When God created the world in the beginning, He came to the 7th Day upon which He rested and blessed the Sabbath rest. St. Maximus the Confessor wrote that God intended to have the humans continue His creative work and to transfigure all of the earth into the Paradise of Delight. That is the very task for which humans were created to make all of earth into Paradise. God didn’t complete that work and didn’t do it all for us, but rather empowered us to share in this creative and life-giving work, and He left work to be done on earth by His human creatures (work He could have done Himself). God entrusted us with the task of having dominion over the earth – our Lordship was to turn the rest of the earth He had created for us into Paradise. God waited for us to transform the earth into Paradise.
But humanity sinned, and forsook its task, thus dooming the earth to futility (Romans 8:19-23). The earth was not transfigured by humans into paradise, and rather only with great amounts of labor does the earth bring forth enough food to sustain human life. Weeds, insects, draught, floods, disease, all work against the fruitfulness of the earth. Paradise was lost. The transfiguration of the earth was never accomplished. Not only did the earth not produce the abundance of fruit and life which was normative to Paradise, but even the human heart failed to produce the spiritual fruits which God had expected from His creatures.
The Feast of the Transfiguration celebrates the events recorded in Matthew 17:1-9.
The giving of God’s Word to Moses on tablets of stone did not transfigure the human heart into a Garden of Delight producing an abundance of spiritual fruit. And neither can the transfiguration of the human heart occur merely by God’s Word being a book – which is nothing more than God’s words carved not into stone but printed on a page. Having bibles in our homes – whether on bookshelves or in icon corners – does not transfigure the human heart. For we need to get the Word off the page and into hearts.
How can we do this? By hearing the Word of God proclaimed. The Gospel and Epistle can actually be proclaimed in Church without anyone really hearing it. The reading might take place but our minds and hearts are far away from the words. So just the proclamation in itself is not enough – we must be actively listening to and receptive to the Word in our heart and minds. We must train ourselves to listen to the Gospel. And I am going to play with words a little and argue that we need to take those words – “listen to the Gospel” – literally! We must pay attention in the service, and to focus on hearing the Word – allowing it to enter into our ears and then into our hearts and minds. The Word enters into us and becomes incarnate in us through our ears!
In our audio-visually oriented society we want to read the words, but we have to train ourselves to listen to the Gospel. In the Gospel of the Transfiguration, God says to us regarding His Son: “listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5). God doesn’t tell us to read his lips, nor to read the bible. His command is LISTEN to my beloved Son! He wants us to approach His Son, His Word, by listening.
Several Patristic writers, such as St. Ephrem the Syrian, portray the Virgin Mary as being willing to hear the Word of God, and it is through her ear that the Word enters into her heart and then produces the fruit of her womb: Jesus the incarnate Word. The salvation of the world occurs because the Virgin Mary listens to the Word of God.
If we want our hearts to become the good soil in which the Word/seed of God grows and produces fruit, we have to be willing to do the work which God intended for all humans to do in transforming this world into Paradise. We must become the gardeners of our souls.
Today some farms are able to produce a real abundance of crops to feed humanity. But imagine the entire world being a paradise which produced a continual cornucopia of produce everywhere and in every season. That is the world of the Garden of Eden. Our supermarkets may have a good supply of produce, but that comes with tremendous work, and is still confined to certain places. But the Paradise of God was overflowing with fruit all easily accessed by humans. The Fallen world we live in is very limited in its ability to produce because it has not been transfigured into Paradise which God intended it to become under the dominion of humans.
On Transfiguration we bless fruit – as a reminder of the Paradise God intended this world to become. We realize we are still capable, even if in a limited way, of doing what God wanted us to do – transfigure the earth into a life-giving Paradise. Our having dominion over the earth and making it into a Paradise begins in our own hearts where we are to produce the fruits of repentance and the fruit of the Spirit.
On this Feast we also realize this world is not yet Paradise, and yet within this world, fallen as it is, we are blessed by God with knowing Him and tasting of His Kingdom of Paradise which is both here and in the world to come.