The Transfiguration of Our Lord

We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory. - Philippians 3:20-21

All ye who seek for Jesus, raise
your eyes above, and upward gaze:
there may ye see the wondrous sign
of never-ending glory shine.

Behold Him in celestial rays
Who never knoweth end of days;
exalted, infinite, sublime;
older than heav'n or hell or time.

This is the Gentiles' King and Lord;
the Prince by Judah's race adored,
promised to Abraham of yore
and to his seed for evermore.

To Him the prophets testify;
and that same witness from on high,
the Father seals by his decree:
'Hear and believe my Son', saith He.

All glory, Lord, to Thee we pay,
Transfigured on the mount to-day;
all glory as is ever meet,
to Father and to Paraclete. Amen.

Quicumque Christum - The Office Hymn at Vespers

I love the Feast of the Transfiguration, and shall be celebrating it tomorrow at the Parish of the Intercession of the Mother of God here in Manchester.

I'm ashamed to say that it was only last year that I began to properly understand the significance of the Feast, and yet I'm delighted that I now do. It had always been for me the cause of some confusion. Yes, Our Lord appeared in brilliance and two long-deceased key figures in the history of the people of Israel appeared along with Him, but what was the point of it all.

It is, of course, Christ's showing to us that He is the fulfilment of all things, and giving us a taste of the pure Light that is God, in which we are called to share, and which is the purpose of our journey of theosis/deification, and the whole point of our life and existence. Moses and Elijah's presence show Christ as the summit of both the Law and the Prophets, not called to replace them but to show their meaning in the splendour of their fullness in Him.

The disciples, who are with Christ, not having yet completed their theosis, are unable to look upon Him transfigured for they do not yet share in that brilliance, holiness, and life of the Trinity. I love the way the Transfiguration icons show them in various states of disarray, averting their eyes, tumbling down the mountain, falling to the ground. For them to behold that Presence would be destructive to them. We see the same thing in the Old Testament where contact with holiness means sure and certain death. Uzziah reaches out to prevent the Ark of the Covenant from falling and dies instantly because he lived before the Incarnation and Ascension, before the New Covenant, where completion of theosis was quite simply impossible. Only those in the Old Covenant who had met with God's favour were able to approach Him, and even then it was in veiled form, as a burning bush, or a voice from a cloud. Even then, for them to have been exposed to the fullness of the splendour of God would have been pain beyond what they could bear. This is hell - the brilliant Presence of God as experienced by those who have not accepted his grace to conform their hearts, minds, bodies, wills, and their entire being to Him. This bizarre concept that hell is somehow the absence of God is just too far removed from God's revelation of Himself to us and indeed from the belief and practice of the Church to be taken seriously.

O heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things; Treasury of blessings and Giver of life, come and abide in us, cleanse us from all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One!
- from the Trisagion Prayers

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?

And from thy Presence whither shall I flee?
If I go up to heaven, Thou art there;
if I go down into hades, Thou art present there.
If I take up my wings toward the dawn
and make mine abode in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there shall thy hand hold me.
- verses from Psalm 138

How can there be a place where God is not? Yes, hell is a separation from God but only in the sense of self-imposed rejection of unity and communion with Him, causing his Presence to be experienced as unbearable agony.

Yet with our the restoration of our human nature to the heavenly state at Christ's Ascension was the gate once again opened for us to follow, including all those who had died before the coming of Christ who, at his glorious Resurrection, pulled them from the jaws of death and Hades where they had been waiting.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was held by it extinguished it.
Having descended into Hades, He made Hades captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of his flesh.
And Isaiah, receiving this beforehand, cried out:
'Hades,' said he, 'was embittered when it met Thee in the lower regions.'
It was embittered, for it was destroyed.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was cast down.
It was embittered, for it was bound.
It received a body, and met God face to face.
It received earth, and encountered heaven.
It received that which was seen, and fell upon that which was unseen.
O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen! and thou art cast down.
Christ is risen! and the Angels rejoice.
Christ is risen! and life lives.
Christ is risen! and not one of the dead remains in the grave.
- from the Paschal catechetical sermon of St John Chrysostom.

So in the Transfiguration, we have a foretaste of our calling, made possible by Christ's taking upon Himself our human nature, descending to our death and conquering it by his glorious Resurrection, and taking that human nature once more into the Presence of God. It is this destiny of ours that in which the Saints already share, and of whom Our Lady is chief, whose glorious Assumption we celebrate in a few days' time. May they pray for us.

A blessed Feast of the Transfiguration to all celebrating at this time.

O God, Who in the glorious Transfiguration of thine Only-Begotten Son didst confirm the mysteries of the Faith by the testimony of the fathers, and in the voice which came down from the bright cloud didst marvellously foreshow the perfect adoption of sons: vouchsafe in thy mercy to make us coheirs with the glorious King, and grant that we may be partakers of his glory. Through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, Who with Thee and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, God, world without end. Amen.

4 responses:

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

a happy and Blessed Feast to you !

Michael said...

Thank you, Elizabeth!

I'm wondering whether to pop into Asda on the way to church tomorrow and get some grapes. Will it look a bit tacky to turn up with a plastic tub of grapes? Perhaps I ought to buy a few bunches and place them in a basket or some similar receptacle.

Ian said...

Grapes is grapes are grapes: bring them along however. So say ignorant I

A blessed Feast Day to you Michael; and, like you, I'm discovering more and more about the Feasts of the church each year: ever-learning and ever-growing. Thanks be to God.

Michael said...

Thank you, Ian. :)

I ended up just singing Lauds here at the house after all. It was really quite beautiful. I do enjoy the Pokrov parish here in Manchester but the Liturgy is entirely in Slavonic with the sermon in Russian. I wouldn't have done Lauds had I gone, which would have meant missing out on the beautiful antiphons and prayers set for today that really write the message of the Feast on the heart. I have grapes downstairs as I picked some up last evening, so we'll have those today.

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