Light a match in a darkened room and the brain of an observer becomes ablaze with activity: complex shapes, angles, movements, color and depth all register in a moment and if another human being is present, the face of that person is immediately recognizable in all its uniqueness. The human brain seems to be especially and wondrously fashioned to respond to light in a myriad of ways, conscious and unconscious. When light and the human mind meet, we suddenly know where we are, what is around us, and who is with us. Of all the senses, light distinctly enables us to make sense of our world. And in the Gospel, the Lord Christ tells His Holy Apostles that they are to be the Light of the world enabling those who would believe to see that they are in God’s creation, moving towards Jerusalem on High, and in the presence of Christ Jesus our Lord.
We encounter light as abundantly in Scripture as the stars cloak the heavens on a cloudless night. In the beginning, “Let there be light: and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). In the Psalms, “in Thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:9). In the Prophets, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” (Isaiah 60:1). And above all in the Gospels, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). Just as light enlivens the mind, it brightens all of Sacred Scripture, and according to Christ’s words in Matthew (5:14), His followers are to likewise illumine the entire world, meaning all the peoples from every age and place, including our own. Christians are to be the light of the world by conveying through thought, word, and deed the presence of the One Who is the source of all light and Who also said with the same voice as the one heard in the opening pages Genesis: “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12).
This light that Christians are to convey is at once like light as a metaphor and yet unlike it in terms of transcending it. What is this light that we are supposed to be? The Saints provide us glimpses of what our eyes are still too weak to see. Saint Symeon the New Theologian would pray, “Come, true light. Come, eternal life. Come, hidden mystery. Come, nameless treasure. Come, ineffable reality. Come, incomprehensible face. Come, everlasting exultation. Come, unfading light. Come, trusty expectation of all who are going to be saved” (“Mystical Prayer”, Divine Eros, Hymns of Saint Symeon the New Theologian). That light beyond light is the very God beyond all that is divine, yet for our sakes incarnate of the Virgin Mary and and risen from the dead.
To be the light of the world, the disciples needed to be purified of all that is dark and sinful in this earthly life in order to be illumined with all that is bright and holy in the life of heaven. And then as our Lord was transfigured on Mount Thabor, they were to be transfigured shining with the same light of the transfiguration enlightening those that lay in darkness and the shadow of death with the brilliance of the Sun of Righteousness, the King of Glory, the Son and Lamb of God. Being the Light of the world means being immersed in Christ, the true Light.
In his The Life of Moses, Saint Gregory of Nyssa describes this state of being in God as follows: “The goal of the sublime way of life is being called a servant of God. Along with this honor is contemplated an end that is not covered by a tomb; it refers to a life lived simply and free from bad attachments. Scripture describes another characteristic of this service to God: the eye is not dimmed nor the person aged. For how can an eye which is always in the light be dimmed by the darkness from which it is always separated? And the person who by every means achieves incorruption in his whole life admits no corruption in himself. For he who has truly come to be in the image of God and who has in no way turned aside from the divine character bears in himself its distinguishing marks and shows in all things his conformity to the archetype; he beautifies his own soul with what is incorruptible, unchangeable, and shares in no evil at all.”
Being the Light of the world is at once an aim of the Christian life and a gift from Christ to those who seek Him with all their hearts. Saint Symeon the New Theologian in his Letter on Confession put it this way: “When Christ, the true light, had come and met with those who seek Him, in a way that He alone knows, He gave them grace to see Himself. This is what it means to find one’s own soul: to see God, and in His light to become oneself higher than all the visible creation, and to have Him inside oneself as shepherd and teacher.” In becoming light, Christians come to know themselves, to know their God, to know their purpose in life, and to know their salvation and the salvation of the world. The light that shone in the beginning, the light in which we shall see light, and the very glory of the Lord reveals their hearts to be spacious palaces of the King. They become as their Master, incomprehensible, ineffable, unfading, and everlasting. To be the light of the world is to be by grace what our Lord is my nature, “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel”(Luke 2:32). May we all purify our hearts through repentance, virtue, and love, may we live simply, single-mindedly, and wholeheartedly for Christ, then a glorious miracle can take place: we who were once in darkness might become lights bearing witness to the one Light our God in this often darkened world.