Thursday of this week we are celebrating the Holy Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Transfiguration, for the Eastern Orthodox, is considered one of the 12 Great Feasts of the Church year. I am planning, for the next 5 days on Scholé, to do series on the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the third year of His preaching, the Lord Jesus often spoke to His disciples of His approaching passion and His glorious Resurrection. So that His impending passion would not totally weaken His disciples, the Savior wanted to show them His divine glory before His passion on the Holy Cross. (This is why we sing of the Holy Cross on this day.) Today let us try and consider some aspects of the gospel account of the Transfiguration and then in the days to come we are going to look at our theology regarding the Transfiguration. This glorious event is recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).
At that time, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if Thou wilt, I will make three booths here, one for Thee and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; hear Him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is risen from the dead.” St. Matthew. 17:1-9
The first thing we notice is that Jesus takes his three most intimate friends with him. Jesus leads his disciples to a high mountain. Before attaining the light of the Transfiguration, the hard path of asceticism is necessary. Mountain climbing is hard work but the view is at the top. There was spiritual work to do to get to the top. It was a high mountain. Simply and directly put – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is our spiritual business. It is hard work. Responding to the Lord’s call to pray, fast, remember the poor, etc. is difficult. Fasting during the Dormition fast is difficult. Denying ourselves what we want can be hard work.
Second, we see that next to Jesus appears Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the law. Elijah represents the prophets. Jesus is the fulfillment of all law and of all prophecy. He is the final completion of the whole of Old Testament; He is the fullness of all divine revelation. In Jesus’ life, the glorious mysteries cannot be separated from the mysteries of suffering. It is when he was preparing to go to His passion that he is transfiguration. In our own life, we shall not enter into the joy of the Transfiguration unless we accept the Cross.
Thirdly, Peter wants to stay on the mountaintop. He suggests that three tabernacles be built. In the same way we so often want to prolong moments of intimate spiritual sweetness. Jesus leaves Peter’s suggestion unanswered. Neither to the first disciples nor to us is it permitted to withdraw from the hard labors of the spiritual life. We would prefer to relax.
There was once a desert monk who was startled one time when an angel appeared to him while praying to tell him that he needed to not worry about praying anymore that God had heard him and that he was now perfect. The monk quickly saw through this and said that he had done nothing deserving an angel. And once he had humbled himself that angel was revealed to actually be a demon disguised as an angel and then disappeared.