Last Sunday after the Epiphany
2 Kings 2:1-12 • Ps. 50:1-6 • 2 Cor. 4:3-6 • Mark 9:2-9
A theology of light permeates these texts. In each instance, as we rightly read with Christian eyes, we perceive “the life which is the light of every human being” (John 1:4). The light, however, shines in the darkness. The darkness does not destroy the light, nor does it comprehend the light. The darkness is, to use words of St. Paul, “the god of this world” who “blinds the minds of the unbelievers.” Thus, while the light shines upon all, it is not seen by all, for only those who are filled with this light can know it and perceive it. “This light has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Has not Christ come precisely to heal the blind, to open eyes to his transfigured body? Anyone blinded now is not without hope because repeated moments of an inviting metanoia occur in the strange and real presence of ambulatory light, Christians who shine.
In the story about the succession of prophetic authority from Elijah to Elisha we see layers of remembered material, linking what is new to what is only. The journey toward the Jordan and the parting of the waters recall both Moses at the Red Sea and Joshua at the Jordan. The request of a double portion of Elijah’s spirit recalls the blessing customarily conferred on the eldest son. After Elijah’s rapture Elisha returns, parting the Jordan with Elijah’s mantle, thus showing the effective transference of power and authority. One senses a liturgical and ordered process at work to make the transfer of power publicly legitimate. As with all pomp, processions, and inaugurations, it is rather easy to fall into doubt. These are actions that a man may play.
Elijah, we recall, “ascended in a whirlwind.” During this strange ascent, Elisha fixes his eyes on Elijah and sees him with “a chariot of fire and horses of fire.” This blinding blaze works its way through optic nerve and brain and heart as Elisha keeps watching and cries out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horseman!” Elisha got what mantles alone cannot give, something that passes show, the Shekina of the Almighty.
The gospel story of the Transfiguration is of singular importance in Eastern Orthodox spirituality. It is viewed not as a temporal moment of luminosity, but rather the unveiling of a glory which eternally radiates from the eternal Son of God. St. Gregory Palamas says in his Homily on the Transfiguration: “The light of the Lord’s Transfiguration had no beginning and no end; … But by a transmutation of their senses the disciples of the Lord passed from the flesh to the Spirit.” St. Gregory of Thessalonica writes that “the pure of heart see God … who, being the Light, abides in them and reveals Himself to those who love Him” (see Vladimir Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God, p. 61). The Orthodox insistence that the “energies” which radiate from God are in fact God can be an important corrective to a Western tendency to regard “grace” merely as favor. Grace properly understood is “God himself revealing himself to us” (Lossky).
St. Paul insists that the light has “shone in our hearts” with the precise purpose “to give the light.” If, in this context, we recall Irenaeus’s famous remark Gloria dei homo vivens (“The glory of God is a living person”), we imagine a blazing, burning, boiling life, an invisible glory, but heat and light nonetheless.
Look It Up
Read 1 Kings 2:12. Take off your sunglasses.
Think About It
Grace is not only kindness. Grace is God.