at the beginning of our Divine Ascent up the Mountain, we stop midway and say: “I’m good.”
How many of us have fallen into this trap? Maybe there was a retreat to a monastery, or a visit to a weeping icon, or maybe even a Sunday Liturgy that seemed to propel us forward towards the kingdom with incredible force. We say “Yes”,and we use that motivation to move up the mountain. We change our daily habits. We pay extra close attention to building up virtues. We make a conscience effort to turn our back on the passions. And for a period of time, things go very well, until that grace and vigor that we started with slowly begins to fade. As our gaze turns downwards from heaven to the things of the earth, we remember how much easier our life seemed before our Divine Ascent…and we forget why we said “yes”in the first place.
Would I Scale Such a Mountain?
There is only one correct answer to this question, dearest brothers and sisters in Christ, and it is not one that can come from our mouth. Living a life with,and more importantly for God, is not simply an affirmation of saying “yes”. It is a life that is full of action, and one that leads to rewards that go beyond our comprehension.
You have heard it said before by me, and I’m sure many other Bishops, Priests, Deacons and Laity who have been apart of the Orthodox Faith, that this Church isn’t just another denomination with certain morals, theology, and rules. Orthodoxy is the Way…the Truth…and perhaps the most important adjective…It is the Life. When we have our first meeting of catechumens and seekers who are wanting to learn more about the Ancient Christian Church, lesson number one is notto read as many books as possible to understand the history or the creed. The class that is taken is called “Metanoia”, because the most important thing that is needed is not a change of theology…it is a “change of heart”. Being a Christian is about learning and experience A LIFE, guided by the Holy Spirit through the Church, moving towards a genuine and unalterable love for God.
The Way…the Truth…and the Life.
For all of us who have been received into this life through baptism and chrismation, and for those who will be learning how to do so in the coming months, I can promise you that “The Life” is not easy. Ascending to Spiritual Heights…climbing that mountain of Divine Ascent in which we ourselves are transfigured with God’s glory…is a constant struggle. But we give thanks to God and His Church for giving us feast days like the one we celebrate today, as a reminder of the UNENDING Glory that awaits us at the peak.
Would I Scale Such a Mountain?
The answer is to this question is simple…Labor for your Salvation. When life gets difficult and heavy, causing you to turn our gaze from the peak of the mountain to the everyday mud of the earth, always keep the Feast of Transfiguration fresh in your mind and in your heart to remind you of the glory that awaits those Who seek an eternal life of Grace in the presence of God!