AUGUST 6, 2004, THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD
HOMILY: LUKE 9:28-36
WHILE JESUS WAS PRAYING HIS FACE CHANGED IN APPEARANCE AND HIS CLOTHING BECAME DAZZLING WHITE.” The Transfiguration of Jesus has been a favorite feast of monks since very early times. Already in the sixth century when the monastery of Mt Sinai was built the impressive apse of its church was provided with a magnificent mosaic depicting this scene as it is described in today’s Gospel. It still exists today, the oldest representation of this mystery, having been venerated by the generations of monks for 1450 years.
The feast of the Transfiguration in fact owes its liturgical existence to the Benedictine monks of Cluny whose monastic liturgy became the source of increasing awareness of the significance of this mysterious event that anticipated the resurrection in revealing that the transcendent glory of divinity was inherent in the incarnate Savior by virtue of the very nature of his personality. He merited the light that surpasses all created illumination already prior to his death and resurrection, for he is the chosen Son of God, as the voice from heaven announced on this occasion.
All four Gospels speak of the glory of the Son of God. St. John in the Prologue to his Gospel states the matter in these terms: “And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” The three synoptic Gospels recount the story of the Transfiguration in which each stresses the brilliance of the light that shone from the person of our Lord on that occasion. All three accounts preface their version of the mystery with the same brief declaration. Jesus made an announcement to his disciples, shortly before the Transfiguration in these words: “Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
It was monks who best appreciated the significance of this manifestation of our Lord’s hidden glory, for devotion to this revelation of the light of the transfiguration was spread in the Eastern Church from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Athos. The contemplative tradition of those men who dedicated their lives to the search for union with God developed a way of prayer that focused on the light of Tabor, that is to say, the illumination emanating from the face of the glorified Savior as the source of their growth in the knowledge of God. The light of the Transfigured Christ is nothing else that the divine energy that refashions the contemplative monk in the likeness of the Son of God himself. To contemplate this light shining on the face of Christ is the goal of pure prayer and results in the participation in the life of God.
While it was the hesychastic monks who devoted themselves to a way of life that facilitated this form of prayer and supported the transformation that accompanies it, the practice of constant prayer is not confined to monastics. In the form of Centering Prayer and the prayer of Jesus it spread beyond monastic centers and is practiced by many lay persons. Christ is the light of the world; he came for all who put their trust in him. But we who have been called to the contemplative way of Cistercian life have a particular function in the Church to attain to the loving knowledge of God and to spread that knowledge by cultivating pure prayer.
It is the Transfigured Christ who continues to reveal and give himself to those who seek him as the Lord of glory. May the grace of this Eucharist and of this liturgical feast obtain for each of us a share in that divine light that is eternal life.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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