On June 30, 2013, by the Grace of God and the laying on of hands of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, I was ordained to the Holy Priesthood and installed as the Associate Pastor here at Saint Mark. Ever since then we have shared in worship, ministry, fellowship, and philanthropic service; and in the process not only grew the Church but ourselves as well as followers of Christ. Now in what seems like only a few blinks of an eye, His Eminence and I are moving on to the next chapters in our respective ministries. While saying goodbye is difficult, this is the process by which the Orthodox Church has grown and spread to all reaches of the earth over the last two thousand years.
Looking ahead just a few weeks, during the beginning of August, I will be settling in to my new surroundings. In that first week the Orthodox Church will celebrate the Great Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord. This is the moment when Christ took His most trusted disciples (Peter, James and John) and ascended Mount Tabor, and was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as the light. Suddenly, while bathed in His glorious, uncreated light, the disciples saw standing on either side of Christ, the two most significant figures of the Old Testament: Moses and Elijah. They spoke to them concerning the Lord’s saving Passion which was about to take place.
Now what has always stood out to me about this event, is how Peter responds. He is so overcome by God’s Grace, and awestruck at the magnificence of his surroundings that he loses himself and says “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter is so blissfully happy at this moment that he asks if he can build them housing so they never have to leave.
This leads us to one of the most overlooked verses in the entire New Testament. When the disciples open their eyes after being overwhelmed by the radiance of God, they saw only Christ (without the light, Moses and Elijah, or the voice of the Father from above). And comforting them He simply says “Rise and have no fear!” What we often assume here is that Christ is referring to the Apostles’ growing fear of the Lord’s Transfiguration. After all, we see in the icon that they are clearly taken aback by the moment. But remember Peter wanted to build booths for everyone so they could stay there. So could it really be that they are now afraid of the thing that brought them so much joy? Perhaps, but today I am thinking of this passage a bit differently. Today I feel as though I can relate to situation of these men. I look around at this magnificent place, this holy place, this radiant & luminous place, and I see my Mt. Tabor. Much like the disciples, I find myself scrambling to come up with a way in which I can stay here forever. Can I build a stronger house? Can I invent a time machine? Can I change my phone number and ignore all future calls from Atlanta?
No. Like those men, I can’t... and it’s scary. So I believe that Christ is telling them to rise and not be afraid of having to leave!
For me the fearful thing is not staying in the beautiful, comfortable place they had always known, but being told that it is coming to an end and that they would have to venture out on their own. This is why I believe the Lord is reassuring them in this moment. He understands that they cannot remain with Him on Mt. Tabor forever. He knows the purpose He has for them. He has called them not only to study from Him as disciples, but to serve and be “sent out” as “Apostoloi.”
"...our Lord was not satisfied by transfiguring only one mountaintop"
I look around at many of the faces in the pews on Sundays and I think about the times we have spent here in this South Florida Paradise. I think about what we have accomplished and I mourn at the thought of being forced to leave it. But now I hear the words of the Lord whom we are called to serve, saying “rise and have no fear.” For He has a purpose for us. For you it is here at Saint Mark, for me it will be in a new vineyard. Yet in this uncertain time I recall the words of the Psalmist “The LORD is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 26:1)
If that is not enough then we have to look no further than today’s Gospel lesson for more reassurance. Christ reminds us in Matthew Chapter 6 that we are most-cherished by Him. If God provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, then wouldn’t He provide for us as well, His most beloved creation? None of us can add one cubit’s worth of anything to our lives by worrying about things beyond our control. Change is hard, change is uncomfortable, and even scary sometimes. But change, in times like these, also leads to growth and the next step in God’s divine plan.
I have loved these last 6 years, and I will cling to these next three weeks with my every waking moment. This holy place, this majestic place, this Mt. Tabor here in Boca Raton will be sorely missed. But our Lord was not satisfied transfiguring only one mountaintop. He needed His disciples to become APOSTLES. He called them to serve a greater purpose, and that calling to serve still stands today. We are tasked with receiving instruction as disciples, witnessing and participating in the transformative properties of God’s Grace through our involvement in the Church, and then going out to share it, as apostles, with the people on other mountains, in other cities, and along different beaches.
So today, for the first time in many weeks and maybe even months, I rise and feel no fear. Thank you all for sharing your love and your light with me. Thank you for being my Moses and my Elijah, by witnessing to me this amazing Saint Mark Family. Thank you for helping me learn how to serve. Please continue to pray for us as we take these next steps in this calling.