“Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter, James and James’ brother John and led them to the solitude found at the top of a nearby mountain. There in their presence Jesus was transfigured (or visibly transformed); His face shone life the sun and His clothes became as dazzling as light.” – Matthew 17:1,2
One by one, Brother Cyril of Bulgaria (Orthodox monks often take the name of Orthodox saints and to distinguish the monks with similar names from each other they often add their nation of origin such as Cyril of Bulgaria or they add a defining quality such as Cyril of Charity.) …to start again ,,, One by one, Brother Cyril of Bulgaria slowly lit the many candles. And as he did, the candlelight began to grow, and the radiance that fell on his face began to become not only brighter, but somehow richer, and the gold leaf in the chapel, on the icons and the ceiling began to glow with a glorious, heavenly glow. This experience of radiance is so much apart of Orthodox Christian spirituality.
One by one, the increasing light deepened the radiance, both the radiance that fell upon the face of a devoted soul and the radiance that filled the air of a devoted place.
The Chapel at this Orthodox monastery has a classic and traditional architectural form. The ceiling is shaped as a dome and the dome features icons pained in rich colors, all set in a background of gold leaf. In the day, the sunlight makes the ceiling shine; in the night, the candles make the ceiling glow. As the spire of a Roman Catholic Gothic cathedral communicates humanity’s reaching upward towards Heaven, the dome of an Orthodox cathedral communicates Heaven’s descent on the humanity below. And this may be the distinguishing emphasis between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy … Roman Catholicism is about our going up to heaven and Eastern Orthodoxy is about heaven coming down to us. The spirituality of Eastern Orthodoxy is about allowing heaven to settle in earthly places. (An aside — John Wesley, the father of Methodism, often said that his own soul was more Eastern Orthodox than Roman Catholic, though dressed in a far different cloth of bold evangelism, compassionate social holiness and disciplined personal holiness).
Thus, when Brother Cyril brings to life those many candles, one after another, he cultivates the mystical experience of our being in a heavenly place. It is about dwelling in the radiance of God’s glory.
I mentioned to Brother Cyril about by Methodist discomfort with all the gold leaf found everywhere here at the monastery. I said, “It all feels far to extravagant for my values of simplicity and humility, it even goes counter to my sense of monastic poverty!”
Brother Cyril answered with both humility and insight. “Yes, Brother Anthony, I suppose this place does seem to you to be over the top with icons and gold. And, to be honest, for most of us here … with the sensibilities of our modern taste and humbler values, it all does sometimes feel very antiquated, from a different age with a different sense of beauty. But as to simplicity and humility? But, I would have you consider this … What is the purpose of gold?”
I thought – hoping to give an insightful, yet candid answer – “I suppose we use gold is as a monetary standard for the exchange of wealth.”
Brother Cyril answered with a thoughtful smile filled with gracious mischief … “A most common understanding … but for us, the purpose of gold is …to glow with the glory of light.” Hmmm – I suppose it is we humans who have equated gold with money and wealth … when, possibly, God created gold for another purpose entirely … for the purpose of glowing in the glory of light!
My Loved Ones, I bring an image for your prayerful contemplation … possibly our maturity as Christian disciples ought to measured in terms of holy radiance, in terms of candle-power … the number of “candles” we light within our souls and within our living and within our serving. Maybe, the realm of God appears most often in the glow of “candle-lit” souls creating “candle-lit” places in time and space.
The Lord bless You,
Brother Anthony of the Cross