Today we celebrate the noble feast of Christ’s Transfiguration, and we shall be addressing the subject of the light that shone on that occasion, which is much opposed even in our own day by the enemies of the light. Let us now briefly set out the words of today’s Gospel reading from the beginning to unfold the mystery and demonstrate the truth: “Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:1-2). The first thing we should consider in this Gospel passage is from what point in time Matthew, Christ’s apostle and evangelist, counts the six days preceding the day on which the Lord was transfigured. Six days after which day? Six days after the day when the Lord taught His disciples, saying, “The Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father” (Matthew 16:27), and adding, “There are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28). He was referring to the light of His transfiguration as His Father’s glory and as His own kingdom.
“There are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God having come with power” (Mark 9:1). The King of all is everywhere, and so is His kingdom, so the coming of His kingdom does not mean it arrives here from somewhere else, but that it is revealed through the power of the divine Spirit. That is why He said it would come with power. But this power is not for just anyone, but for those who have stood with the Lord, those who have been established in His faith, men like Peter, James and John, who, as the Scripture tells us, were first brought up a high mountain, that is to say, above the lowliness of our nature. That is why God is imagined to be on a mountain, coming down from His heights and leading us up from the depths of our abasement, that He who cannot be contained might, to an extent compatible with our human nature and our safety, be contained. This idea is not something inferior to man’s mind, but far superior and more exalted than it, being instilled in it by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The light of the Lord’s transfiguration does not come into being or cease to be, nor is it circumscribed or perceptible to the senses, even though for a short time on the narrow mountain top it was seen by human eyes. Rather, at that moment the initiated disciples of the Lord “passed”, as we have been taught, “from flesh to spirit” by the transformation of their senses, which the Spirit wrought in them, and so they saw that ineffable light, when and as much as the Holy Spirit’s power granted them to do so. Those who are not aware of this light and who now blaspheme against it think that the chosen apostles saw the light of the Lord’s transfiguration with their created faculty of sight, and in this way, they endeavor to bring down to the level of a created object not just that light – God’s power and kingdom — but even the power of the Holy Spirit, by which divine things are revealed to the worthy. They have not heard, or have not believed, Paul’s words, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).
Our Lord Jesus Christ possessed that radiance in His own right. He did not need prayer to illuminate His body with divine light, but He showed how God’s splendor would come to the saints and how they would appear. For the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43), and when they have all become divine light, they will behold, as children of that light, Christ’s indescribable divine radiance. The glory that proceeds naturally from His divinity was shown on Tabor to be shared by His body as well, because of the unity of His person. Thus, His face shone as the sun on account of this light.
He who shone with this light proved in advance that it was uncreated by referring to it as the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is not subservient or created, but uniquely unsubduable and invincible. It is beyond the bounds of both time and aeon, and cannot be said to have had a beginning or to have been overtaken by time or age. We believe this kingdom to be the inheritance of those who are being saved.
He did not manifest a radiance other than that which He already had invisibly. He possessed the splendor of the divine nature hidden under His flesh. This light, then, is the light of the Godhead, and it is uncreated. According to the theologians, when Christ was transfigured, He neither received anything different, nor was changed into anything different, but was revealed to His disciples as He was, opening their eyes and giving sight to the blind. Take note that eyes with natural vision are blind to that light. It is invisible, and those who behold it do so not simply with their bodily eyes, but with eyes transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, rightly believing what we were taught, and understanding the mystery of the Lord’s transfiguration, let us make our way towards the radiance of that light. As we long for the beauty of unchanging glory, let us cleanse the eyes of our understanding from all earthly defilements, despising every delight and beauty that is not lasting, for sweet as it may be, it procures eternal suffering, and though it may enhance the body, it clothes the soul in that ugly robe of sin, on account of which the man without the garment of incorruptible union was bound and taken away into outer darkness (cf. Matthew 22:11-13).
May we all be delivered from such a fate by the illumination and knowledge of the pre-eternal, immaterial light of the Lord’s transfiguration, to His glory and the glory of His Father without beginning and the life-giving Spirit, whose radiance, divinity, glory, kingdom and power are one and the same, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Saint Gregory Palamas