Transfigured Life

(This is Neil) Tomorrow, August 6, is the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord in both the West and the East. The Orthodox priest John Breck has written a reflection for the feast as his latest “Life in Christ” column. Fr Breck’s column should make it clear that we do not understand the Transfiguration if we think it merely some sort of “proof” of Christ’s divinity. As Eastern Christians will sing in one of the hymns for the feast, “Today all mortal nature shines with the divine Transfiguration/And cries with exultation” (my emphasis).

I’ve posted on theosis before here, but it is a subject that certainly requires more sustained reflection. Very briefly, we can say that when we speak of ontological communion with God, we do not mean:

1. That we are united with the essence of God. We are united with the “uncreated light” (or “energy”) that radiates from God’s essence.

2. That our human nature is replaced. Our nature partakes of the divine nature without being consumed or destroyed. (As another Orthodox priest writes, “By our very nature, we can surpass even as we possess our nature …”)

3. That theosis is a human accomplishment. We are only united with God because God’s Word assumed our human nature.

4. That theosis can be reduced to a method, formula, or doctrine. It surpasses our intellectual capacities.

Here, then, is an excerpt from Fr Breck for the feast of the Transfiguration:

St Gregory Palamas similarly stresses the intimate link between the Transfiguration of Christ and our own transformation into his divine glory. “In his incomparable love for men, the Son of God did not merely unite his divine Hypostasis to our nature…but, O incomparable and magnificent miracle! He unites himself also to human hypostases, joining himself to each of the faithful by communion in his holy Body. For he becomes one body with us (Eph 3:6), making us a temple of the whole Godhead (Col 2:9). How then would he not illuminate those who share worthily in the divine radiance of his Body within us, shining upon their soul as he once shone on the bodies of the apostles on Tabor? For as this Body, the source of the light of grace, was at that time not yet united to our body, it shone exteriorly on those who came near it worthily, transmitting light to the soul through the eyes of sense. But today, since it is united to us and dwells with us, it illumines the soul interiorly” (Triads I.3.38).

Fr John Meyendorff gives a poignant commentary on this passage. “Since the Incarnation, our bodies have become ‘temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us’ (1 Cor 6:19); it is there, within our own bodies, that we must seek the Spirit, within our bodies sanctified by the sacraments and engrafted by the eucharist into the Body of Christ. God is now to be found within; He is no longer exterior to us. Therefore, we must find the light of Mount Tabor within ourselves. The apostles had only an exterior vision, for Christ had not yet died and risen from the dead, but today we are, all of us, in living reality members of His Body, the Church.”

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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3 Responses to Transfigured Life

  1. Jim McK says:

    We do not understand this feast if we do not remember that is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

    With God, we can shine with great glory. Without God, we shine with terrible ugliness.

  2. Neil says:

    Dear Jim McK,

    Thanks for the reminder. Thinking about Hiroshima reminds me of the other time that we hear about the Transfiguration in the lectionary – during Lent.

    Rowan Williams says that the placement of the account of the Transfiguration in Lent helps us see that God’s light is “exercised and made real in accepting the pain of the cross for the love of humankind.” “We can’t understand the glorious brightness of God unless we see that God’s power and splendor is entirely focused on that sacrifice of love which sets us free and gives us life.”

    Thus, even in the darkness of the world – in its Hiroshimas – we can imagine that God can still be there to bring his light.

    Best,
    Neil

  3. Jim McK says:

    Thank you, Neil. I was baptized, as an infant, on the 10th anniversary of Hiroshima, so the Transfiguration has always been important to me. RW certainly helps strengthen that devotion.

    The image that haunts that devotion is captured in The Empire of the Sun, JG Ballard’s evocation of his childhood in China during WW2. As a close, older friend dies, he sees a bright shining light on the horizon, which he understands as the soul’s departure. It was the bomb exploding at Nagasaki.

    I have no explanation or insight, beyond the brightness in every person, brighter than its destruction.

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