Friday, August 4, 2017

An old article on Feast of Transfiguration by Rambachen Fr. M.S Skariah of Memory Eternal

Feast of Transfiguration - Manifestation of Divine Nature
Matthew 17: 1-8, Mark 9: 2-8, Luke 9: 27-36

(Rev. M.S. Sakariah Ramban, Delhi)

In August, our church has two important feasts.
On August 6th the feast of  Transfiguration and on August 15th the Ascension (Dormition) of the Mother of God. In the third year of His ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ spoke more frequent to His disciples about His Passion, but related it always with His glory and His suffering on the Cross. That His expected suffering should not utterly shatter His disciples, so that they fall away from Him, He  decided to reveal to them, before His passion, something of His divine glory.

The Evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke narrate that event. Our Lord went up a mountain with His three disciples : Peter, James and John. These there disciples were the witnesses in some of the most important events in the life of our Lord. On the mountain our Lord began to pray. And as He was praying, He was transfigured. The Evangelists narrate this event with vivid expressions. Luke says "as He prayed, the appearance of His face altered, and His robe, became white and glistening" (9:29). Mark says, " His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them"  (9: 3). This means that His dress was intensively white. Matthew writes, "His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as the light? (17:2.) He revealed to them radiant in glory and splendour.

According to the tradition, this incident took place on the Mount Tabor. But the Gospels do not give the name of the place. But simply say that " a high mountain". Luke given an interesting expression:- "as He was praying" Jesus was transfigured-or He was seen in an intense light. What does it mean? Church Fathers say that Our Lord was revealing the destiny of human  beings, the goal of our Christian life. In the Bible, light or whiteness is the symbol of the presence of God, goodness ! Light is almost always associated with God or the divine revelation. When God is present in our life, when the spirit of God abides in us, we are transfigured, we become source of light for others. Through this incident, our Lord was revealing that our destiny is to attain light, whiteness " glory. God is light and source of light. He is the One who dwells in light unapproachable, and who is, in the Psalmist's words, in Your light we see light(36:9). The shining clouds, reflecting light and yet concealing, were for the Ancient Hebrews the Shekinah, the symbol of God's glory. For a brief moment the disciples saw the light of God shining through Him. As St. John wrote in the prologue to his Gospel: " In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it' (1:4-5). For this reason we confess in the Creed Christ as "God from God" and "Light from Light" .

The goal of our life is for this light, the goodness, the purity, the sinlessness. In the coming world we will attain this condition. St. Paul as convinced of it. He wrote in 1Cor 15: 51-54. It was this life of the coming world which was revealed in the transfiguration of Christ. In the Book of Revelation St. John speaks of this life - Life in light; Revelation Chapter 7, St. John saw the heaven opened before him; he saw the throne of Christ, thousands and thousands of people standing before the throne clothed in white robes and glorifying Christ. We are called to this heavenly worship - Clothed in white robes. All our worship, our prayers, sacraments and spiritual activities have one goal - To prepare us for that life of light, life of glory, life of purity, life filled with God.

None of the Resurrection appearances of our Lord seems to have impressed the apostles with quite the same celestial glory as the experience of transfiguration. The light shining forth upon Tabore is divine light of revelation - No more symbol or fantasy, but the presence of God Himself. Way back in Exodus, Moses had encountered the Divine presence at the burning bush in Sinai, which was in flames but not consumed. Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. The three young Jews, Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego, at the court of the king of Babylon, who were thrown into the burning fiery furnace for refusing to worship false gods, were protected by the divine presence amidst the flames. The same presence is manifested in the light of Transfiguration.

Moses and Elijah, the great prophets of the Old Testaments appeared beside our Lord and talked Him. Both of them had the experience of light in their life, when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai his face shone and the people of Israel could not look at his face. Elijah was taken to heaven in a chariots of fire. The disciples saw them talking to Jesus. Luke writes on the subject of their conversation - the suffering of Jesus in Jerusalem.
Why did Moses and Elijah appear?. To shatter the Jewish fallacy that Christ was one of the prophets - Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the others. This was why He revealed Himself as King over the prophets and Moses and Elijah appeared as His servants. Talking with Christ, Moses and Elijah showed that He is Lord of both the living and the dead, and God who spoke of old through the Law and the Prophets.

Why did our Lord take only three disciples with Him to Mt. Tabore, and not all of them? According to one interpretation, Judas was not worthy to behold the divine glory of the Master whom he was to betray, and the Lord did not want to leave him alone at the foot of the mountain. Another interpretation upholds that God Himself had given the Law through Moses: "At the mouth of two witnesses or.of three, shall the matter be established"
(Deut. 19:15). Three witnesses were, then, enough. There was, though, a special reason for choosing these three disciples. The three of them represented the three chief virtues: Peter-faith, for he was the first to proclaim his faith in Christ as the God; James-hope, for it was with hope in  the promise of Christ that he was the first to lay down his life for the Lord, being the first martyred; John-love, for stayed beneath the Lord's Cross till the end.

Why was He transfigured on the mountain and not in the valley? That He might teach us two virtues: love of toil and pondering on God. To climb to the heights involves toil, and the heights represent the heights of our thoughts: pondering on God. Why was He transfigured at night? Because the night is more fitted to prayer and meditation than the day, and because the night covers all earthly beauty with darkness and reveals the beauty of the starry heavens.

Our Lord had many times shown His divine power to His disciples, but on Tabore He showed them His divine nature. This vision of His divinity and the hearing of the heavenly witness to Him as the Son of God must have been of support to the disciples in the days of the Lord's suffering, for the strengthening of a steadfast faith in Him and His final victory.

For Orthodox Christians, the feast of transfiguration plays a much wider theological role than the Western Christians. It is the promise and foretaste of our weak and sinful human nature is to be purified by the divine fire and irradiated with the eternal light. We are summoned to share  in the community life of the most Holy Trinity. O ! let us who love to see and hear things past understanding, mystically behold Christ shine as lightening with the rays of divine splendour, and let us make the Father's voice resound, who proclaimed His as His well loved Son. On Mount Tabor He makes bright the weakness of man and bestows enlightenment upon our souls !.
(Greek Orthodox church Vespers)

The Divine glory revealed in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ, was none  other than love, a love that is the Spirit of living God poured into our hearts that we may be transformed, transfigured into the likeness of God.

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