In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Greetings on this glorious feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord – a feast of not just symbolic or metaphorical glory, but of both the physical and spiritual manifestation, in time and place, of the uncreated glory of the Creator Himself.
Mount Tabor became the place where the glory the Only-Begotten and Pre-Eternal Son of God was revealed to the disciples, as far as they were able to bear it.
The Saviour revealed that which had not been seen by the men and women of the Gospels: not by the magi, even though they fell down and worshipped Him as they laid their gifts before Him; not by the shepherds, even though an angel revealed the new-born Lord to them; not by Symeon the God-Receiver, even though he took the Infant-Saviour into his arms and recognised Him as the Light to enlighten the gentiles; not by the many sick, disabled and possessed people whom He healed and set free, even though He, as their Creator made them into new creations through the miracles He wrought.
Peter, James and John beheld the Saviour in a way that none had so-far beheld Him, as Christ the Eternal Logos revealed His divinity on Mount Tabor, and yet the Transfiguration represented a restoration of the glory in which Adam and Eve were clothed before the Fall, as we chant in the aposticha of vespers
“Thou wast transfigured, and didst cause the darkened nature of Adam to shine again, imparting to it the glory and splendour of Thy divinity.”
The glory that radiated from the Saviour and enveloped Him in the Transfiguration was not something in which He was clothed on the occasion. Rather, as the Church Fathers made clear, when Jesus was transfigured He did not take upon Himself something new that He did not formerly possess, or change into something or someone else. Rather, in the radiant splendour of the godhead, He showed Himself to His disciples as He already was, and as He always had been, though His divinity was temporarily hidden when He was incarnate, as the Saviour of the World.
In the words of St Gregory Palamas,
“We believe that at the Transfiguration He manifested… only that which was concealed beneath His fleshly exterior. This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine.”
The Saviour revealed what His humility, His love and compassion had hidden when He was obedient to the Father’s will in the incarnation, clothing Himself in Adam and hiding what the Prophet Ezekiel had seen and struggled to describe when the Lord-Yahweh, the pre-incarnate Saviour, appeared on the heavenly chariot-throne in
“… a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also, from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the colour of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”
The uncreated-light of Christ’s divinity on Mount Tabor echoed the glory that Ezekiel could only approximate in words and images, and also the glory that Moses encountered when he ascended Mount Sinai: glory that was such that Moses himself was transfigured by his encounter with Christ-Yahweh, as St Gregory Palamas reminded his listeners:
“Even the face of Moses was illumined by his association with God. Do you not know that Moses was transfigured when he went up the mountain, and there beheld the Glory of God? But he (Moses) did not affect this, but rather he underwent a Transfiguration.”
On Mount Tabor, Moses, present in spirit, again reflected the divine-glory, whilst Elias who had bodily ascended into heaven reflected the light of the Transfiguration both physically and spiritually.
And, the Saviour appeared in glory, not simply to show the glory of His divinity to the disciples, but to give them a glimpse of the radiant promise of the resurrection, preparing them for the necessary suffering which would lead Him from Gethsemane and the Praetorium to Golgotha and the Arimathean’s tomb, as He went to His voluntary passion like a lamb to the slaughter, in the brokeness of the suffering-servant foreseen by the Prophet Isaiah, and Who…
“hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him… He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief… brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”
The Transfiguration pre-empted His suffering, so that the necessity of the Cross and the sacrifice of Christ, as the Lamb of God and New-Passover, could be understood by those closest to Him, so that they would not be scandalised by the Cross of Christ, and His crucifixion.
Behind this voluntary and sacrificial-suffering, self-emptying and selfless giving was the same Christ who was transfigured to show the certainty of the glory which lay beyond the Cross and tomb: the glory of the Pre-Eternal Word made flesh for us men and for our salvation.
As St Ephrem the Syrian preached,
“He led them up the mountain and showed them his kingship before his passion, and his power before his death, and his glory before his disgrace, and his honour before his dishonour, so that, when he was arrested and crucified by the Jews, they might know that he was not crucified through weakness, but willingly by his good pleasure for the salvation of the world.”
Paths of suffering would also be the lot of the disciples, given courage by a glimpse of the glory of the Kingdom and the Master’s divinity, to shortly be reinforced by their experience of His resurrection, His glorious ascension, and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The Saviour sought to share His glory with them, so that they – and every generation of faithful – might be partakers and inheritors of His glory, called to be transfigured like Moses and Elias, radiant in His light.
Similar paths have been trodden by the Saviour’s followers throughout the history of the Church, from the Roman persecutions to the trials of the new-martyrs and confessors of the Communist Yoke in the 20th century, and the suffering of the persecuted Ukrainian Church, today.
Through this suffering countless believers have been spiritually transfigured, finding great strength and joy even in their sufferings – encountering God, with their endurance and courage buoyed by the promise touched upon by St Leo the Great in his homily for the feast,
“About which the Lord had Himself said, when He spoke of the majesty of His coming, Then shall the righteous shine as the sun in their Father’s Kingdom (Mat. 13:43), while the blessed Apostle Paul bears witness to the self-same thing, and says: for I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18): and again, for you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. For when Christ our life shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:3).”
… and in this he reminds us that most will have to wait for the life of the age to come to behold God’s glory, when the righteous shall shine like the sun, when the elect will be sharers in the light which shone upon the mountain of the Transfiguration.
Few will have the worldly foretaste of this glory, like St Symeon, St Seraphim or St John the Wonderworker, but we live in hope of the promise of the glory of God manifest on the mountain.
To attain to this promise, glimpsed on Tabor by the disciples, we must take up our Cross and follow the Saviour in selfless love and obedience: thoroughly, faithfully, and maximally.
This is the only way each of us can even begin to climb the mountain, even its lowest and gentlest slopes: embracing spiritual life as askesis/ascetic labour – praying, fasting, struggling for purity, through repentance and by making the Gospel and the Law of God the entire rule of our lives, day by day.
Above all, let us be fervent in prayer, as our communion with the Living God joins time and eternity, and our finite and transient human lives with the changeless eternity of the life of God who always IS.
In prayer there is a certain transcendence of time and place, as there was when the Lord was transfigured on the mountain, and pure prayer is at the centre of our metamorphosis and transfiguration.
St Gregory Palamas, (taking the Transfiguration Gospel from St Luke) observes that
“That same Inscrutable Light shone and was mysteriously manifest to the Apostles and the foremost of the Prophets at that moment, when (the Lord) was praying. This shows that what brought forth this blessed sight was prayer, and that the radiance occurred and was manifest by uniting the mind with God, and that it is granted to all who, with constant exercise in efforts of virtue and prayer, strive with their mind towards God. True beauty, essentially, can be contemplated only with a purified mind.“
Let us raise up our hearts and minds to God, as even in wordlessness, this is prayer. And, through prayer – sometimes easy, often a struggle – let us labour to purify our intellect, thoughts and senses, so that we may contemplate things divine and eternal, and join ourselves to things heavenly and changeless: racing to the mountain in this prayer, eager to behold and experience the glory of the Lord.
“Arise, ye slothful thoughts of my soul, which have ever been dragged down to the earth! Be ye upborne and rise aloft to the summit of divine ascent! Let us make haste to Peter and the sons of Zebedee, and with them let us go to Mount Tabor, that we may see the glory of our God with them, and may hear the voice which they heard from on high; and they preached that Thou, in truth, art the Effulgence of the Father.”
(Ikos of the Matins Canon)
… and let us not simply rise up to go, to seek, to hear, but to spiritually labour and struggle to be clothed as partakers in that very glory that shone forth upon the mountain, so that Adam’s darkened nature in us may shine once more.
S prazdnikom! Happy Feast!