When Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God, Thou didst reveal Thy glory to Thy disciples as they could bear it. Enlighten us poor sinners as well with Thine Everlasting Light, through the intercessions of the Theotokos, O Thou Giver of Light, Glory to Thee!”
Troparion of the Transfiguration
The name of our parish is Holy Transfiguration. The Transfiguration of Christ in many ways is the pinnacle of the Church year because following Pascha (Easter) and Pentecost, we see the Glory of God shining forth from the human body of Jesus Christ. It is a promise that as human beings ourselves, we can be filled with the Light and Life of God, even in this world.
This is the faith of the Orthodox Christian Church, and this is the Mystery we participate in at Holy Transfiguration, and indeed which is offered to us every moment of our lives.
Our faith is not merely one religion among many, but a call to be changed inwardly and outwardly by knowing Jesus Christ our God. Our faith begins with a person, not with a teaching or a set of moral principles. The teaching is a result of knowing the person. In Christ we enter the only true and lasting community resilient to our ever-changing world: the Church.
The only way to know these things is to experience them: “Come and See” as Jesus said to His disciples. This does not at all mean that our faith is irrational or anti-rational. Rather, it means that theology only properly flows from an encounter with the living God. People are only truly changed when they experience love from another person that makes him or her experience what we call “everlasting life”, which is not so much an undetermined length of time as it is a perfect joy. “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
The worship of our Church encompasses all five human senses just as the ancient worship of Israel always did. Worship involves all our being, the whole person. Just as we know other human beings through all of our senses, we come to know God also through all of our senses.
This is primarily rooted in the confession of our Faith that Jesus Christ became flesh for us, becoming a human being who participated in life through his five senses and worshiped His Father through His own five senses, sanctifying the whole human body and soul.
The words, music, and flow of the service are intended to touch the heart and bring a person to a true knowledge of God, not a fleeting emotional experience. Indeed, one of the most striking things for many modern Christians accustomed to contemporary music in worship is how resistant Orthodoxy is to “modern/contemporary” music in worship. Orthodox worship is stable, deeply rooted in Holy Scripture, and transforms us in the same way that God Himself is stable and transforms us.
If we constantly change our worship, we have a hard time changing. Worship is rewarding in Orthodoxy, in that we strive to enter into the worship so that we can be transformed. In reading a passage of Scripture for the first time, we often only start to understand. But upon deeper meditation on that Scripture, we deepen our understanding. Eventually, we recognize our own need to transform, to conform ourselves to the words of Scripture. Worship is the same way for us. We conform ourselves to worship because it is we who need to change, and not the truth of God. Stability in worship provides the opportunity for transformation.
Worship is about going deep into your heart, to what is real and genuine. Relationships must be genuine. Worship in our Church is about having a genuine relationship with God.
From the very earliest day of the life of the Church, the words of Scripture permeated every aspect of the Church’s life. This began with the Apostles themselves and all of the New Testament writers, who were reading the Old Testament Scriptures in the light of Christ, Who had finally revealed that the Scriptures testified of Him (Luke 24:25-27 et. al.). The Apostolic writings that would later come to be known as the New Testament were in many cases a meditation on the Passion of Christ through the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets of old. The earliest Christian writers such as St. Justin Martyr and St. Irenaeus followed in this same Tradition.
This same emphasis on Scripture permeated the life of worship. In early days, it was common that Christians would have the entire Book of Psalms memorized, and would sing them in the fields as they worked. In Orthodox monasteries to this day, the entire Book of Psalms is prayed weekly. Every day Orthodox Christians have an Epistle and a Gospel reading as nourishment for the life of a disciple of Christ throughout the year. The primary worship event of the Church, the Divine Liturgy, contained hundreds of references to Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. It is absolutely saturated with the vision of God’s glory contained in the pages of the Prophets and the Book of Revelation, as well as the remembrance of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ for our salvation.
Because the Christian Faith, from our perspective, is about knowing God through Christ, we see the Bible in the same way. We hesitate when some Christians point to the text of the Bible as the pivotal authority, because the Word of God is a Person, not a text. That is, the text of the Bible only gains its power, authority, and inspiration in and through Christ, and read in and through Christ. To deny this can easily make the text the foundation of the faith, and can sometimes be approached as a text that we approach like any other text. But this is not the ancient Orthodox understanding of Scripture nor that which the Apostles had. Rather, only Jesus Christ gives meaning to the Bible. He is the “Word of God” that gives meaning to the Bible. The Old Testament, while we believe it does tell of historical events, is not primarily concerned with telling a chronological history. Its primary concern according to the Fathers and Tradition of the Church is to reveal Jesus Christ in His Incarnation, Ministry, Passion, and Resurrection. Every page of the Old Testament is a revelation and prophecy about Him. That means we are not reading about history that doesn’t apply to us, but about a person whom we desire to know. Our perspective on the Bible is summarized by Jesus’ statement in the Gospel of John (5:39): “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them, you have eternal life. But it is they that bear witness about me.”
Listen to interviews with our priest Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth’s journey to embracing the Orthodox Faith: Interview with Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth
Read about our priest Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth’s journey from being a Baptist Pastor to being an Orthodox Priest. In Journeys of Faith, Fr. Wilbur speaks about the joy in Christ and in the Holy Scriptures that he found in his journey into the Orthodox Faith.
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