Not long before His crucifixion, Christ took three of His disciples, Peter, James and John, led them up onto a high mountain called Tabor and was transfigured before their eyes. His face became as bright as the sun and His clothes shone white. On His left and right appeared two figures from the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, who represented the Law and the Prophets respectively. The disciples were unable to bear the light and fell to the ground (Pentecost had not yet happened). One of them, Peter, asked Christ if they could set up tents and stay there. Then a cloud of light engulfed them and a voice was heard from the heavens- the same as had been heard at Theophany- saying: ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him’. When the disciples fell to the ground in fear, Jesus said to them ‘Get up and don’t be afraid’. When they then opened their eyes, they saw no-one except Christ. As the came down from the mountain, Jesus instructed them not to tell anybody anything until He’d risen.
That, in brief, describes the event of the Transfiguration, but this great feast isn’t merely a historical event which happened once and now no longer concerns us. On the contrary, it’s very much of concern to us all, and has been since the time of Christ…
The first thing to note is why Christ went high up on a mountain in order to be transfigured. Could this not have happened on a plain somewhere?
If you look at Bible history, almost all the great events took place high up. Moses receiving the law and so on. Even more generally, it seems that even idolaters and pagans had events which took place high up. They would also go up to peaks, to high places, to perform their sacrifices. So it would seem to be some sort of general tradition that great events took place in elevated locations.
Another thing is a reference from Saint Nikodimos the Athonite, a great theologian and saint of the church, concerning the Lord’s choice of three disciples to experience His Transfiguration. Saint Nikodimos says that it was because these three were better prepared for the event. The Lord was and is able to look into hearts and recognize their intentions and spirituality. He even knew in advance who would betray Him…
Allow me to make another point. The Transfiguration tells us who Christ is. Now why was He transfigured shortly before the crucifixion? Because He wanted to show his disciples that He is God. He demonstrated His divinity with the light which shone from His countenance and His garments. In this way, through this feast, the Church is able to formulate the dogma that Christ is perfect God and perfect human. This is the answer to those who cast doubt on either His divinity or His humanity. Because there are some who claim that Christ was a great person and taught wonderful things. The Transfiguration, however, makes it clear that He wasn’t merely a good person; He was also perfect God.
So the transfiguration tells us who Christ is and who we are as people. It tells us about our path forward as human beings. It’s an answer regarding what we should be doing on this earth where we’ve come and where we exist. On this earth which we tread, we have to choose the way which leads to the Light. This is the experience of the Transfiguration: a progression and an effort to enter the Light and to become one with it.
What does St. John Chrysostom say about the Light of Tabor
For St. John Chrysostom the Transfiguration is primarily an eschatological revelation. (This perspective may be traced back to Irenaeus of Lyon, with the eschatological vision of Christ resplendent in the Paternal light—examined in my opus magnum, ibid., pp. 37-43). So as to prepare His disciples for the trials that they were about to endure in this life (cf. John 16:33), Christ chose to give them a foretaste, concrete proof, of the heavenly blessings of which he had hitherto only spoken:
These [trials] were in the present life and at hand, while the good things were still in hope and expectation; as in for example, they save their life who lose it; His coming in the glory of His Father, to render His rewards. But willing to assure their very sight, and show what kind of glory it is with which He will appear (deixai tes pote estin he doxa ekeine, meth’ hes mellei paraginesthai), so far as they were able to understand this (hos enchoroun en autois mathein), even in this present life He shows and reveals it to them.
The one thing of which Christ had only spoken, but which had not been revealed until the Transfiguration, was His coming again in the glory of His Father (en te doxe tou patros autou, cf. Matt. 16:27). The above passage indicates that the glory of the transfigured Christ is a foreshadowing of the Paternal glory in which Christ is to appear at the Last Day.
However, in another passage Chrysostom states clearly that the righteous at the Last Day will see Christ, not merely as His disciples had seen Him on Tabor, but “in the very glory of the Father” (en aute tou patros te doxe).
For not thus shall He come hereafter. For then, so as to spare His disciples, He disclosed only as much of His brightness as they were able to endure; whereas later He shall come in the very glory of the Father, not only with Moses and Elias, but also with the infinite angelic hosts, with archangels, with Cherubim, with those infinite heavenly companies.
Thus, “the very glory of the Father,” which is here referred to as an even greater glory than that which was revealed at the Transfiguration, will be revealed only at the Last Day. What, then, is the difference between the glory of Christ at the Transfiguration and the glory of the Second Coming?
Now this apparent inconsistency is resolved only when one looks more closely at the context in which our second passages appears. First, it is important to note that both passages come from the same homily. What Chrysostom is saying here is that the revelation of Christ’s glory at the Last Day will not be on the humble scale of Tabor—where we have an intimate disclosure of Christ’s divine glory before two prophets and three disciples—but rather it will be of such cosmic proportions that it will involve the infinite myriads of the heavenly Powers (meta ton demon ton apeiron ekeinon, cf. Luke 9:26). The underlying presupposition here is that the greater the participation in Christ’s glory, the greater the manifestation of that glory [N.B.—John 17:10 all mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them]. Hence, Christ’s glory at the Last Day will be greater than that of the Transfiguration, because it will also reveal the glory of the heavenly hosts, suffused with and bearing witness to the divine glory of Christ. It is, therefore, the manifestation of the full majesty of Christ’s heavenly status that Chrysostom refers to here as “the very glory of the Father,” that heavenly glory which is also proper to the pre-eternal and consubstantial Word of God. Thus, Chrysostom is not suggesting here that the glory shown at the Transfiguration is qualitatively inferior to that of the Last Day, but that it is by comparison a humble foreshowing of that very same glory which will be unleashed at the Second Coming.
(As mentioned earlier, Chrysostom’s position here greatly resembles that of Irenaeus, who, when speaking of the glory of the Millennium and that of the Kingdom of Heaven, makes no qualitative distinction and speaks of the same Paternal glory).
But while Chrysostom does regard the Transfiguration as a genuine eschatological revelation, nevertheless in terms of scale he does not see it as a perfect or accurate manifestation of the glory of the future Kingdom (ouk epideixis tou pragmatos akrives). Even the light of Tabor, he says, can only be but a dim image of the future things (amudran tina ton mellonton eikona). For only at the Last Day shall we have a “face to face” vision of the Incarnate Word. At His Second Coming, therefore, the righteous will see Christ, “not as they then on the mountain, but in far greater brightness (alla pollo lamproteron). For not thus shall He come hereafter. For whereas then, to spare His disciples, He discovered so much only of His brightness as they were able to endure.” Significantly, Chrysostom also explains why this has to be so:
The glory of incorruptible bodies does not emit a light similar to that of this corruptible body (ou tosouton afiesin to fos, hoson touto to soma to phtharton), nor is it of a kind which is accessible to mortal eyes, but incorruptible and immortal eyes are required in order to see it. For then on the mountain He revealed only so much [of this light] to them as was possible for the beholders’ eyes to see without being afflicted; yet even so they could not bear it and fell on their faces.
So the glory that was revealed on Tabor, the glory of Christ’s divinity, is the very same glory that the incorruptible bodies of the righteous will receive in the Celestial Kingdom. This glory is perceived as light. But this light, says Chrysostom, which will be revealed more fully at the Last Day, is not a natural or physical light, for it is not “accessible to mortal eyes.” The reason why, then the three disciples were unable to bear even the glory revealed at the Transfiguration was because the supernatural and immaterial nature of this light is fully perceptible only to incorruptible and immortal eyes. It is important to note here that this was according to Chrysostom a vision which the apostles actually saw with their bodily eyes, even if only in an imperfect manner—hence their physical reaction to it. But even though the three disciples actually saw Christ transfigured by His divine glory, they were nevertheless unable to contain the vision because, as St. John explains, they were still subject to corruption and death.
This highlights another important aspect in Chrysostom’s appreciation of the significance of the Transfiguration: that of the glorification of the human body. He explains:
Because the word concerning the Kingdom was until then unclear to those that heard it … He was transfigured before His disciples, thereby revealing to them the glory of the future things and, as in an enigmatic and dim way, showing what our bodies will be like. And whereas then He appeared with garments, it will not be so at the resurrection. For our body will need either garments, nor abode, nor roof, nor any other such thing.
Thus the Transfiguration is proof that the human body will also be transfigured at the General Resurrection. According to Chrysostom, the whole human person, body as well as soul, has been called to participate in the glory of which the Transfiguration is but a humble foreshowing.
Let us now turn to the gnosiological context in which we should understand the revelation of God in Chrysostom. Firstly then, St. John insists that a clear distinction should be made between those things pertaining to God Himself (ta tes theotetos) and those thing pertaining to God’s action or operation in the world (ta tes oikonomias). In reference to this distinction Chrysostom first emphasizes the immutable and inaccessible nature of God:
Most high was He, and lowly was [His economy]; Most high, not in locality, but in nature (ou topo, alla physei). He was uncompounded, His essence indestructible, His nature was incorruptible, invisible, incomprehensible, always being, the same being, beyond angels, superior to the heavenly powers, surpassing reason, transcending the intellect, being impossible to see, [He was] simply believed in.
God in Himself, in His essence and nature, is invisible (aoratos) and incomprehensible (aperinoetos), and as such can neither be seen (ophthenai me dynamenos) nor comprehended (nikon logismon hypervalnon dianoian).
But is this is so, how does God reveal Himself to man? Chrysostom answers wit the following:
When He wishes to show Himself, He does not appear as He is, nor is His bare essence revealed—for no one has seen God as He is; for at His condescension even the cherubim trembled; He condescended, and the mountains smoked; He condescended and the sea dried up; He condescended, and Heaven was shaken (for had He not condescended, who could have borne it?). Therefore, He appears not as He is, but as that which the beholder is able to see; that is why He sometimes appears aged, and sometimes young, sometimes in fire, and sometimes in a breeze, sometimes in water, and sometimes in weapons, not changing His essence, but fashioning His appearance according to the different circumstances (schematizon ten opsin pros ten poikilian ton hypokeimenon).
The key word in Chrysostom’s description of the economy of God is condescension (sygkatavasis), for it is by His condescension that God reveals Himself to man. He does this, says Chrysostom, not by suffering change in His essence, but by conforming, shaping or adapting Himself to the capacity of His creature, Chrysostom is not here referring to created effects in God’s revelation to man, for sygkatavasis denotes the loving descent and participation of God Himself in the life of His creature. So, it is precisely God’s sygkatavasis which reveals His love for mankind (philanthropia), and which finds its ultimate expression in the Incarnation—the hypostatic condescension of the Son and Word of God.
Here we find a remarkable resemblance between Chrysostom’s concept of condescension and the Cappadocian, particularly the Basilian, distinction between the essence and energies of God. As far as I am aware, this distinction, just as in St. Basil’s, is made explicit a single passage (in the De incomprehensibili dei natura 1.5 SC28), where indeed the word “economies” is used rather than “condescension.” Here, Chrysostom in reference to St. Paul’s passage on the partial knowledge of God, simply says of St. Paul that “he does not say this of the essence, but of the ecomomies” (ou peri tes ousias touto legei, alla peri ton oikonomion). Given the created-uncreated distinction which is also to be found in Chrysostom, the antithesis is clear: while in Basil we find the schema essence-energies, in Chrysostom there is the schema essence-economies (or condescension): the meaning, however, is the same. Neither of these two great Fathers develops the theme further; indeed in both instances there main concern was to refute the claim of the Anomoeans (the followers of Aetius and Eunomians) that human reason and the human intellect are capable of penetrating into the divine mysteries to the point of apprehending even the essence of God. And as we know, it is only in the fourteenth century that the full significance of this distinction is made clear by the Hesychasts.
The Transfiguration, then, clearly falls within the realm of ta tes oikonomias. As such it is yet another example of the sygkatavasis of God. On Tabor the pre-eternal divine glory manifested in and through the theandric Christ appears to Peter, James and John as a brilliant light. Now with the benefit of what we have learned about Chrysostom’s gnosiological framework, let us look at what he says about the language of Scripture in the description of the divine light of Tabor:
When He wishes to say something about Himself, He uses human images. As for instance, He went up to the mountain, and was transfigured before them, and His face shone as the light, and His garments became white as snow. He revealed, he says, a little of His divinity, He showed them the indwelling God … The Evangelist, then, wanted to show His brilliance, and so he says, He shone. How did He shine? Tell me. Exceedingly. And how do you say? As the sun … Why do you say so? Because I have no other star brighter. And He was white, as snow. Why as snow? Because I have no other matter whiter. That He did not shine in this way is indicated by the following: And the disciples fell to the ground. If He had shone as the sun, the disciples would not have fallen (for they saw the sun every day, and did not fall); but because He shone more than the sun and more than the snow, that is why, unable to bear the brilliance, they fell down.
The revelation on Tabor demonstrates that the language which Scripture employs in order to describe the revelation of God to man should not be interpreted literally, but rather it should be understood in a manner befitting God (theoprepos). As he puts it in another passage, we should raise our minds to the meaning that the words of Scripture try to convey. According to Chrysostom, therefore, Scripture likens the light of Tabor to the sun and snow because there is nothing brighter within the realm of human experience to which this particular light could be likened. (Note that Chrysostom, like Diodore of Tarsus, was opposed to the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, which makes his interpretation here all the more striking—so St. John is not interested here in metaphor or figurative language.)
But what of the bright Cloud of Tabor? Since we have, more or less, covered the subject of the Light of Tabor, let us look briefly also at what Chrysostom says about the bright Cloud of Transfiguration. Firstly, like Origen before Him, Chrysostom regards the appearance of the Cloud as a direct reply to St. Peter’s proposal to build three tabernacles. The Cloud appears, therefore, as a divine tabernacle: a tabernacle, as Chrysostom puts it, which is not made by the hands of men (acheiropoietos, cf. Acts 7:48, 17:24; Isaiah 16:12). Secondly, the purpose of this Cloud, the brightness of which he contrasts with the thick darkness of the Cloud of Sinai (Ex. 20:21; 19:16), was to instruct rather than to threaten or frighten. Thirdly, the bright Cloud also marks the beginning of a further stage in the revelation on Tabor. In fact, Chrysostom sees it as the prelude to the voice of the Father. However, it is interesting that the Cloud itself is not identified with the Father, nor for that matter with any Person of the Holy Trinity in particular. It is simply regarded as a manifestation of God: Houtos aei phainetai ho Theos. Hence, the voice of the Father emanates from the Cloud in order to assure the disciples of its divine origin. A clear distinction can be discerned here, then, between the Cloud, on the one hand, and the voice from the Cloud, on the other.
However, there is in Chrysostom no explicit statement regarding the nature of the Cloud beyond what has already been said, namely, that it is simply a manifestation of God. But there is a small passage in his homily on the Transfiguration, which offers, perhaps, a more positive indication of what Chrysostom believes the bright Cloud to be. He says, “There is probably nothing more blessed than the apostles, and especially the three, who even in the Cloud were made worthy to be under the same roof with the Master.”
Of course, the general point being made here is that there can be no greater blessing for us than to be with Christ. The context of this passage, however, is eschatological. Being with Christ, then, is the blessing that the apostles received, and it is also the one thing that all Christian should strive and hope for. But there is also a strong emphasis here on the three disciples, who received the extra special distinction of being with Christ even in the Cloud (ka en te nephele). What, then, is the significance of being in the Cloud? On one level, it is possible that Chrysostom is simply making a statement of fact: Peter, James and John were with Christ more often even than the other apostles—even, that is, in the Cloud. While this is undoubtedly true, it still does not offer a satisfactory explanation of this passage, because it does not take into consideration either the strong eschatological perspective of the passage in general, or the special emphasis which Chrysostom places on the Cloud in particular. Perhaps a better explanation, therefore, would be that the three disciples were indeed blessed to be in the Cloud with Christ, because this was a further and deeper revelation of the Celestial Kingdom. This harks back to the Cloud as the Tabernacle of God—a place where God is. In the Cloud, then, the three disciples experienced the heavenly bliss of the righteous—the blessed life of the future Kingdom. This would imply, therefore, that the bright Cloud is not merely an indication of the presence of God, but that it is itself a description of the three disciples’ participation in the Life of God.
In conclusion, therefore, we can say that the theological implications of the Transfiguration of Christ in Chrysostom are predominantly eschatological. Its significance lies chiefly in that it reveals the future blessed state of the righteous in the Kingdom—the glory of the Father. The glory of the Transfiguration is not qualitatively inferior to that of the Kingdom, but its magnitude is no a far humbler scale than that of the Last Day. Moreover, it also shows that the human body, despite its incapacity prior to the General Resurrection to bear the full experience of the divine glory, is clearly intended to participate fully in that same glory in the Age to Come. This eschatological glory is manifested on Tabor as Light which cannot be compared with any created light known to man. The gnosiological framework, into which Chrysostom places the Light of Tabor, demonstrates that even descriptions of the revelations of God in Scripture are ultimately always apophatic in character. The Taborian Light, then, is not a physical or material light, and cannot be perceived fully by the corruptible physical eyes of mortal man. Therefore, although he never refers to the Transfiguration Light specifically as uncreated (aktiston), it is not difficult to appreciate how these factors combine to point to its supernatural and—because of His clear-cut created-uncreated distinction—also uncreated nature. Equally significant in Chrysostom’s treatment of the Taborian theophany is his insistence on the revelation of God by His condescension rather than by His essence or nature, which is not only invisible and incomprehensible but also totally inaccessible to both human reason and intellect. Indeed, as we shall see, the fundamental presuppositions as regards the relationship between the Light of Tabor and the divine economy are remarkably similar to those which may be found in Greek patristic literature throughout the period which this study aims to cover, that is, up to and including the person of St. Gregory Palamas in the fourteenth century.
The Cloud, on the other hand, offers the disciples a deeper experience or foretaste of the life of the blessed in the Kingdom of Heaven. And the words of the Father, by informing us of the hypostatic individuality and uniqueness of the Son’s generation from Him, transport us once more to the plane of the life of the Holy Trinity—the Kingdom of Heaven.
St. Gregory Palamas’s Homily on the Transfiguration
For an explanation of the present Feast and understanding of its truth, it is necessary for us to turn to the very start of today’s reading from the Gospel: “Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up onto a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1).
First of all we must ask, from whence does the Evangelist Matthew begin to reckon with six days? From what sort of day be it? What does the preceding turn of speech indicate, where the Savior, in teaching His disciples, said to them: “For the Son of Man shall come with his angels in the glory of His Father,” and further: “Amen I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death, until they have seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Mt 16:27-28)? That is to say, it is the Light of His own forthcoming Transfiguration which He terms the Glory of His Father and of His Kingdom.
The Evangelist Luke points this out and reveals this more clearly saying: “Now it came to pass about eight days after these words, that He took Peter and John and James, and went up the mountain to pray. And as He prayed, His countenance was altered, and His raiment became a radiant white” (Lk 9:28-29). But how can the two be reconciled, when one of them speaks definitively about the interval of time as being eight days between the sayings and the manifestation, whereas the other (says): “after six days?”
There were eight on the mountain, but only six were visible. Three, Peter, James and John, had come up with Jesus, and they saw Moses and Elias standing there and conversing with Him, so altogether there were six of them. However, the Father and the Holy Spirit were invisibly with the Lord: the Father, with His Voice testifying that this was His Beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit shining forth with Him in the radiant cloud. Thus, the six are actually eight, and there is no contradiction regarding the eight. Similarly, there is no contradiction with the Evangelists when one says “after six days,” and the other says “eight days after these words.”
But these twofold sayings as it were present us a certain format set in mystery, and together with it that of those actually present upon the Mount. It stands to reason, and everyone rationally studying in accordance with Scripture knows that the Evangelists are in agreement one with another. Luke spoke of eight days without contradicting Matthew, who declared “after six days.” There is not another day added on to represent the day on which these sayings were uttered, nor is the day on which the Lord was transfigured added on (which a rational person might reasonably imagine to be added to the days of Matthew).
The Evangelist Luke does not say “after eight days” (like the Evangelist Matthew says “after six days”), but rather “it came to pass eight days after these words.” But where the Evangelists seem to contradict one another, they actually point out to us something great and mysterious. In actual fact, why did the one say “after six days,” but the other, in ignoring the seventh day, have in mind the eighth day? It is because the great vision of the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord is the mystery of the Eighth Day, i.e., of the future age, coming to be revealed after the passing away of the world created in six days.
About the power of the Divine Spirit, through Whom the Kingdom of God is to be revealed, the Lord predicted: “There are some standing here who shall not taste death, until they have seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Mt 16:28). Everywhere and in every way the King will be present, and everywhere will be His Kingdom, since the advent of His Kingdom does not signify the passing over from one place to another, but rather the revelation of its power of the Divine Spirit. That is why it is said: “come in power.” And this power is not manifest to simply ordinary people, but to those standing with the Lord, that is to say, those who have affirmed their faith in Him like Peter, James and John, and especially those who are free of our natural abasement. Therefore, and precisely because of this, God manifests Himself upon the Mount, on the one hand coming down from His heights, and on the other, raising us up from the depths of abasement, since the Transcendent One takes on mortal nature. Certainly, such a manifest appearance by far transcends the utmost limits of the mind’s grasp, as effectualized by the power of the Divine Spirit.
Thus, the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord is not something that comes to be and then vanishes, nor is it subject to the sensory faculties, although it was contemplated by corporeal eyes for a short while upon an inconsequential mountaintop. But the initiates of the Mystery, (the disciples) of the Lord at this time passed beyond mere flesh into spirit through a transformation of their senses, effectualized within them by the Spirit, and in such a way that they beheld what, and to what extent, the Divine Spirit had wrought blessedness in them to behold the Ineffable Light.
Those not grasping this point have conjectured that the chosen from among the Apostles beheld the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord by a sensual and creaturely faculty, and through this they attempt to reduce to a creaturely level (i.e., as something “created”) not only this Light, the Kingdom and the Glory of God, but also the Power of the Divine Spirit, through Whom it is meet for Divine Mysteries to be revealed. In all likelihood, such persons have not heeded the words of the Apostle Paul: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him. But to us God has revealed them through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Cor 2:9-10).
So, with the onset of the Eighth Day, the Lord, taking Peter, James and John, went up on the Mount to pray. He always prayed alone, withdrawing from everyone, even from the Apostles themselves, as for example when with five loaves and two fish He fed the five thousand men, besides women and children (Mt 14:19-23). Or, taking with Him those who excelled others, as at the approach of His Saving Passion, when He said to the other disciples: “Sit here while I go over there and pray” (Mt 26:36). Then He took with Him Peter, James and John. But in our instance right here and now, having taken only these same three, the Lord led them up onto a high mountain by themselves and was transfigured before them, that is to say, before their very eyes.
“What does it mean to say: He was transfigured?” asks the Golden-Mouthed Theologian (Chrysostomos). He answers this by saying: “It revealed something of His Divinity to them, as much and insofar as they were able to apprehend it, and it showed the indwelling of God within Him.” The Evangelist Luke says: “And as He prayed, His countenance was altered” (Lk 9:29); and from the Evangelist Matthew we read: “And His face shone as the sun” (Mt 17:2). But the Evangelist said this, not in the context that this Light be thought of as subsistent for the senses (let us put aside the blindness of mind of those who can conceive of nothing higher than what is known through the senses). Rather, it is to show that Christ God, for those living and contemplating by the Spirit, is the same as the sun is for those living in the flesh and contemplating by the senses. Therefore, some other Light for the knowing the Divinity is not necessary for those who are enriched by Divine gifts.
That same Inscrutable Light shone and was mysteriously manifest to the Apostles and the foremost of the Prophets at that moment, when (the Lord) was praying. This shows that what brought forth this blessed sight was prayer, and that the radiance occured and was manifest by uniting the mind with God, and that it is granted to all who, with constant exercise in efforts of virtue and prayer, strive with their mind towards God. True beauty, essentially, can be contemplated only with a purified mind. To gaze upon its luminance assumes a sort of participation in it, as though some bright ray etches itself upon the face.
Even the face of Moses was illumined by his association with God. Do you not know that Moses was transfigured when he went up the mountain, and there beheld the Glory of God? But he (Moses) did not effect this, but rather he underwent a transfiguration. However, our Lord Jesus Christ possessed that Light Himself. In this regard, actually, He did not need prayer for His flesh to radiate with the Divine Light; it was but to show from whence that Light descends upon the saints of God, and how to contemplate it. For it is written that even the saints “will shine forth like the sun” (Mt 13:43), which is to say, entirely permeated by Divine Light as they gaze upon Christ, divinely and inexpressibly shining forth His Radiance, issuing from His Divine Nature. On Mount Tabor it was manifest also in His Flesh, by reason of the Hypostatic Union (i.e., the union of the two perfect natures, divine and human, within the divine Person [Hypostasis] of Christ, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity). The Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon defined this Hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, as “without mingling, without change, without division, without separation.”
We believe that at the Transfiguration He manifested not some other sort of light, but only that which was concealed beneath His fleshly exterior. This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine. So also, in the teachings of the Fathers, Jesus Christ was transfigured on the Mount, not taking upon Himself something new nor being changed into something new, nor something which formerly He did not possess. Rather, it was to show His disciples that which He already was, opening their eyes and bringing them from blindness to sight. For do you not see that eyes that can perceive natural things would be blind to this Light?
Thus, this Light is not a light of the senses, and those contemplating it do not simply see with sensual eyes, but rather they are changed by the power of the Divine Spirit. They were transformed, and only in this way did they see the transformation taking place amidst the very assumption of our perishability, with the deification through union with the Word of God in place of this.
So also she who miraculously conceived and gave birth recognized that the One born of her is God Incarnate. So it was also for Simeon, who only received this Infant into his arms, and the aged Anna, coming out [from the Jerusalem Temple] for the Meeting, since the Divine Power illumined, as through a glass windowpane, giving light for those having pure eyes of heart.
Hence it is clear that the Light of Tabor was a Divine Light. And the Evangelist John, inspired by Divine Revelation, says clearly that the future eternal and enduring city “has no need of the sun or moon to shine upon it. For the Glory of God lights it up, and the Lamb will be its lamp” (Rev 21:23). Is it not clear, that he points out here that this [Lamb] is Jesus, Who is divinely transfigured now upon Tabor, and the flesh of Whom shines, is the lamp manifesting the Glory of divinity for those ascending the mountain with Him?
John the Theologian also says about the inhabitants of this city: “they will not need light from lamps, nor the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shed light upon them, and night shall be no more” (Rev 22:5). But how, we might ask, is there this other light, in which “there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (Jas 1:17)? What light is there that is constant and unsetting, unless it be the Light of God? Moreover, could Moses and Elias (and particularly the former, who clearly was present only in spirit, and not in flesh [Elias having ascended bodily to Heaven on the fiery chariot]) be shining with any sort of sensory light, and be seen and known? Especially since it was written of them: “they appeared in glory, and spoke of his death, which he was about to fulfill at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:30-31). And how otherwise could the Apostles recognize those whom they had never seen before, unless through the mysterious power of the Divine Light, opening their mental eyes?
But let us not tire our attention with the furthermost interpretations of the words of the Gospel. We shall believe thus, as those same ones have taught us, who themselves were enlightened by the Lord Himself, insofar as they alone know this well: the Mysteries of God, in the words of a prophet, are known to God alone and His perpetual proximity. Let us, considering the Mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord in accord with their teaching, strive to be illumined by this Light ourselves and encourage in ourselves love and striving towards the Unfading Glory and Beauty, purifying our spiritual eyes of worldly thoughts and refraining from perishable and quickly passing delights and beauty which darken the garb of the soul and lead to the fire of Gehenna and everlasting darkness. Let us be freed from these by the illumination and knowledge of the incorporeal and ever-existing Light of our Savior transfigured on Tabor, in His Glory, and of His Father from all eternity, and His Life-Creating Spirit, Whom are One Radiance, One Godhead, and Glory, and Kingdom, and Power now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
The Holy Monastery of Mount Tabor
Mount Tabor, Itabyrium in Graeco-Roman, stands in the centre of Galilee, between the Jezreel Valley and Scythopolis (modern Beit She ‘an). Mount Tabor is referenced in the Psalms in the Old Testament; “ Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy name” (Psalm 89:12). It is also mentioned in Joshua (19:16-17) as the border between the Zebulon and Issachar tribes and as the assembly place of the sons of Israel under the command of Barak and Deborah before the battle against Sisera (Judges 4:6). There is no direct mention of the Mount in the New Testament. It is however implied as the Mount of the Transfiguration of the Lord through Apostle Peter’s words “in sacred mount”, “when the voice came to Him saying… “This is my Son whom I love; in Him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain” (2 Peter 1:17-18). Despite the absence of direct mention of the mount in the New Testament, an ancient Church tradition and belief links the Transfiguration of the Lord with Mount Tabor. The Lord left the rest of His disciples at the foot of the mountain and took with Him to the top the three notable ones, Peter, James and John. There, unexpectedly “the fashion of his countenance was altered and his raiment was white and glistering” (Luke 9:29), and Moses and Elias appeared and talked with him about his sacrificial death in Jerusalem, and Peter proposed to construct three tents and stay on the mountain, while a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from it was heard saying; “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (Luke 9:28-36). According to the Fathers of the Church, The Lord presented His notable disciples – and consequently the Church – with the magnificent countenance of His face, in order to prepare and strengthen them for the mysteries of the Cross and His Resurrection, as well as a reminder of the glory of the created man before the fall which can be regained through faith and communion with Him. It is through Him that the repulsive raiment of the passions of the soul are abolished, replaced by the garments of virtual splendour, decency and graciousness. In this Transfiguration are the Lord’s believers called and which was witnessed by the Church Fathers, who like the Apostles gazed at the Glory of the Lord according to their potential, through the experience of the Uncreated Light of His face. The splendid Church of the Transfiguration, which was constructed above the ruins of a former Byzantine church of the time of the memorable Patriarch of Jerusalem Cyril (1865), is located on top of Mount Tabor. The interior walls have been recently ordained with frescoes of fine Byzantine art.
Mount Tabor, the Mount of the Transfiguration
Mount Tabor is a massive cone-shaped mountain at the north of the valley Esdraelon. The origin of the name comes from the Semitic, meaning height, mountain or navel. Mount Tabor has been associated with the “High Mountain” on which the Transfiguration of Christ took place. During the 6th century there were three churches on the mountain top in correspondence to the three tents mentioned by Peter. During that time, Tabor was proclaimed Archdiocese and attracted many Christian monks and thousands of pilgrims. During the Crusades Benedictine and Greek monks inhabited Tabor. After the expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land in 1211, the Damascus Sultan Michael el-Adil destroyed all Christian buildings, erecting above their ruins a sturdy fortress; its ruins are still visible in various places on the mountain. Nowadays, the top of Mount Tabor is a Christian property owned by Greek Orthodox and Latin monks. On the south part there is the Greek Orthodox monastery, the Church of the Transfiguration built in 1862, and Mechisedek’s chapel, while on the north side there is the Franciscan monastery and guest house as well as a magnificent Basilica built above the ruins of an ancient Byzantine Church.
And last but not least, some video’s of the miracle on Mount Tabor: