The Feast of the Transfiguration

The Transfiguration is one of the most critical, glorious, enigmatic texts in the Gospel story, not to mention one of the most neglected. I sat in an Episcopal church yesterday morning, and no mention was made of the upcoming feast at all. (Labor Day, on the other hand, is going to be a big to-do.) The Catholics didn’t even decide to uniformly celebrate it until the fifteenth century. Only the Orthodox seem to have afforded the story and its commemoration the appropriate place of importance in their corporate life.

Perhaps it’s not as sexy as the various smaller, less central passages about sexual ethics or gender economics. It’s certainly not as gory as the Passion. But, in spite of its gross inability to satisfy our western lust for sex and violence, the Transfiguration represents a crucial moment in the Christian narrative when God manifests Himself to the world, glorifies His Son, and declares our hope and our promise in Christ. Jesus is revealed for who he truly is, and we glimpse what we will be through conforming ourselves to his likeness.

So, to commemorate the Transfiguration–in addition to eating grapes–consider the following quotes from two great theological masters for whom the Transfiguration was central.

Maximus the Confessor, First Century on Theology, 13-14:

If a man seeks spiritual knowledge, let him plant the foundation of his soul immovably before the Lord, in accordance with God’s words to Moses: “Stand here by me.” But it should be realized that there are differences among those who stand before the Lord, as is clear from the text, “There are some standing here who will not taste death till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power”…To those who follow him as he climbs the high mountain of his transfiguration he appears in the form of God, the form in which he existed before the world came to be…

When the Logos of God becomes manifest and radiant in us, and his face shines like the sun, then his clothes will also look white. That is to say, the words of the Gospels will then be clear and distinct, with nothing concealed. And Moses and Elijah–the more spiritual principles of the Law and the prophets–will also be present with him.

Gregory Palamas, Triads, I.3.5:

So, when the saints contemplate this divine light within themselves, seeing it by the divinizing communion of the Spirit, through the mysterious visitation of perfecting illuminations–then they behold the garment of their deification, their mind being glorified and filled by the grace of the Word, beautiful beyond measure in his splendor; just as the divinity of the Word on the mountain glorified with divine light the body conjoined to it. For “the glory which the Father gave him,” he himself has given to those obedient to him, as the Gospels says, and “He willed that they should be with him and contemplate His glory.”

..It is necessarily carried out in a spiritual fashion, for the mind becomes supercelestial, and as it were the companion of him who passed beyond the heavens for our sake, since it is manifestly yet mysteriously united to God, and contemplates supernatural and ineffable visions being filled with all the immaterial knowledge of a higher light. Then it is no longer the sacred symbols accessible to the senses that it contemplates, nor yet the variety of Sacred Scripture that it knows; it is made beautiful by the creative and primordial Beauty, and illumined by the radiance of God.

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