Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Divine Light of Christ - His Transfiguration


I have always been drawn to this feast and its icon. In it we see Christ in full glory surrounded by light and His disciples fallen way from Him, dazed by this glory. What makes this event so special?

At the time of Jesus in Jerusalem, a powerful person was easily recognized. In the city there were not only the leaders of the Jewish Temple dressed in their priestly garments, but also Herod the King and Pilate the Roman governor who lived in royal splendor. These were the people who drew crowds because of their power and moved about the city in splendor. Jesus presented himself entirely different, as a simple person, wearing simple clothes, coming without a large entourage. If someone who saw Him would call out, "He is the Son of God, our Lord," they would have thought of him as a witless fool.  Those who saw Him in the countryside of Galilee and who witnessed His miracles would have seen him as a great profit like Elijah, Jeremiah or John the Baptist. Even they would not dare say He is the "Son of God."

So why, if He was the Son of God, did He not appear to them as such? Why couldn't they see His indescribable Divinity? The truth is that none of them would have been able to stand it because it was so great a power that lay concealed within His body. It would have been as if the sun exploded in their faces. So He comes in the flesh from a pious simple woman, born in a manger, concealing His light of Divinity.

But on the day of the Feast of the Transfiguration something different happens. Six days following the exclamation of Peter that Christ was the Son of God, Jesus takes His most beloved disciples Peter, John, and James to the top of a mountain, Mount Tabor. When they reach the top of the mountain after a long climb, a grand miracle takes place. Jesus changes in His appearance. He becomes, as Scripture tells us, gleaming as light, like a bright sun. His face shines and His clothes are a pure gleaming white.

What is this light that they witnessed? It was not a created light but uncreated. It was a light of Divinity. It was not a light that a camera would capture or any scientist could measure.

Gregory Palamas says the following,
Matthew writes "like the sun" not that one should think of that light as sensible––forsake the carelessness of mind of those who can understand nothing higher than what they can perceive! But so that we may know, that that which those who live by the senses and with the senses behold as the sun; that which those who live by the Spirit and in spirit behold is Christ as God, and those who see God have no need of another light. To the immortals He is the Light and no other. For why should those who have the greatest Light have another?
To understand this, we have to lift our own minds above the rationality of the physical world and experience with His three disciples a light which is Spirit, pure divinity, the light of Christ as mentioned so often in Scripture. Let your mind be free of its normal physical constraints.

While Christ was gleaming in His divine brightness two other men appeared with Him who were also illumined with a light. They were people from the past, Elijah and Moses. Moses appears to them to show them that there is a life after death. We will become spirits in another realm. Their appearance at His command shows that Christ is the Lord of all. Also, note that these great men did not stand with Him as equals but worshiped Him, showing clearing that Jesus is the true Messiah.

But there is more to the story. Suddenly there is a luminous cloud and a voice that says, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" (Matt 17:5) They fell on their faces and heard Jesus affirm them saying, "Arise, and do not be afraid."

This was a historical event. This is not a parable or a myth like the stories told of pagan gods. Peter recalls,
We did not follow a cunningly devised fable when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent glory: 'This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.' And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18).
This is an event we cannot fully understand or explain. We need to bask in its wonder and open and lift our narrow minds to accept things that are beyond reason, beyond scientific explanation. We need to assimilate this event and humble ourselves and do as the voice said, "Hear Him!"

Saint John Chrysostom says,
Hear Him, the uncreated, good, uncircumcised, sought out by faith but unmeasured by tongue, approached in faith yet the Word by words is undefined. For now Paul, the orator, who unbridles confusion and teaches everything without hesitation, cries, 'Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!'" (Rom 11:33)
So what was the purpose of this event?  Bishop Augoustinos puts it this way,
Through the Transfiguration the Lord wanted to give His disciples proof of His divinity so that, as the Church chants, "Seeing you crucified, they would know Your Passion is by choice, and would preach to the world that You are indeed the Father's splendor."  The Lord did not want them to be shaken when they saw Christ on the Cross, but would understand that He voluntarily gave Himself to death, since, as God, He could destroy all opposition and throw His enemies prostrate on the ground in the thunderbolt of His divinity. ...So He was pleased to be crucified for our salvation.
This event helps all us better understand the true nature of the Crucifixion, His Ascension, the role of the Holy Spirit sent on Pentecost and the Apostles who gave their life in martyrdom as they went out to spread the Word and create churches. We see from this that He was not just man, but truly both man and fully God. His inner being was Divine, made up of uncreated Light. The story of salvation is so much more than the idea that He gave Himself as a substitute for us, as a sacrifice in payment for the sins of mankind.  It awakens us to something much greater, something spiritual and shows us that we too are spiritual and can someday join with Him in His heavenly realm.  To do so we not only have to "Hear Him" but also "Follow Him."

Let your hearts fly to heavenly things as you contemplate this most Holy Event. Remember, what we read about this event is but a glimpse into something much greater. Let it shine light on our own imperfections and give us motivation and courage to live a life of true repentance, always trying to come closer to Christ by purifying our hearts throughout the teachings of the Church, her sacraments and the disciplines she teaches us. As Christ tells us, "Blessed are the pure in Heart, for they shall see God." (Matt 5:8) May we all become worthy of the personal experience of His divine Light.

Reference: Follow Me, by Augoustinos Bishop of Florina,  pp 146-157

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