Waking to Divinity

By Khouria Faith Potter

August 2019
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The more years I spend within the Church, the more I am amazed by how beautifully woven together the feasts of the Church are. August 1 is the start of the Dormition Fast, where we remember the death of the Theotokos. In the middle of this fast, we will celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration. The Gospel passage for this feast is one of my favorites:

At that time, Jesus took with Him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of His countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with Him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. And as the men were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah,” not knowing what he said. As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen; hear Him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
— Luke 9:28-36

Here we see the collisions of sleep and wakefulness, death and life, humanity and divinity, speech and silence. The humanity of the Apostle Peter is so evident here: sleeping when he should be awake and alert, saying something kind of ridiculous, missing the point at first. These are such relatable errors. The significance he does not initially comprehend is the Divinity of Christ that’s shown through His Transfiguration. Peter had been with Christ all along, so it makes sense that he focused on Moses and Elijah, though their presence was not what was most significant. It takes a cloud descending and a voice speaking from it to tell Peter what is important. Remembering the humanity of the saints is so beneficial, because it reminds us that we can glorify Christ in our lives as well. The hymns of the Church for this feast offer us insight on how:

Awake, ye sluggards, lie not forever on the ground; and ye thoughts that draw my soul toward the earth, arise and go up to the high slope of the divine ascent. Let us run to join Peter and the sons of Zebedee, and go with them to Mount Tabor, that with them we may see the glory of our God and hear the voice they heard from heaven; and they proclaimed that this is truly the effulgent Splendor of the Father.
— Oikos for the Transfiguration

In this hymn, we are the “sluggards” that are being challenged to wake up and participate in the Transfiguration. This feast is not seen as being just a moment in time that we have no part in, but we are told to experience it for ourselves. What a beautiful reality. In the timing of this feast, there is a juxtaposition of the Apostles falling asleep away from life while the Theotokos’ death is a falling asleep into life, moving towards Christ, resting in Him. I love how the icon for this feast shows Christ by her deathbed holding the Theotokos’ soul as an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, bearing her into heaven as she bore Him on earth. This feast of the Dormition celebrates how she who interceded on behalf of the couple at the wedding of Cana is now with her Son, interceding on behalf of the world. We rejoice in her death, because through it we gain her intercessions for our healing and salvation. We are asked in this season to contemplate how humanity and divinity met in Christ and the Theotokos and how humanity and divinity can also meet in us. May we both awaken more to Christ’s nearness to us and learn more to find our rest in Him.