FEBRUARY 19, 2006- THE TRANSFIGURATION: MARK 9:2-13

JESUS TOOK PETER, JAMES AND JOHN OFF BY THEMSELVES WITH HIM AND LED THEM UP A HIGH MOUNT. HE WAS TRANSFIGURED BEFORE THEIR EYES. The fact that all three synoptic Gospels recount this same event in our Lordís life indicates that very early the followers of Jesus appreciated the large significance of his transfiguration. Of course, once it happened that the risen Lord appeared to them, the transient event of the transfiguration would have been understood as anticipating his glorified state. The resurrection rendered his condition permanently that of a glorified being, body and soul and tended to absorb the message of the Transfiguration. Peter, along with the three synoptic evangelists, nevertheless, never forgot the event itself and it would seem he spoke of it often. At any rate the Second Epistle, written in his name, speaks of that mystery with a sense of awe that seems never to have disappeared from his soul, even long after the event.

We were not following learned fables when we made known to you the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ; rather, we were spectators of his greatness. He received glory and honor from God the Father by a voice that came down to him with magnificent glory to this effect: "This is my beloved Son, listen to him." And we heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain. (2Peter 1:16-18)

Rather early in the history of monasticism the Transfiguration came to figure prominently in Eastern monasticism. Contemplation of the Lord Jesus in his transfigured state quite naturally became a focus of loving attention for the living Christ ever since his resurrection lives so fully in the Spirit that his body radiates the presence of his divinity without hindrance. The roots of this contemplation are very deep. Already in the three hundredís Evagrius Ponticus spoke of the highest stage of prayer as manifesting itself with an interior experience of pure, spiritual light. It was not clear to him just where the boundary exists between the divine light and the hidden light of the human spirit. That itself is significant for, theologically speaking, the light of Tabor is a manifestation of the light of Godís glory shining in and through the human soul and body of our Lord. By the early five hundreds the Lordís Transfiguration occupied so prominent a place in the life of monastic prayer as to dominate their worship. An impressive witness to this devotion is the great mosaic in the monastic church at St. Catherine Monastery at Mt. Sinai. It depicts this mystery in dramatic and awesome form, so that for centuries the Transfigured Lord has, as it were, dominated the liturgy of the monks.

It is not surprising, then, that the contemplative prayer of the heart directed to Jesus was elaborated further and spread from this monastic center to Mt. Athos. Eventually to be carried to Russia and more recently to spread throughout the West. Already in the Middle Ages the monks of Cluny had realized the significance of this mystery and honored it in their liturgy with a special feast. Gradually other churches took it over until the Pope finally made it a feast of the universal Church. The Transfiguration of our Lord was seen as the source and inspiration of the Christian life, and in particular as the effect of contemplative prayer. St Bonaventure witness to this conception in the 13th century: "All things are transfigured in Christís transfiguration since there was something from every creature transfigured in Christ."(Dom. II in Quadragesima, Casarella, op. cit., 244). It is the task of the one who seeks in prayer to discover by hard inner work of the heart what this means in precise and cogent detail.

God the Father is a major Presence in this mystery for He spoke from heaven so as to commend in the highest terms the person and mission of Jesus: "This is my beloved Son: listen to Him." Our Lord himself considered this revelation of his deepest self, his divine Sonship that grows out of the loving relation between himself and the Father to be so intimate an expression of his person that he shared it only with his three closest disciples. He made a point of telling them what he spoke about with Moses and Elijah as they appeared at his side: his coming passion and death. Now, here at this Eucharist, he reveals these same mysteries to us, inviting us to an intimacy made possible by his resurrection. We are encouraged, then by this Eucharist to become intimates of our risen Lord through purifying our hearts by faith and by taking up our share in the cross day by day. May his grace strengthen and enlighten us that we might prove faithful to this high calling.

 Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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