A friend of mine was studying music at Oxford University in the l970’s. One day, while studying in the Bodleian library, she was interrupted by a colleague who said “Come—quick—there’s a strange cleric preaching on the street corner, holding an icon.” The strange preacher was none-other than Archbishop Anthony Bloom of the Russian Orthodox Church in England. He was holding an icon of the Transfiguration, explaining that the rays of light coming from the hands of the Transfigured Christ were going to all of creation—all people, animals, vegetation.
Life in Christ is being “transfigured” bit by bit, from “glory to greater glory” ( II Cor. 13)—through faith and practice, openness, prayer and service. The glory of God on the face of Christ is meant to shine on our face also.
Damasus Winzen, OSB, the founder of Mt. Saviour Monastery near Elmira, said that the Feast of the Transfiguration is par excellence a feast for monks—since our life of prayer is meant to transform us and through us the whole world in a special way. In the Prologue to the Holy Rule, St. Benedict invites us “to open our eyes to the deifying light.” This is the light of Tabor—the light of Transfiguration. (There is a whole theology of grace here that I will explain in a later essay).
There is a historical link between Benedictines and the Mystery of the Transfiguration. In medieval Cathedrals the “side” altars were devoted to various aspects of the mystery of Christ. Frequently a statue of St. Benedict was found near or in the side chapel devoted to the Transfiguration. The great Cluniac abbot Peter the Venerable, wrote the office for the Feast of the Transfiguration.
In the Transfiguration icon in our chapel, behind the figure of Christ (with snow-white garments) there are two intersecting isosceles triangles—one coming down representing Divinity and the other coming up, representing humanity. The center of the meeting of these two realities is in the center of Christ. Transfiguration is this interpenetration of which we increasingly become sharers (II Peter 1:4) We are transformed from glory to glory as St. Paul says in II Cor 3:18. And a few verses later St. Paul says that the light of God on the face of Christ is meant to shine on our face.
From the dismissal prayer at the morning office for the Feast (from the Bzantine liturgy–“You have been transfigured on the mountain, Christ our god, to reveal your glory to your disciples…by the prayers of the Mother of God, let your eternal light shine also on us sinners….Giver of light, glory to you!”
Note a new book: Light on the Mountain: Greek Patristic and Byzantine Homilies on the Transfiguration of the Lord, translated by Brian E. Daley, S,J. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2013. Paperback.