Sharing the Mountain Top Experiences With Others
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
How many of us have ever had some type of spiritual “mountain top” experience in our lives? Each summer when I take a mission team to Project Mexico, everyone who goes typically has such an experience. Being around 100 volunteers from various parts of the United States, along with the summer interns and long-term missionaries living in Tijuana is always an inspiring and renewing experience. For many of our youth in the Metropolis of Boston, they may have such an experience when they attend the MOB’s summer camp program, an inspiring spiritual experience where hundreds young people come together, focusing for a week on Jesus Christ and His Church, learning their faith in a new and vibrant way, enjoying wholesome Christian fellowship, and encountering God in a transformative manner! Last year, 25 people from our Church here in Webster had such a mountain top experience when we went on our Holy Land Pilgrimage! Of course, some of us can have a “mountain top” experience even when we attend certain Divine Liturgies, or other services during Holy Week or on Pascha, as well as maybe at other moments during the Church year.
These experiences are moments when we feel the presence of God in a dynamic way, when we truly taste a little of what the kingdom of heaven is all about. If our hearts are open to God and we allow ourselves to try new things of the Church, we can have mountain top experiences. These can be life changing! Renewing experiences! Encounters with God! Yet after such euphoric moments, what comes next? What do we do after we are blessed to encounter God in such transformative experiences?!?
Maybe we can learn something from the Feast of the Transfiguration, which we celebrate this past Thursday on August 6th. This was an actual mountain top experience!!! Peter, James and John, three of the closest disciples and friends of Jesus, lived and traveled with Christ for three years. They witnessed countless unbelievable miracles – incredible healings, wonderful teachings, crowds of people turning to God. They believed that this rabbi Jesus of Nazareth was maybe more than a teacher, more than even a prophet!!
Shortly before they witnessed the miracle of Christ’s Transfiguration, Jesus had asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him. Some say a prophet. Some say John the Baptist come back alive. But when Jesus asked his disciples themselves “Who do YOU say I am?” Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
So the disciples were beginning to believe that Jesus was more than a prophet, more than a great teacher, more than a miracle worker and holy man. They were beginning to believe, although there were still uncertainties, that Jesus could possibly be someone different than any other great person in the history of Israel. He may actually be the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of the living God Himself.
Yet they didn’t fully understand what this meant, because Jesus still confused them. Right after Peter acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus started to talk to them about how He was going to suffer and die in Jerusalem. They couldn’t understand how the Son of God could talk about suffering and dying. And then Jesus even told them that if they wanted to follow Him and be His true disciples, they themselves would have to learn to deny themselves and take up their own crosses, and only then could they follow Christ.
This life of self-sacrifice and self-denial and even death of one’s own will seemed confusing for the followers of the Messiah, the Son of God.
This is all the precursor to what leads up to the Lord’s Transfiguration, the feast we celebrate on August 6. Jesus takes up His three closest followers – Peter, John and James – and they hike up Mount Tabor to spend the night in prayer. They must have done this from time to time, going away to a deserted place to keep a vigil of prayer all night. Yet on this particular night, something radically different happens! In the middle of the night, Jesus becomes transfigured. As He is praying, He becomes as bright as the sun, light shining forth from His face and entire body. He is not reflecting the sun, but radiates the uncreated light of God! And as this light is shining from Him, the great Old Testament Prophets, Moses and Elijah, appear with Him. Simultaneously, a bright cloud overshadowed our Lord, and the disciples hear a voice proclaim, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”
What just happened? What did the disciples just witness? These followers of Christ who were wrestling with who Jesus truly was just witnessed an event that confirmed, beyond any words, that Jesus truly is not only the Messiah, the Christ, but is God Himself, “light of true light,” radiating the uncreated Light of Almighty God. The uncreated, divine light that shone forth from Jesus revealed His authentic nature, as one with God Himself!
Well, you can only imagine how overwhelmed the disciples felt. They got a glimpse of something no human ever saw. They experienced the unexplainable. What do you do when you experience something like this?
Peter, after his initial amazement, longs to bask in God’s glory and stay in divine ecstasy. He asks Jesus if he should make some tents for Christ to stay, together with Moses and Elijah. He doesn’t want to leave this ineffable experience. Yet moments later, after the light disappears and Jesus returns to his normal appearance, He tells His followers it’s time to leave the mountain top experience and return back to the villages of Israel. From the mountain top they have to return back to the normal, mundane, challenging life cycle.
As long as we are here on earth, we will have moments of “mountain top” experiences,” but we will not stay in the “high” of Jesus divine light all the time. God blesses us from time to time SO THAT we then go and share His blessings with others. He gives us moments of renewal and enlightenment to empower us to go back and be His witnesses on earth, in the midst of all of life’s struggles. We experience the light, and then are called to go to the dark places of the earth and shine forth that light. This is the call of Christ’s followers!
Peter, James and John received an incredible blessing, not to keep if for themselves; not for them to bask and dwell in that blessing. No! God blesses us so that we can then share His blessings with others. This is the center of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, a Christian!
The feast of our Lord’s Transfiguration reassures us of who Christ is, and blesses us in a unique way. Just remember, though, why we receive this blessing. We experience the mountain tops so we can be blessed, and then we go and share the blessing with others. We take the blessing from the mountain and bring it back to all the villages and places of the world.