The purpose of these articles on the Transfiguration is to show its place in our spiritual life.
The following is a video on this subject. In it the Transfiguration according to the Greek Fathers is presented. Its revolutionary approach is addressed. One of the most beautiful fruits of the new understanding of the Transfiguration is a deepening of the two parts of the Mass.
The Texts of the Transfiguration of the Lord
|Matthew (James) 17||Mark (Peter) 9||Luke (Paul?) 9|
16:28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”
1 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.
|17:1 And after six days Jesus took with himPeter and James and John his brother, and led them upa high mountain apart.||2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves;||28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.|
2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.
3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
|and he was transfigured before them, 3 and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus.
5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid.
|29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white.
30 And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.
32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” – not knowing what he said.
|5 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; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.||
7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly looking around they no longer saw any one with them but Jesus only.
|34 As he said this, a Cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.|
|9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead.”||9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of man should have risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant.||And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.|
Peter: “16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honour and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.19 And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:16-19)
John: “And the Word became flesh and pitched his Tent among us, full of grace and truth; we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (John 1:14)
Transfiguration According to The Greek Fathers
Breathing with both lungs
“The Church must breathe with her two lungs!” (Pope John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, no. 54). By the “two lungs” the Pope meant the Western and the Eastern Christian theological Traditions. They are both valid, they complement each other and help each other. They often shed a splendid light on each other.
As christians, and Catholics we should lead the world with our capacity to make things “catholic” i.e. universal: valid for all. We can’t do that without at least letting both lungs work.
The richness that the Gospel’s Seed develops on each part of the world belongs to everybody and all of us need all its parts.
The mystery of the “Transfiguration of the Lord” is a very special example of the diversity of the two traditions. This makes it a strategic point in the life of the Church. In a matter that important as the “Transfiguration” we need to let the two lungs work very well. Therefore the Eastern Tradition should be explored, deepened and explained. Everybody will benefit from it.
Did you know that both traditions see the Transfiguration in a different way?
For the Western Theological Tradition (embodied in st Thomas’ Aquinas commentary, and in the Preface of the Roman Missal) Christ did objectively change, He was really transfigured, His clothes changed colour and aspect, His Face as well, and a real Cloud hovered over the Apostles, Moses and Elijah, and Jesus, and overshadowed them. This event is considered to be very useful for the Apostles in order to help them go through the toughness of the Passion of Christ (it strengthened them).
The Eastern Theological Tradition, without negating the fact that this huge grace and event must have had a important effect on the Apostles in order to help them to go through the trial of the Passion, offers quite a different understanding of that Event.
Let me state few facts that characterise the Eastern vision of the Transfiguration:
First: All the mystery of prayer is enclosed in the Mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Therefore this mystery is central in the Teaching on Prayer. It embodies it. For instance we can see that S Luke’s version of the Transfiguration focuses on its relation with “Prayer”: they went up “to pray” (Luke 9:28).
Second: any Iconograph, starts his Mission in the Church, exercising himself first on the Icon of the Transfiguration. It is with this Icon that he/she works on the Light. The “contemplation of Light”, and “expressing it” are central in the Iconograph’s Mission.
Third: Jesus didn’t physically change that day! From day one, from the moment when the Son of God receives a human nature in Mary’s womb, His human nature is, in a way, “transfigured” by this union (the union, in One Person, the Person of the Eternal Son of God, between the two natures).
Fourth: The Apostles, by climbing the Mountain with the transformative Force of Jesus, are purified and transfigured so they are made capable of seeing Jesus as He is. Jesus is the one who changes them.
Fifth: In the Transfiguration, the Apostles did contemplate the Uncreated Nature of Jesus (and not a created light).
Sixth: The Transfiguration is the fulfilment of the Promise made right before it by Jesus Himself to show to some of them the Kingdom: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God. About eight days after Jesus said this [promise], he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying […]” (Luke 9:27-29).
I am sure there are many other aspects but, as you can already see, if you combine these 6 elements of the Eastern Theological Tradition, you’ll find revolutionary understanding of the Transfiguration that will open amazing new horizons.
First, there is a Promise: Jesus speaks to his Apostles and prophesies to them that some of them won’t die before seeing the Kingdom (or the “see the Son of God coming in his kingdom” (Mt 16:28)). Applied to us, this means the same: amongst the people who read the Gospel or listen to its Proclamation in the Mass, there are people standing there who will have an amazing experience.
Second: by climbing the Mountain we find a lot of information useful to understand Jesus’ Action on the Apostles: “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart.” (Mt 17:1)
– “took with him” He grabs them with His Power. He saves them, bringing them from darkness to His Light.
– Election of some: because they are more fervent.
– “Led them up”: again Jesus Action.
– “a high mountain”: the quality of His Action.
– “apart”: content of His Action.
He is capable of transforming the human being, bringing the “new being” into life and into its fulness. So we “become like Him”, and therefore can “see him as He is”: “we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Third: the discovery that the apostles changed and that we are invited to change like them becomes the foundation of our Christian life, setting for us the real goal: to be transformed in Christ in order to “see Him as He is”. This is the core of “Spiritual Theology”: divinisation, or transformation. We understand that this central task embodies everything for us in our Christian life, including our “Spiritual life”.
We understand why and how the Transfiguration is such an amazing event for the Theological Spiritual Eastern Tradition. It is our Treasure. To a degree, it embodies all the Gospel.
We can easily, as well, understand the importance of its’ Feast, every year (6th of August).
Transfiguration and Mass
The Byzantine tradition tells us that the Transfiguration is that important that it encompasses all the mystery of “christian prayer”.
It is only by willing to enter in this mystery (the Transfiguration’s one) that one starts to discover how wide it is. Let us explore one of its aspects.
Transfiguration and Mass
The Transfiguration could be seen as a spiritual summary of the Mass.
1- First: the Mass used to be mainly celebrated on Sunday, where all the Christians used to gather to meet the Risen Lord. The most early accounts of that gathering could be found in s John 20, with the Apostle gathered in the upper room, the door closed; see as well Luke 24, the structure of the apparition to the two disciples of Emmaus.
The Three accounts of the Transfiguration give us a hint about the relationship between: the Resurrection (happening the 7th or 8th day) and the weekly Gathering (the Sunday Mass): “6 days later” (Mt, Mk), or “8 days later” (Luke).
2- Second: we enter in the Mass by climbing to that High Mountain of the Action of God (the “Divine Liturgy” that God will deploy). Notice that we have to receive a special grace in order to climb. The same greek verb is used in the Transfiguration and in the Mass: anapherei (“Anaphore” = “Eucharistic Prayer”). Jesus is the one who “grabs” them by His Grace and makes them climb with him.
We start the Mass (Kyrie) by asking forgiveness, preparing us to be put in the Hands of the Mercy of God. This is an act of purification and surrender (offering ourselves in the Hands of Jesus). Later in the Mass, will elevate our hearts (“lift up your hearts”), and He will put them in Him (or “under the shadow of the Cloud”).
3- Third: the early Church kept the readings of the sabath liturgy of the Synagogue: one reading from the Thorah (Pentateuk) and one reading from the Prophets (check that even now with the Jewish Liturgy) and added to it the reading of the Gospels and some reading from the Apostles (and Acts).
In the early Church Christians used to have a very special experience of seeing Jesus in the Old Testament (see Luke 24, 1Co 10). So what used to happen is that Jesus would “appear” in the Text of the Liturgy of the Old Testament.
In the Transfiguration we have Moses (Thorah) and Elijah (Prophets) and the fact that Jesus’ cloths and face are transformed, transfigured. The letter of the text (the clothes of the text) of the Old Testament is transfigured and shows the Presence of Jesus. Jesus appears, and sheds a light over the Old Testament (Moses and Elijah). This is the first part of the Mass and the first part of the Transfiguration. The Power of the Light of the Gospel and the presence of Jesus in the Proclamation of the Gospel, sheds a light over the two readings from the old Testament.
4- Fourth: we then enter in the second part of the Mass, the Eucharistic part. We enter as well in the second part of the Transfiguration: where the Cloud (symbol of the Presence of God) will overshadow everybody, like the Eucharist will overshadow everybody, everybody will receive the Body and the Blood of Jesus, and then only Jesus will remain (as the text of the Transfiguration will state in Luke 9:36). This is “the vision” par excellence.
5- Fifth: the Transfiguration is about seeing, having a vision: it starts with a promise of seeing the Son of God coming (see this Promise before the Transfiguration), and ends (while coming down the mountain) with Jesus saying “don’t say anything bout what you saw”.Receiving the Eucharist is about seeing Jesus, the True Light. This is what everybody sings right after Communion in the Byzantine Rite: “We have seen the True Light, and we received the Heavenly Spirit”. We are truly overshadowed by the Heavenly Spirit as were the Apostles on the Sacred Mountain.
The parallel between the Transfiguration and the Divine Liturgy is tricking. For me, this shows that Jesus was entrusting to the 3 Apostles, as heads of liturgical traditions, the Divine Liturgy itself, so, through this unique experience on Mount Thabor, they can understand, enter, and measure the greatness of the one single Mass.He asked them not to reveal what happened during the Transfiguration until He rises from the dead, until He is capable of delivering, on a weekly basis, the “apparition”, that “transfiguration”.
This is why we gather each Sunday.
Each Sunday we are invited to climb the Hight Mountain of the Glory of God, to listen to His Word, to see Him transfiguring the Old Testament text, each Sunday, with His Light, as “the Risen Lord”.We then are invited to enter under the Divine Cloud (the second part of the Mass where the catechumens were excluded, and the doors shut (see John 20 and the doors shut)), and receive the Communion that makes all of us One in Him, that make us “one Jesus” only.
Do we really enter in the Mystery of the Divine Liturgy? Do we really enter in the Mystery of the Transfiguration? Do we understand that the Transfiguration (seeing the Lord’s Glory) it is given to all of us?
We sing in the Byzantine rite, during Communion and say that we won’t betray the secret of our Lord like Judas, with a kiss. The “secret” is what we see, what we experience during Communion.
Come on great people, be aware of your greatness, of the greatness of What God is offering you weekly (or daily)!
With the great intercession of the Mother of God, we thank You Jesus-God for your indescribable Gift. Amen.
Transfiguration and St. John’s Gospel
Here, I would like to address an aspect of it that is rarely addressed by theology: the relationship between St. John (his writings) and the Transfiguration. Let me explain my point:
If we accept (you don’t have to) that all the writings of the Bible put under the name of “John” are of the same person,
if we accept that (you don’t have to) that same person is John the Apostle,
if we accept that he was one of the three admitted to be the witness of the Lord’s Transfiguration, and
if we consider the Transfiguration as something of a transcendental meaning/importance
then we seriously have to wonder:
“how come John is not mentioning the Transfiguration in his Gospel?!”
In other words we can say: “The Transfiguration certainly left a great and living influence on St. John, and he most probably meditated upon it, time and time again. Since the Transfiguration is that central in Christ’s message, one dares to think that most probably John decided to insert it in his Gospel. He didn’t do it in an obvious, literal way: there is no account of the Transfiguration in his Gospel. So he probably found a way to mention it, or at least to mention it’s essential message. He probably chose to place the Transfiguration in a more “central way”. Indeed, the way the “Transfiguration” is inserted in the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) looks a bit off-centred, like a meteorite that landed from nowhere.
The more one deepens the Transfiguration (spending years on meditating on it) the more one sees its transcendental importance, the more one is convinced that: it is impossible for John – who witnessed it – to remain totally silent about it.
It is puzzling! unless one thinks that he probably found a solution to say it, to present it, in a way that is “integral to the message”, and all together “less abstract” (landing from nowhere in the middle of the Gospel, with no other text related to it), “less frightening” (hearing the Voice of the Father, falling scared of the floor: “When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified” (Mt 17:6).)
The first thing that one notices in St John’s Gospel is the way he presents Jesus’ Passion and the Cross. It is not all a suffering moment, it is first and foremost the main moment where God reveals His Glory. On the Cross God is glorified, and the Son is Glorified. The Passion is a moment of Victory for Jesus. One would say that John did meditate that much the Passion and the Cross that God introduced him in a greater depth. You can see John’s reaction when he sees Jesus’ side transpierced by a spear: “one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.” (John 19:34-35)
More texts about God’s Glory at the Cross: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17:5; see as well John 13:32) The death of Jesus glorifies God the father. The death of Jesus’ disciples does glorify God as well: “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God” (John 21:19).
The Cross is then for John the highest point of the manifestation of the Glory of God in Jesus. In that sense, why would one put in the Gospel an “off-centred event” that speaks about the Glory of God (the Transfiguration). In that same vein, you can already see that Luke starts to orientate the Transfiguration toward the Cross and its Glory: “And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His Exodus [departure] which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.“ (Luke 9:30-31)
So, reasonably, one has to find the essence of the Transfiguration and its relationship with the Cross, and how did John plan his Gospel according to this “combination”.
The main structure of the Transfiguration in the the Synoptics (Mt, Mk and Lk) is simple:
a- A Promise of a vision (some who are present here will see the Son of God coming in his Kingdom)
b- The realisation of the Promise (the event itself of the Transfiguration with its 3 steps: climbing, the transfiguration (clothes, face, Moses and Elijah), and the overshadowing (the Cloud and the Voice of the Father).
c- Mentioning that that was a vision.
You’ll be amazed to discover that in the Gospel of saint John you can find an event that has the same structure: Cana’s wedding (John 2:1-11).
John decides to structure his Gospel, all his Gospel with an event: a wedding.
Note: the least we can say is that this wedding is mysterious. We don’t know who is the Groom, who is the Bride. You can guess, but it is not clear. It speaks about “Jesus’ hour”. The text itself, if it is read simply as the account of a wedding, it doesn’t work. There are too many “holes”/”bumps” that don’t allow us to say that John wanted to tell us about a simple miracle (and not a “sign” as he says), and a miracle performed in a wedding. Did Jesus ever perform a useless miracle?! Of course not. What is the point of having “new wine” if the “new wine” didn’t mean something else. This mysterious wedding can only be understood at another level because the text itself is not complete or intelligible if taken “to the letter”.
John decides to put something else equivalent to the Transfiguration not only in the beginning of his Gospel, but as a structural event that will dictate its structure to the whole Gospel (we will go through that).
You have the right to complain about these assertions, saying that: there are not proofs. Just give me some time in order, not to proofanything (because you are the one who can see it for yourself), but just to show it.
Transfiguration, the Assumption and Cana
First, in a few words, I would like to address some aspects of the Assumption of Mary into heaven with her body.
Evil is not touching her body. Death (as consequence of Evil, sin, the first sin) doesn’t have a grip over her. But not only that. If on one hand we know that Jesus ascends into heaven and that He sits “at the right hand of the Father”, on the other hand, we can say that Mary, without dying, “ascends” into heaven. She doesn’t die, she just crosses the barrier. We can as well say that she sits at Jesus’ right hand.
We can say that Jesus is victorious in Her, in the sense that Mary is experiencing the total effects of the Resurrection of the body of the Lord in an exceptional way: her body is now (before the final Resurrection) admitted to be close by the body of the Lord who is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Since Mary is the archetype of Jesus’ follower, we can say that the Church, and each one of us is, in a way, in Her, already victorious. This is why she is said to be “our hope”. We hope to reach the point were she is. She already reached the final destination, with her body.
Since as well we are invited to receive Mary as our Mother (John 19), our Mould, and receive in us her immaculate capacity to say “yes”, to believe, to follow Jesus, and become “like her”, “for Jesus”, we may say that the fact that she now is at the right hand of Jesus, in heaven, this gives her (and us, in her) a totally different status and “power” (or “influence” if you prefer).
There is no place closer to Jesus, right now, than Mary’s one. In this sense, He is totally victorious in her and, in a way, she is “equal” to Him, in the sense that she loves Him as He loves her.
Note: see what saint John of the Cross, in “the Living flame of love”, says about the possibility of “equality of love” for us already on earth. Very important!
Now, let us go back to the Transfiguration and its very personal formulation in his Gospel by saint John (see previous posts).
This equality between Jesus and Mary, or Mary’s status in front of Jesus is presented to us in Cana (John 2:1-11). It might not appear at a first glimpse, but if you give it a close and very long consideration, you’ll discover it yourself.
After years and years of pondering about what happened and all the Graces he continued to receive from God, and all what he received from Mary, it seems that John re-visiting, re-saw that simple wedding (Cana’s) he attended.
He saw through it, like through a stained glass, many many deep things, to the point that he decided (certainly inspired by the Holy Spirit) to make it as his programmatic event, that gave the whole structure to his Gospel, aiming of course toward the Cross, Death and Resurrection.
Let us ask for the Help of the Holy Spirit: through the simple human wedding, the Holy Spirit showed him that “other marriage” that happens between the real Groom and the real Bride (Mary). That “other marriage”, secret and sacred, happens the day of the Resurrection. Nobody saw it but John wanted to mention it in a very respectful and discrete way.
That “Marriage” reaches, in a way, a new completion the day of the Assumption. They meet, finally, equally, with their bodies. They “sit” at the same level, with no change anymore. The final victory is expressed here in the person of Mary.
This victory has total influence on us.
Let us get a closer look at Cana: Mary says: “they don’t have wine”. She doesn’t say: “we don’t have wine” because she is (sitting at his right hand) victorious (see image above). She has the Wine, in total quantity and quality. We, poorly, name that: “intercession”. It is infinitely much more.
It is first: Union. There is no barrier between Jesus and her. Who can understand the union between Jesus and Mary? Since she is pure, He fills her totally, there is no space in her not occupied by Jesus and His Spirit. Linked to union, there is love = exchange of the Holy Spirit.
It is secondly: Influence. She has a powerful influence over Him. She can want; He fulfils. Difficult for us to understand that consequence of the total transformation of Mary’s being in Jesus. But one can try to understand by seeing what already the saints can experience, through the descriptions made by saint John of the Cross and saint Theresa of Avila of the final stages of holiness. And then, if the saints can get all that, this means that the “Mother of all the saints” can get much more. Wouldn’t you agree?
Since she is filled by His Grace, she always asks things according to His Will. But still, her “agenda” is: “taking the side” of us humans.
Let us accept and explore that “new world order“, that “wedding” of another dimension.
The servants (us) must still listen to Him (“do as much as He’ll tell you to do” (John 2))… but now, with “new ears”. Hers.
They will deal with water.
Wine will appear.
They make a human effort (water), helped with the ordinary initial grace, and, through Mary’s help/faith, the “new wine” appears. They couldn’t even ask for it, they didn’t know what it is!!
Thirdly: She has the “new wine”. Constantly. She knew the “new wine” will appear. She had no doubt. She has the “new wine” already, therefore what she is asking for in Cana is not for herself (even if she is totally grateful to Jesus, in anticipation, for her own salvation).
John is writing his Gospel very late in his life, much after the Assumption of Mary. This means that he can as contemplate even better Mary in this “position” and can tell us about her with greater depth. With John, don’t you see her sitting, body, soul and spirit, at His Side? Jesus’ “door” is totally and constantly opened for her. She has total access to Him. This is as well His will.
It is a fact.
Try to contemplated her, beside Him, you’ll see that “she has the new wine”. All the new wine. Any time. All the time.
Fourthly: did you notice that for the Transfiguration, we have a powerful, almost inhuman, event, that scares the 3 Apostles, and that for Cana, it is much more gentle. For the Transfiguration the Eternal Father speaks. For Cana, Maryspeaks. Both point out toward Jesus. Both remind us of Moses, coming down from the Mountain, mentioning the Words of God (the two tables of the Covenant), and that the people of God have to listen to them and put them into practise.
– The Father says: “here is my only begotten Son, listen to him”.
– Mary would say: here is my son, listen to Him. She actually says: “do whatever He asks you to do” (see John 2).
The Father shows* us His own Son • Mary shows* us her own Son
(* “shows” : guides us toward) I am in awe. John seems to have humanised the Transfiguration. Determined to offer it to everybody, through Cana he seems to have made it more accessible, more possible: he saw through that simple wedding that happened in Cana.
More on Cana
Still, Jesus won’t call his mother: “mother”.
He’ll do something better. He’ll call her “Woman”, “Ishsha”.
“Ishsha” (Mary) is taken fro Ish (Jesus).
When for the first time the word “Ishsha” (woman) appears in the Bible? And who uses it for the first time?
“And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman (Ishsha), because she was taken out of Man (Ish).“ (Genesis 2:23) Mary is the “New Eve”.
That was for the first creation (Genesis 2).
For the “new creation”, through Redemption, for the “New Day” that God made (the Resurrection) at Cana, “the third day” (see John 2:1), the New Man calls the one who resembles him and can help him (Genesis 2:18): Woman, Ishsha.
Mary is “bone of his bones” and “flesh of his flesh”. The First being to come out of the side of Jesus on the Cross in TheWoman, the New Eve.
This description of Mary goes far beyond what we can imagine!
Another video on the same subject from the 2013 Course: