Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on the Transfiguration

Arabic original here.

The Divine Transfiguration

"Christ is the light of the world" is an expression summarizing the whole of the divine purpose behind the event of the Transfiguration which Christians commemorated yesterday. He identifies Himself by saying "I am the light of the world... he who follows Me does not walk in darkness but has the light of life." Thus the Gospels present Him as an eternal light that leads those who walk under His guidance to eternal life. 

The Gospel account speaks of Christ going up to Mount Tabor with three of His disciples and "He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun as his clothes became as white as the light." This event happened immediately after the Apostle Peter's confession that Jesus is "Christ, the Son of the Living God." Peter, according to the Gospel, did not make this confession on his own, since Christ told him that "it is not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, but rather My Father in heaven." Thus, the Transfiguration is the completion of divine revelation through divine prophecy, and is a confirmation of it.

It is noteworthy in the event of the transfiguration that the light did not come from outside to illumine Christ. Instead, the light came from Him and illumined His companions. Since He is the Son of God made man, "the ray of His glory and the image of His essence", this divine light was manifest through His humanity. Thus human nature became the dwelling-place of God and of His eternal, uncreated light. Thus the Orthodox Church believes that the divine light or, in other terms, the divine grace, that God pours out upon humankind, is uncreated grace, the Holy Spirit Himself.

In the event of the Transfiguration, the prophets Elijah and Moses appear "speaking with Him." This is an indication that that which was prohibited to the two of them and to tall people in the Old Covenant, beholding Him, has become possible upon the face of Christ. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" and thus the longing of Moses and Elijah to see God was realized in their seeing Christ. They saw God, who spoke to the prophets of old without their seeing Him. Thus through the transfigured Christ God Himself appears.

Their are two appearances of God as the Holy Trinity in the New Testament. The first appearance occured at Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan, when John the Baptist saw "the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Christ, and a voice from heaven saying 'this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.'" The second appearance happened at the Transfiguration, when "a luminous cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him.'"

In the Old Testament, a cloud symbolizes  God's presence among His people. In this context, the Apostle Peter who was present at the event of the Transfiguration, bears witness in his second epistle to this divine presence when he says, "For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain" (2 Peter 1:17-18).

The Evangelist John does not give an account of the Transfiguration. However, his gospel is full of verses that point to the meanings of the Transfiguration, especially th verses that talk about light's triumph over darkness. This struggle between light and darkness or between good and evil is ongoing, perhaps until the end of time. But the world has judged itself because "the light came into the world and people preferred darkness to the light because their works were evil."

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