Transfiguration

Transfiguration

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) We all know this verse pertains the Incarnation of our Lord. But how many of us ever considered it as St John retelling the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (Mark 9; Matt 17)?

Christ takes Peter, James, and his brother John (the very John who wrote the Gospel account) up the mountain. There they see Christ transfigured, with Moses and Elijah standing next to Him. Then a cloud appears above them and a voice says, “This is my beloved Son: hear Him.” (Mark 9:7; Matt 17:5) So what does this have to do with John 1:14 and how is that verse a telling of the Feast of the Transfiguration?

On John 1:14, St Theophylact of Ochrid has this to say:

Because he had said, The Word became flesh, here he adds, and we beheld His glory, that is to say, “While He was in the flesh, we beheld His glory.” The Israelites had been unable to look upon the face of Moses when it shone with glory after he spoke with God. [See Ex. 34:29-35.] Could the Apostles possibly have been able to endure the full divinity of the Only-begotten, had it not been revealed to them through the veil of the flesh? We beheld His glory, but not such glory as Moses’ face reflected, nor as the glory in which the cherubim and seraphim appeared to the prophet [Ezek. 10:4], but such glory as befits the Only-begotten Son of the Father, and belonging to Him by nature. Here, the word as does not express similarity [i.e. glory similar to that of the Only-begotten], but, instead, certain and unambiguous identity.” ~St Theophylact of Ochrid, commentary on the Gospel of John

As we will see soon, St Theophylact supports our case. The glory which St John says he beheld in John 1:14 is that which he beheld on Mount Tabor. But St Theophylact uses this opportunity to draw out old testament references by mentioning Moses and Ezekiel, to compare just how much they pale in comparison to what was experienced on Mount Tabor. Ezekiel 10:4 is rather compelling when taken in light of the Transfiguration, which reads:

Then the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the Lord’s glory.” (Ezekiel 10:4) The parallels are alarming. Although Ezekiel’s vision happens in a house and not on a mountain, both nonetheless involve a cloud and the brightness of the Lord’s glory. There are some things to mention here about house and courts and what they symbolize. However, I’m going to back us up a few verses.

Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne.” (Ezekiel 10:1) As spoken of in Separation of the Waters, the waters above and below the firmament symbol the nous and soul. If we need more support that this verse is speaking about the nous, explore the meaning of sapphire. Sapphire is a symbol of the purified intellect according to Evagrius of Pontus:

When the intellect [nous] has shed its fallen state and acquired the state of grace, then during prayer it will see its own nature like a sapphire or the color of heaven. In Scripture this is called the realm of God that was seen by the elders on Mount Sinai.” ~Evagrius of Pontus, Texts on Discrimination in Respect of Passions and Thought, #18, Philokalia vol 1

Take a quick glance back at the icon the Transfiguration (above), and you’ll notice now the giant sapphire behind our Lord. This depiction of a sapphire, both shape and color, is very common across all the icons of the Transfiguration.

And he spake unto the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels, even under the cherub, and fill thine hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims, and scatter them over the city. And he went in in my sight.” (Ezek 10:2) Going under the cherub is a reference to when St Paul says, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death,” (Heb 2:7;9), so the man clothed with linen is Jesus Christ. Going between the wheels could be going between the two worlds, heaven and earth, which are circles, in the form of the cross, unifying both. But, some may object to this because there are four wheels. If this does not satisfy you, let us continue with our symbolic rendering of Man, body, soul, and nous.

If Ezekiel 10:1 symbolically refers to the nous, that of sapphire being wisdom and intellect, then the four wheels in 10:2 which the Lord goes between are the four rivers which flow from Eden and as such point to the soul, as we see found in Genesis 2:10: “And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.

You have read, then, that a fount was there and that ‘a river rose in Eden,’ [ Gen 2:10 ] that is, in your soul there exists a fount. This is the meaning of Solomon’s words: ‘Drink water out of thy own cistern and the streams of thy own well.’ [ Prov 5:15 ] This refers to the fount which rose out of that well-tilled soul, full of pleasant things, this fount which irrigates Paradise, that is to say, the soul’s virtues that blossom because of their eminent merits.” ~St Ambrose of Milan, commentary on Genesis

We are still not yet ready to address house and court in verse 4. To ensure our case, let us look at how the preceding events to the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the Lord’s glory. In Ezekiel 8, Ezekiel is told to go to the door of the court of the Lord and dig a hole in the wall. (vs 7-8) In verse 9, Ezekiel is told that all kinds of abominations rest there.

Then in vs 11-16 Ezekiel witness three types of evils in successive order of wickedness. These three types of wickedness are none other than the passions of the three aspects of the soul: desiring, incensive, intelligent.

The things which are done in the dark (vs 12), hoping the Lord will not see: “The sins of the desiring aspect are gluttony, greed, drunkenness, unchastity (fornication), adultery, uncleanliness, licentiousness.” These are the passions which we do hoping no one will notice.

And those done to make women weep (vs 14): “…heartlessness, hatred, lack of compassion, rancor, envy, murder…” If this befuddles you, how women weeping is a symbol of a lack of compassion and the others, remember that St Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” (Eph 5:25; Col 3:19)

And those done by turning one’s back on the temple of the Lord (vs 16): “The sins of the intelligent aspect are unbelief, heresy, folly, blasphemy, ingratitude, and the assent to sins originating in the soul’s passable aspect.

As we can see, it could be said that the heart is the court which Ezekiel saw full of all kinds of wickedness and abomination. Remembering the words of St Makarios: As we can see, it could be said that …

The heart is a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are lions; there are poisonous beasts and all treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace–all things are there.”  

The cloud enters the house, that is, the cloud as symbol of spiritual contemplation, enters the intellect through the grace of the Holy Spirit. When the house is filled with the cloud, when the intellect is full of spiritual contemplation of God, the Lord’s glory shines in the court, or, the heart. If this bothers you, remember the words of St Paul: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Cor 6:19)

A final word: the lead up (Ezekiel 8) to the prefigure of the Transfiguration in Ezekiel 10 dealing with the passions of the three aspects of the soul highlights a deep truth about the Transfiguration itself. The Transfiguration is about us and what we must do to see the Lord Transfigured. In order to see the Lord’s Transfiguration, Ss Peter, James, and John had success in the struggle against all three levels of the passions: intelligent, incensive, and desiring. So what am I saying?

Notice that in St John’s telling of the Transfiguration he does not say, “And the Lord glorified Himself before us.” It clearly says, “And we beheld His glory.” For St John, the Transfiguration is something that always is, and what we must struggle to witness by purifying the whole of our soul’s passion. If this was not so, how could St Theophylact have said:

But all that Christ said and did is full of truth, for Christ Himself is Grace and Truth, and He bestowed these things on others. Where did they behold His glory? Perhaps some will think that the disciples did so on Mount Tabor when He was transfigured. This is true, but not on the mountain only, but in everything that the Lord spoke and did, they beheld His glory.” ~St Theophylact of Ochrid, commentary on the Gospel of John

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