On this day, 69 years ago, the B-52 bomber Enola Gay, dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on the Japanese city Hiroshima. About 70,000 people were killed instantly and tens of thousands of survivors died in the months and years following from radiation poisoning. Three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The nuclear age was born. Wikipedia’s article on the two bombings is extremely detailed.
Defenders of the bombings maintain that they were necessary in order to bring World War II to an end, but the morality of these bombings has been debated endlessly. Albert Einstein, whose own equations led to the creation of the atomic bomb, became a leading spokesman against the spread of nuclear weapons. To no avail, of course, and 69 years after Hiroshima we still live under the shadow of nuclear annihilation. The most powerful weapons available today are about 2,000-3,000 times more powerful than the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The blinding light of a nuclear explosion is all too familiar to all of us from photos and videos and apocalyptic science-fiction films. As one survivor of Hiroshima put it in an interview this morning, “Atomic bombs were dropped not only on our cities, but on the whole human beings.”
But we Orthodox Christians have another blinding light to contemplate today – the light that shone from Jesus Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. This light was not destructive. This light spread out from the divine presence of Christ and touched the three disciples that were with Jesus; it touched Moses and Elijah, who appeared in a vision with the transfigured Jesus; it touched all creation; and it touches all of us who gaze on the beauty of Christ and believe in his name.
The transfiguration of Jesus is the source of the Orthodox doctrine of deification. Most Christian churches and denominations believe in the idea of sanctification – that we can be made holy, sanctified – but only the Orthodox theological tradition is committed to the belief that the divine light that flowed and still flows out of Christ deifies human beings and all material existence!
As many of the Fathers of the early Church put it, “God became human so that the human can become God.” You can remove the capital letter from the second occurrence of God in this quote if you’re afraid of causing offense to God. It changes nothing. You can say, “God became man so that man might become god,” if that is easier for you. Just as you can write G*d, as some scholars do to imitate the Jewish practice of avoiding the name of God. You can write and re-write the names and words that stand for God. You can be politically correct – it doesn’t change the simple assertion that the light that emanates from the transfigured Christ touches all creation, deifying, purifying, making us and all creation capable of inheriting the Kingdom of God.
Human empires and war machines destroy. The blinding light of a thermonuclear weapon is the greatest offense that humanity has ever thrown at God; it is our Tower of Babel. The light that was God’s very first act of creation, by the very first words spoken by God by his Word (Genesis 1:1-3), has been turned into the vision of total destruction. The darkness that was overcome by the first light in Genesis now threatens to return once again, this time brought on by another light, the destructive light of human weapons.
This is why we Orthodox must stand by the Light of Transfiguration. Let us not be ashamed to admit that this light is a deifying light, a light that prepares us for divine life of the Kingdom of God. Be deified today! That is the message of Transfiguration. Today is the day of salvation, today is the day when the light can penetrate our lives and transfigure us. There is a wonderful story about St. Seraphim of Sarov. It is rather long, but is well worth reading when you have some time to enter into a contemplative quiet. St. Seraphim in this experience recounted by a visitor, N. A. Motovilov, actually shone with the light of the Transfiguration, showing to all of us that it is possible to live a divine life by the grace of God while on earth. The mission of the saints, and the Church as a whole, is to sanctify the world, to be a blessing and a light in the midst of darkness. As St. Seraphim himself asserted, “Acquire the spirit of God, and around you thousands will be saved.” You don’t have to go into a monastery and cut yourself off from the life of ordinary people. Everyone can be touched by the light of divine glory; everyone can be transformed into light by the grace of God. Near the end of Motovilov’s narrative, we read:
Then Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: “We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don’t you look at me?”
I replied: “I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.”
Father Seraphim said: “Don’t be alarmed, your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.”
The Book of Deuteronomy tells us to choose life, not death: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life…” (Deut 30:19) We believe in life, ALL LIFE! The Feast of Transfiguration is our teacher; it inspires us to yearn for the most meaningful life that we can possibly have. It tells us to reject death and all the powers and principalities of darkness, and to preach and promote life and light. This is the message of Transfiguration.
There are two messages on this date of August 6th: Life and Death. The Transfiguration stands against Hiroshima and shouts to us: CHOOSE LIFE! May Life be yours today and every day. May the divine Light of the Kingdom illumine your life and path every day.