In His outward appearance He was like us; for in His boundless
Love he took it upon Himself to become a creature, yet without
Changing (his Divinity), and He became the image, type, and symbol
Of Himself: He has revealed Himself symbolically out of His inner being;
Through Himself who is visible He has drawn the whole creation
To Himself who is invisible and totally hidden.
(PG, 91: St. Maximus the Confessor)
Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration. The word comes to us from the Latin derivative transfigurare meaning to change form, appearance, shape, or nature. The word used in the Greek translations of the Bible is metamorfwsis, and it means the same. The word is used by Ovid in his Metamophoses, a tale of transformations from the dawn of creation to the deification of Julius Caesar. St. Matthew uses the term to describe Christ’s Transfiguration while St. Luke says that the appearance of Christ’s face was altered and His clothing was made dazzling white. (St. Luke ix. 28) The point is that Christ was changed or altered enough so that what Saints Peter, James, and John saw was the same man in a remarkable different manner.
The Feast of the Transfiguration always falls within Trinity tide, that season which continuously emphasizes that God is visiting and redeeming His people and is raising up a mighty salvation for us in the House of His servant David. (St. Luke i. 68, 69) Trinity tide is all about the vision of God and our desire to will the good that we see and know in Him. Today we are invited to see and know in a deeper and more remarkable way.
Jesus came down from heaven. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of an earthly and human mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was in possession of a fully functioning body, soul, and spirit. He was completely human. This is recorded in Scriptures and we believe it to be true. In his outward appearance he was like us. He desired to one with us and to share our human nature in order to love us back into loving God the Father. As the Father’s everlasting Truth and Desire, He has never ceased to long for our union with the Father through His love. He gives Himself to us always. He is the everlasting Word, Commandment, and the Law that desires to become flesh in us so that we may fulfill the Father’s will. He is made flesh in order to redeem our fallen human nature. Externally and visibly He has revealed to us the Father’s eternal Being. He reveals to us, in the most extreme manner, what it means to die to the self so that the Father’s will might be perfected in human nature. He redeems our nature through a suffering and death that no man could endure. Out of His death alone can all men be made alive.
Tonight we remember an event that precedes Christ’s Suffering, Passion, and Death in which He revealed something of the transformed and transfigured glorious life that would be the reward of those who would be faithful and obedient to God through His Grace. To His specially chosen Apostles –Saints Peter, James, and John, He manifested that state of life to which He intended to return all fallen human beings. Through the form of His humanity, through the symbol of His human nature, Jesus revealed to Peter, James, and John the Divine Nature that He intended to elicit and grow out of their converted hearts. This He would accomplish as His Divine Grace transformed and transfigured them through His visible nature by His invisible power. In faith they looked, pondered, wondered, studied, and explored the paranormal vision of Christ’s Transfiguration. St. Peter tells us long after the event: We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,. but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. Peter and his friends would learn how difficult it was to move from earthly and visible life into a future of their own transfiguration. Christ’s Transfiguration would begin to become theirs only after they had come to know their spiritual powerlessness and thus their utter need for the invisible desire of God made visible in the suffering and death of their Saviour. He himself who becomes visible is none other than He himself who is totally invisible and totally hidden. The path from one to the other is from Heaven to Earth and then from Earth to Heaven through Jesus Christ in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn or every creature. (Col. i. 14, 15)
Moses stood to one side of Jesus on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration. Moses led the people of Israel out of bondage and onto the road that leads to transfigurative liberty and salvation through the transformative nature of Jesus Christ. Moses symbolizes human hope that waits for Christ’s coming. Elijah admonished the people to come out of alienation and to return into the presence of God. Elijah is a symbol of the heavenly power that carries man on a chariot of fire back into the nearness of the Almighty. Moses is human hope; Elijah is Divine Mercy. They are arrested and consumed by God in Man and Man in God. Jesus is the visible expression of the invisible God. The two are one. Man’s destiny is to be one with God. God makes this possible by making His invisible design visible.
Moses and Elijah looked upon Jesus. Peter, James, and John beheld also the glory of the Lord, what had been hidden from them, present to them now in the glorified faces of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. St. Luke tells us that Peter, James, and John had been asleep when Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus of His impending death. They awoke to see and perceive a glory the likes of which they would not see or experience until the Resurrection. The vision does not yet reveal the content of the relationship; what is perceived at first is the radical otherness of the event.
Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. (St. Luke ix. 33) Peter was determined to capture the moment, to contain and limit what he sees in Christ’s Transfiguration. In this he was wholly wrong. Christ’s Transfiguration is the Divine Activity of the Invisible God’s love for man in the visible motions of His Son. The Invisible God moves to man through His visible Son to summon all men back to Himself. To entrap and encapsulate the moment is to miss the message. Christ reveals what is in store for those who would become the sons and daughters of God. Christ calls Peter, James, John, and every willing human being into His ongoing Transfiguration. This is not about the Apostles’ vision of the distinctly Divine uniqueness interrupting human history in an isolated moment. Christ calls us forward into the vision and experience of our future Transfiguration. This visible manifestation of Transfiguration is a revelation of God’s ongoing, invisible desire to redeem and save His people. Long past the Resurrection, St. John would be moved by faith to say this: Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 St. John iii. 2,3)
Cardinal Shonborn elaborates further on what had happened to Peter, James, and John. After Christ’s Transfiguration, when the three Apostles, in fear and terror prostrated on the ground, lifted up their eyes, they ‘saw only Jesus.’ (God’s Human Face: Schonborn, p. 132) He whom they beheld a moment before in the blinding splendor of Mystical converse with Moses and Elijah, now they saw alone, Jesus of Nazareth, strikingly human once again. He was transfigured from one state back into the other. Jesus’ human countenance, the face of Jesus of Nazareth, holds in itself the complete mystery of God. (Idem) Here is the brilliance. Christ’s transfigured glory can make sense to the Apostles only slowly and methodically as they follow the human Jesus into His suffering and death. The brilliance of the glory is tempered and adjusted to the Apostles’ capacity or ability to receive it. Jesus will lead them into glory but only as they move from death up and into new life. In the visible face of Jesus we can see the invisible love of the Father. We must behold that face first as its brilliance reveals sadness, loneliness, suffering, and death. Thereafter we must look upon the same face that reveals now a brilliance of new life that if offered to us from the invisible heart of the Father.
The face of Jesus is a human face, given to us as that symbol through which God lives and moves and has His being. Your face and mine too are meant to reflect the passion and beauty that we see in Him. Even in our sufferings, He longs to shine forth into us as the love that binds us obediently to our Heavenly Father. Even in our joys, He longs to shine forth as the love that is begotten of Heavenly Mirth. If His Vision transfigures us, we shall become images of God, icons of His invisible wisdom, power, and love. Like Moses and Elijah we shall be consumed with Jesus in that tight bond of unbreakable intimacy that reveals His glory to the world. Let us end with St. Maximus Confessor.
God provides equally to all the power that naturally leads to salvation, So that each one who wishes can be transformed by Divine Grace.And nothing prevents anyone from willing to become Melchisedec, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and simply transferring all these saints to himself, not by changing names and places, but by imitating their forms and way of life.
O mystery more mysterious than all the rest: God Himself out of love became Man…without any change of Him, He took on the weakness of our Human Nature, in order to bring salvation to man, and to give Himself to us as Ideal Image of virtue and as a living Icon of Love, and goodwill toward God and neighbor, an icon that has the power in us to elicit a dutiful response. (PG: 91, 644B)