Confidence in our Bishops

Homily 222 – Transfiguration
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 6, 2016

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

The Transfiguration of our Lord is, to say the least, an important event in the life of the Church. We see it not only in the event as documented in the Gospel, but throughout history.

We even have a council, some say an Ecumenical Council, that involves the Transfiguration, that being the Palamite council in the 14th Century.

The common thread is the Uncreated Light. The Light which was beheld on Mount Tabor, as the Troparion tells us, by the disciples – as far as they could bear it.

It is the light which is the Glory of God, and the Glory of Humanity.

It goes back to the Garden of Eden, when the first created of humanity, Adam and Eve, were naked and not ashamed, because they were clothed in the Glory of God. The uncreated light of God’s glory.

Moses saw the uncreated light, even sheltered by God Himself, on Mount Sinai when God’s glory passed by him.

The fiery chariot of Ezekiel coming down to take him to God was that uncreated light of the presence of God.

The Apostle St. Paul, on the Road to Emmaus, encountered that light.

We see it in saints throughout history, and even today. St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco was said to have been enveloped in light when celebrating the Divine Liturgy.

This uncreated light – the uncreated part is important. Essential. Because it is of God.

Everything uncreated is of the person of God. God created everything, but creation is distinct from God. Uncreated is God. Himself.

So this was the great debate of St. Gregory Palamas and Barlaam in the 14th Century. Could humanity even apprehend something of God – uncreated?

St. Gregory said yes. Barlaam said no.

We don’t really know a lot about the arguments that Barlaam put forth. In those days, once truth was settled, the arguments against truth were generally discarded. Why would we create noise for ourselves by keeping them around?

At least, that was the thought.

So the only things we know about Barlaam’s arguments were the places where St. Gregory addressed them.

But if we did know – that knowledge would be dangerous for us. We would likely be tempted to set ourselves – that is, me – in a place of judgement over and above the fathers of the Council.

The nature of temptation is that it is used by the Evil One – the deceiver – to convince us that God isn’t truthful. That God isn’t Truth.

We are quick to make judgements at times about our Bishops. We think that perhaps they are like us – acting in their own best interests, and not in the best interest of the Church. Or, to be completely candid, in our individual best interest.

We’d like for them to identify us, our behavior, our beliefs, as the correct ones. The Orthodox ones.

Occasionally, sadly, a Bishop may act in that manner – but that is the exception, and, in recent memory, they have been removed from the lives of the faithful.

See, we don’t know our Bishops. We can’t know our bishops. They are spread too thin, we see them too infrequently.

As a priest I am blessed to work with the Bishops on a more regular basis. And I don’t always agree with them.

But I always see their hearts attempting to struggle with the right things. With holiness. With witness. With love.

And that, for me, restores hope and restores confidence.

We are blessed by them. The elders say that even when they are mistaken, we honor them and find salvation in following them.

God blesses obedience. Even when it may be the incorrect path.

When the disagreements came up in the early Church, as we read in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, they determined, in council, the response. And every one obeyed it.

There have been plenty of times when the councils got it wrong – but, with the influence of the Holy Spirit, the wrong directions were identified and corrected by a later council.

So in contemplating the feast we celebrate – the Metamorphosis, the Transfiguration – may we also be blessed to discern holiness, and to follow that holiness, that we might also be permitted to see the light of Tabor in those around us.

And in ourselves.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!