Required Reading: The Gospel of Luke, chapter 9
THE CONTEXT OF THE TRANSFIGURATION
Christ the King has restored to Adam his royal robe and given him dominion once again. Let us now make our way to Mount Tabor and begin to search the depth[i]s of the Transfiguration of the Christ, the “mystery of light par excellence.”[ii] As in the mysteries of the previous weeks, we must place ourselves within the historical event before us. Also, it will be helpful to recall the “images of Eden” presented in week one. For, in the new Adam unveiled on the pinnacle of Tabor, we shall see the old Adam restored in Christ, transfigured as a son of God.
In order to view properly the Transfiguration of Christ, we must also consider the events leading up to the unveiling of Tabor. In chapter nine of the Gospel of Luke, one theme seems to drive the developing story that culminates in the Transfiguration: the kingdom of God.[iii] In fact, just prior to the Transfiguration, Jesus draws from the mouth of Simon Peter his great confession.
Now it happened that as he was praying alone the disciples were with him; and he asked them, “Who do the people say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist; but others say, Elijah; and others, that one of the old prophets has risen.” And he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” But he charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Lk. 9:18-22).
EIGHT DAYS LATER
With the confession that Jesus is “the Christ of God,” Peter has recognized his Master as the anointed king of God. It is eight days after this confession that we find ourselves climbing the magnificent mountain of Tabor, up the “steep, twisting path . . . through a thicket” of “oaks and pistachio trees,” to the summit where a view opens upon the east to the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan.[iv] From this height let us gaze upon the account of the Transfiguration through the eyes of Blessed Peter.[v]
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; * listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. (Lk. 9:28-36)
THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
In His actions and in His person, Christ fulfills, not only the prophecies, but also the events of the Old Testament, recapitulating them through the events of His own life. Most biblical scholars[vi] recognize in the Transfiguration the fulfillment of the greatest feast of the Jewish liturgical calendar, the feast of Tabernacles.[vii] The book of Leviticus gives the first prescription for this feast:
And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the feast of booths to the LORD. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. Seven days you shall present offerings by fire to the LORD; on the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the LORD; it is a solemn assembly; you shall do no laborious work. . . . On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD seven days; on the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. And you shall take on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD seven days in the year; it is a statute for ever throughout your generations; you shall keep it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days; all that are native in Israel shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Lv. 23:33-36, 39-44).
Cardinal Jean Danielou explains that the characteristic rites of the feast consisted of “living for seven days in huts made out of branches, libations of water. . . , the procession around the altar waving the bouquet (lulab) made from three kinds of trees: willow, myrtle and palm, and carrying a fruit of the lemon-tree (etrog).”[viii] In addition to these characteristics noted by Danielou, Fr. Raymond Brown explains that during the feast “the court of the women in the Temple was lighted by immense torches.”[ix]
While, as we witnessed in the above quotation from Leviticus, the feast was prescribed so that the generations of Israel will remember that God brought them out of Egypt and protected them in their booths (skenai) during their time in the desert, this feast also reminded the prophets to keep looking toward the Messianic times when “the power of Yahweh would manifest itself in a still greater way. . . . The Prophets represent the life of the just man in the Messianic kingdom as a dwelling in tabernacles, or tents, symbolized by the tents in which the Israelites dwelt in the desert.”[x] As was noted in week two, the imagery of the Exodus itself was founded upon the creation account of Genesis, using images that evoked the idea of a return to Paradise. Just as the Exodus, in which the people dwell in tents, is linked to a return to Paradise where just men dwell in tabernacles, so also, a number of the rites of the Feast of Tabernacles connect it to the story of Paradise.
The significance of the feast’s seven days needs no comment in its connection with the creation account, but the rites that took place on the seventh day of the feast are of particular importance and will be considered below. The libation of water on the altar and the ground “was the beginning of a river of Paradise that was to bring life wherever it passed and was able to purify the water of the sea. The river . . . was to give birth to many trees of life.”[xi] The “giant candelabras,” made out of pure “gold,” that “illuminated the temple courts with fire during the feast” recalls the Holy of Holies that was in the midst of Eden within which, according to Saint Ephrem, the Tree of Life shone forth as the “sun of Paradise.”[xii] The etrog, carried in one hand, the lulab waving in the other, was recognized by Methodius, a forth century bishop and martyr, as the branches of the tree of life.[xiii] The “leafy branches” that were used to construct the tabernacles immediately evokes images of Eden where Adam would have lived surrounded by such trees as the willow, myrtle, and palm. Rabbinical literature emphasizes that in the eschatological age “the just will dwell in Paradise in such tents.”[xiv] A similar hope is found in the prophet Isaiah where the Lord promises that, in the future age when men are converted, “My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings” (Is. 32:18). “The Hope in the Feast of Tabernacles will be realized, as the whole earth becomes a Garden (Is. 11:9; Dan. 2:35).”[xv] Methodius summarizes these thoughts when he says, “We shall celebrate the great feast of Tabernacles in the new creation and without sadness, the fruits of the earth being all gathered in.”[xvi] “The feast was, obviously, a reminder of the life of Eden . . . and looked forward to a day when the world would be turned into Eden.”[xvii]
THE MESSIANIC ENTHRONEMENT
There is an additional significance that, over time, seems to have become attached to this feast and is particularly interesting to our study: “the origin of the feast of tabernacles was the annual feast of royal installation.”[xviii] In connection with this tradition, we find the Messianic hope of the Jewish people in post-exilic Judaism. The prophet Zechariah expresses this hope: “Then [in the messianic age] every one that survives of all the nations that have come to Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of booths” (Zech. 14:16). Likewise, when the Maccabean revolt had accomplished its goal and the temple, the throne of God, had been retaken and cleansed, the feast of Tabernacles was celebrated for eight days.[xix] On the seventh day of the feast, the lulab and the etrog were taken in hand during the ablution of water upon the altar, and Psalm 118 was intoned. Thus, the verse in the psalm, “bind the festal procession branches up to the horns of the altar,” most likely refers to this royal procession (vs. 27). Furthermore, the Psalm highlights the aspect of royal enthronement in the verse calling the King (Heb. messiah) “He who comes in the name of the Lord” (vs. 26). Danielou explains that this verse “heralds his coming with the cry Hosanna: ‘Save me’ (vs. 25).”[xx] Thus, these rites, performed on the seventh day, called to mind not only images of Paradise, but also the Messianic enthronement of God in the eschaton. This day, called “The Great Hosanna,”[xxi] would be the day that ushered in the everlasting reign of the King of Israel, the day through which man would enter into the eternal ‘rest’ of God.
THE EIGHTH DAY OF THE FEAST
The eighth day of the feast will be the bridge between the feast of Tabernacles and the Transfiguration account in the gospel of Luke. After the seven days of dwelling in booths, the next day, the eighth day, was “the great day.”[xxii] The key characteristic of this day is the holy rest (Lev. 23:36,39), recalling the Sabbath day of creation, the day of covenant between God and man. In our study of the Proclamation of the Kingdom, we witnessed Christ restore the Sabbath by proclaiming the “Sabbath of Sabbaths of Sabbaths,” the Jubilee year.[xxiii] In the Transfiguration account, the Sabbath day becomes what God intended it to be, the “great day” of the dwelling of God with men.
In the account of the Transfiguration in the Gospel of Luke, the reference to the eighth day is assumed to be the eighth day after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ of God and Jesus’ sayings about the kingdom.[xxiv] As Tim Gray notes, “In the Jewish liturgical calendar, there is one feast that lasts eight days, the feast of Tabernacles.”[xxv] Thus, if the Transfiguration episode is to be set within the context of the feast of Tabernacles, the whole of the event is placed within the eighth day of the Feast, the “great day.” It is on this day, the day of rest, that the Disciples follow their master up the path of Tabor to the site of the Transfiguration for the worship of God.
The mountain of Tabor evokes many images of the Old Testament, not the least of which is the mountain of Eden.[xxvi] Within the context of the Feast of Tabernacles, it especially recalls the words of Esdras the prophet from the book of the Law: “Go out to the mountain side, and bring in boughs of olive, or of some favorite tree, branches of myrtle and palm, leafy boughs, to make booths, as the law prescribes.”[xxvii]
THE ROBE OF THE KING
Having climbed the mountain of Tabor and standing amidst groves of trees, a garden of delight, the Lord of the universe is revealed before our eyes. Tim Gray poetically explains, “It starts with Jesus’ face, which begins to glow with glory. Not only His face, but ‘his raiment became dazzling white as well’ (Lk. 9:29).”[xxviii] Jesus has become the golden torch of the Feast of Tabernacles, enlightening the whole world. It is here that the full intent of the event of the Transfiguration is revealed: the revelation of the restoration of Adam.[xxix] The brilliance of the Transfigured Lord calls to mind the robe of Glory. Saint Gregory of Nyssa makes this exact connection between the Robe of Baptism and the Robe of the Transfiguration when he says that the baptized are wearing “the tunic of the Lord, shining like the sun, which clothed Him with purity and incorruptibility when He went up on the Mount of the Transfiguration.”[xxx] The key here, unlike the Baptism in the Jordan, the Wedding at Cana, and the Proclamation of the Kingdom, is not primarily a restoration of man but rather a revelation of that restoration already accomplished. Saint Ephrem teaches that Christ led the disciples up to the mount of Transfiguration “to show them that he is the Son of God. . . . to show them the glory of the godhead . . . . And show . . . that he is God. . . . and [show] them his kingship.”[xxxi] This is not the royal anointing that occured in the Baptism, but rather the exposition of Christ’s true nature, his first public enthronement. Harald Riesenfeld makes the necessary connection between the white robe of the Transfigured Christ and Adam: “The white robe is an allusion to the white robe of the High Priest.”[xxxii] According to N. T. Wright, the “robe” of the high-priest was believed to be “the self-same garments which the creator had made for Adam.”[xxxiii] Moreover, “the high priest ruling over Israel is like Adam ruling over all creation.”[xxxiv] David Chilton explains,
The High Priest was a living symbol of man fully restored to fellowship with God in the Garden. His forehead was covered with a gold plate, on which was engraved the phrase, Holy To The Lord (Ex. 28:36), as a symbol of the removal of the Curse of Adam’s brow. His breast plate was covered with gold and precious stones (Ex 28:15-30), and the hem of his robe was ringed with pomegranates and golden bells (Ex. 28:33-35). As another symbol of freedom from the curse, the robe was made out of linen (Ex. 28:6), for while they were ministering, the priests were forbidden to wear any wool at all: ‘They shall be clothed with linen garments; and wool shall not be on them while they are ministering. . . . They shall not gird themselves with anything that makes them sweat’ (Ezek. 44:17-18).[xxxv]
The forbidance of sweat in the holy place removes the curse of Genesis 3:18-19, where sweat is the result of the fall of man. Sirach lays out the context within which to understand the Jewish vision of the High Priest, and, thereby, the vision of Jesus Christ at his Transfiguration:
5 How glorious he was when the people gathered round him
as he came out of the inner sanctuary!
6 Like the morning star among the clouds,
like the moon when it is full;
7 like the sun shining upon the temple of the Most High,
and like the rainbow gleaming in glorious clouds;
8 like roses in the days of the first fruits,
like lilies by a spring of water,
like a green shoot on Lebanon on a summer day;
9 like fire and incense in the censer,
like a vessel of hammered gold
adorned with all kinds of precious stones;
10 like an olive tree putting forth its fruit,
and like a cypress towering in the clouds.
11 When he put on his glorious robe
and clothed himself with superb perfection
and went up to the holy altar,
he made the court of the sanctuary glorious.
12 And when he received the portions
from the hands of the priests,
as he stood by the hearth of the altar
with a garland of brethren around him,
he was like a young cedar on Lebanon;
and they surrounded him like the
trunks of palm trees,
13 all the sons of Aaron in their splendor
with the Lord’s offering in their hands,
before the whole congregation of Israel.
14 Finishing the service at the altars,
and arranging the offering to the Most High, the Almighty,
15 he reached out his hand to the cup
and poured a libation of the blood of the grape;
he poured it out at the foot of the altar,
a pleasing odor to the Most High, the King of all. (Sirach 50:5-15)[xxxvi]
MOSES, ELIJAH AND THE EXODUS OF JESUS
With the Christ of God changed in appearance from the natural man to the supernatural Adam, Moses and Elijah immediately appear at His side. Why Moses and why Elijah? And why do they appear at this moment? Tradition has consistently interpreted this appearance as the revelation of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah), and the confirmation that Christ is the object of both. This interpretation must not be rejected, having much to add to the revelation of Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God.[xxxvii] Following the lead, however, of Pope Leo XIII we are inspired to “push the inquiry” further, and led by His Holiness John Paul II, we are encouraged to dive deep into the mystery of Christ.[xxxviii] The key to understanding the appearance of Moses and Elijah, as Tim Gray explains in his book Mission of the Messiah, is the “content of their conversation.”[xxxix] Christ spoke with the two Holy Prophets about his “departure (Gk. exodus) which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk. 9:31). Uniting Elijah’s “reverse baptism,”[xl] his exodus out of the Holy Land, with Moses’ appearance and the conversation about Jesus’ upcoming exodus, brings the revelation to life. Among the Old Testament figures that understood an exodus out of slavery, there is none more fitting than Moses; among the Old Testament figures that understood the need to exit the Holy Land because of sin in order to enter into the promised land of heaven, there is none more fitting than Elijah. The two great Old Testament holy men complement each other in their conversation regarding Christ’s own exodus. At His crucifixion, Christ will free Adam from the bondage of slavery to sin and escort him into the heavenly Paradise where he will once again be called a son of God.[xli]
Let us also peer through the eyes of Moses and Elijah, for this experience was a revelation for them as well. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “Elijah, like Moses before him, hides ‘in the cleft of the rock’ until the mysterious presence of God has passed by. But only on the mountain of the Transfiguration will Moses and Elijah behold the unveiled face of him whom they sought; ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [shines] in the face of Christ.”[xlii] In her special prayers for the feast of the Transfiguration the Greek Church sings, “Thou hast caught up in ecstasy Moses and Elijah and the chief of the disciples.”[xliii] ‘“Behold the Savior,’ cried Moses and Elijah on Tabor, the Holy Mountian, and their words rang in the ears of the disciples. ‘Lo, here is Christ whom we in ancient times proclaimed as God.”[xliv]
THE HOLY REST
With the transfigured Lord shining like lighting before the eyes of the Apostles, the Gospel of Luke reveals the strangest verse in the whole account: “Now Peter and those that were with him were heavy with sleep but kept awake, and they saw his glory” (Lk. 9:28). This verse has been interpreted in two distinct ways. Ferdinand Prat’s words are a good example of the more modern interpretation: “fatigued by the journey and the heat of a long summer day . . . they gradually grew drowsy, while a short distance away their Master prolonged his prayer.”[xlv] In similar fashion, Fr. Josef Fitzmyer hypothesizes that one possibility is that this is “Luke’s way of indicating that it was night.”[xlvi] This type of interpretation is in contrast to the common Patristic consideration. Saint John Chrysostom explains that the phrase “heavy with sleep but awake” points to “the deep stupor engendered in them by that vision. For as eyes are darkened by excessive splendor, so at that time also did they feel. For it was not, I suppose night, but day; and the exceeding greatness of the light weighed down the infirmity of their eyes.”[xlvii] The idea of the sleep of divine ecstasy is common in the tradition of Sacred Revelation.[xlviii] A good example of this is the book of Daniel, where the Prophet sees “one in the likeness of the sons of men” (Dan. 10:16). In the vision, the “son of man,” is “clothed in linen . . . [and His] loins were girded with gold of Uphaz. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightening, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze” (Dan. 10: 5-6). In this vision, Daniel recounts, “I was left alone and saw this great vision, and no strength was left in me. . . . Then I heard the sound of his words; and when I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in a deep sleep with my face to the ground” (Dan 10:8-9). Archbishop Raya explains with precision:
Likewise, on the mount of Transfiguration, Christ shone with such radiance . . . that the disciples could not bear to gaze directly at him. The intensity of the radiance of his divine presence swept them away and the brilliance of his beauty absorbed all their attention. They could not endure to think of any other thing, or see any other reality. They were in ecstasy. . . . The notion of sleep as mentioned here is admirably suited to express the disciples’ experience of ecstasy in the presence of Christ. The immensity of his glory attracted all the powers of their faculties, synchronized and harmonized them into unity, and centered them on one unique object: Christ in glory. The disciples were completely oblivious of everything else. There is no better expression than the word sleep to describe such an intense concentration.[xlix]
Finally, Saint Gregory of Nyssa confirms this interpretation by saying, “The vision of God lulls to unconsciousness every bodily motion. The soul becomes able to receive the vision in a divine wakefulness, which is a pure and naked intuition of this loving presence.”[l]
The above explanation makes perfect sense when read in light of the context of the eighth day of the feast of Tabernacles, the “great day.”(Jn. 7:37). On this day, one thing is necessary, that Israel obey the “solemn rest” (Lv. 23:39). It is this day that reclaims the Sabbath rest of Eden from the grip of the Serpent, and it is this day that confirms the covenant between God and man. It is at the Transfiguration that Adam, restored in Christ, is revealed to the Apostles. The Greek Church recognizes this restoration of Adam when it proclaims, “Thou hast put Adam on entire, O Christ, and changing the nature grown dark in past times, Thou has filled it with glory and made it godlike by alteration of thy form.”[li]
BUILDING BOOTHS AND THE TABERNACLE OF GOD
In response to the ecstasy of seeing God unveiled, Peter makes clear the occasion for their retreat upon the mountain: “Master it is well that we are here;[lii] let us make three booths (skenas) one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Lk. 9:33). In light of the “eight days” at the beginning of the account, Peter’s reference to booths further confirms the interpretation of the Transfiguration as the celebration of the feast of Tabernacles.
At the moment when Peter mentions ‘booths,’ a “cloud came and overshadowed them” (Lk. 9:34). Here a response to Peter’s proposal is found. Traditionally, the commentators have seen in the words of Simon Peter a two-fold mistake. First, Peter hopes to dwell here, in the Paradise of the feast, where Christ is the light and man experiences the rest for which he was made. This hope of Peter, though ultimately correct, misses the end for which the glimpse of the Transfiguration is a preparation. Peter sees Jesus as the Christ, but he has forgotten Christ’s words: “The son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk. 9:22). Saint Ephrem the Syrian questions Peter through the mouth of Christ, “Simon, what are you saying? . . . If we remain here, who will tear up the record of Adam’s debt? And who will pay his debt in full? And who will restore to him the garment of glory? If we remain here, how will all that I have said to you come to pass? How will the Church be built? How will you take the keys of the kingdom of heaven from me? What will you bind? What will you loose? If we remain here, everything that was said through the Prophets will come to nothing.”[liii] Peter, completely satisfied in his own temporary rest, does not see the eschatological peace of the resurrection, which itself is ushered in only through the crucifixion.
The second mistake Peter makes is in the desire to make three separate booths, as though Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are equals.[liv] However, the revelation of the glory cloud clarifies the point: Christ is the One Tabernacle in which the only true rest is found. In the Messianic age, all will dwell in the Holy of Holies, where the glory cloud of God is found.[lv]
THE ENTHRONEMENT OF THE KING
Standing within the cloud on Tabor, in the Holy of Holies where God dwells, the apostles are standing in Eden, where they hear the words of the Father: “This is my beloved Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Lk. 9:35). These words recall two Old Testament prophecies. First, in the book of Isaiah, God unveils his Servant with these words, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him” (Is. 42:1).[lvi] Second, the words “listen to him” recall the prophet of Deuteronomy 18, of whom Moses prophesied, “him you shall heed” (Dt. 18:15). In uniting these two prophecies in the person of Christ, the Father has shown Jesus to be the fulfillment of two figures that the Jews believed would be somehow mysteriously involved in the coming of the Messianic Age. Furthermore, the words of the Father on Tabor bring to fulfillment a third prophecy: the installation of the new King. Thierry Maertens, O.S.B. recognizes that in the Father’s words on Tabor: “we may find the messianic enthronement formula.”[lvii] This interpretation fits into the Messianic hope regarding the Feast of Tabernacles mentioned above. With the words of the Father, Jesus is proclaimed to the Apostles as the “Anointed One” who will introduce the eschatological Feast of Tabernacles, the true day of rest, the “great day” of creation. No longer does Jesus have to ask the Apostles, “But who do you say that I am?” Rather, the Father Himself has confirmed publicly that Jesus is the Chosen One, the son of David who is also the Son of God (Cf. 2 Sam. 7).
THE UNVEILING OF ADAM
In the Transfiguration of Christ, the evangelist Luke has shown to the world the revelation of Adam restored in Jesus. Tim Gray explains that upon Mount Tabor, “Jesus reveals God the Father’s desire to transform humanity into the likeness of divine glory. . . . The aim of the Transfiguration is not simply to give a glimpse of Jesus’ divinity, but to give a glimpse of true humanity, a humanity that reflects the image and likeness of God in glory.”[lviii]
Through the eyes of Peter we have seen the Christ of God, transfigured into the Light of the World. Through the eyes of James we have gazed upon the King, arrayed in splendor, flanked by Moses and Elijah, the dwellers of Paradise. Through the eyes of John, we have slept in the peace of the Transfigured One. Let us experience the ecstasy of Tabor, the solemn rest of Eden. Let us enter into the Tabernacle of God, the Holy of Holies, the Garden of Genesis, and hear our Father proclaim that we have been restored to the kingship for which our Master has prepared us. “Today Christ on Mount Tabor has changed the darkened nature of Adam, and filling it with brightness He has made it godlike.”[lix] Standing in the Eden of God amidst the branches of the Feast of Tabernacles, wearing the royal robe of the son, the clothing of the Gardener of Paradise, let us turn our gaze upon the Divine Fruit, hanging from the Tree of Life. Let us turn our eyes toward the eucharistic marriage banquet that awaits the son of God, Adam restored.
[i] The restoration of Adam is first realized in the Incarnate Word and participated in by the rest of mankind through the sacrament of baptism.
[ii] John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Maria, 21.
[iii]Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Introduction, Translation, and Notes to The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX), Anchor Bible, vol. 28 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981), 792. “To understand the importance of this episopde, one has to take seriously the Lucan context in which it is found. . . . For the episode is related to the disciples ‘seeing’ the kingdom.”
[iv]Bishop Alexander, “The Transfiguration of Christ: Appearance of the Kingdom of God,” Missionary Leaflet # E48, trans. Dimitry Baranow and Fr. German Ciuba (La Canada, Cal.: Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission, 2001); available from http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/preob_e.htm; Internet; accessed 20 May 2003; and Ferdinand Prat, Jesus Christ: His Life, His Teaching, and His Work, vol. 1, trans. John J. Heenan (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1950), 423.
[v]Paul Hinnebusch confirms that this is the proper perspective that the reader must have in his book, Jesus, The New Elijah, where he explains, “In writing these things in the way that he did, it is Luke’s intention that we too, his readers, ‘see what has taken place,’ so that our hearts too will be converted. Luke intends to get his readers fully involved in the mystery of Christ which he presents. . . . We must not only see all this in faith. We must become involved in it all, so that we can live and experience it with the Lord.” Hinnebusch, Jesus, the New Elijah, 131.
[vi]Fitzmyer, Gospel According to Luke, 797. “One cannot exclude an allusion to Lev. 23:36, the passage that tells how the Feast of Booths should be celebrated and its indications of time.” See also Daniel Harrigton’s The Gospel According to Matthew where he states, “Some see in this this time indicator an allusion . . . to the feast of Tabernacles” [Daniel Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina, vol. 1 (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 253]. See also Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 339: “It seems that we . . . see in this scene as explicit allusion to the Feast of Tabernacles.”
[vii]Josephus, Ant., 8.4,1 § 100, quoted in Fitzmyer, Gospel According to Luke, 801: “the greatest and most sacred feast among the Jews.”
[viii]Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 333-334.
[ix] Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel of St. John; The Johannine Epistles (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1965), 44.
[xi]Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 343. Following the bread of life discourse in the Gospel of John, we read that the, “feast of Tabernacles was at hand” (Jn. 7:2). And “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up [in the Temple] and proclaimed, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living of water’” (Jn. 7:37-38). This reference to “rivers of living water,” quoted by Christ on the “great day” of the feast is no doubt a reference to the water poured upon the altar in the temple, symbolizing the river of life which flowed through the Garden of Eden. Saint Cyril of Alexandria states, “the source of water for the feast of Tabernacles is the spiritual and heavenly Christ who waters with the fountains on high those who receive him” [St. Cyril of Alexandria, De Ad.; LXVIII, 1109 A, as quoted in Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 343]. We also know from Saint Paul that Christ was seen by the early Christians as the Rock which followed Israel in the desert and gave them water to sustain life (1 Cor. 10:4). Now, the rock which followed Israel in the desert was, according to tradition, the same Rock that was the foundation stone of the Temple, the Rock of Moriah [Theirry Maertens, O.S.B., A Feast in Honor of Yahweh, trans. Mother Kathryn Sullivan, R.S.C.J. (Notre Dame, Ind.: Fides Publishers, Inc., 1965), 76]. This Rock of Moriah was also known as the Eben Shetiyah, literally, “the rock of drinking,” apparently for the very reason that it was seen as the rock from which Israel drank in the Desert. Therefore, by using Christ as our bridge between the water which flowed from the rock in the desert and the water of the feast of Tabernacles, we may rightly conclude that the water which was poured over the altar stone which sits upon the rock of Moriah was believed to be the water which flowed out of the very rock it was being poured out upon. This rock, as was explained in chapter one, was also believed to be the center of the earth, the foundation stone upon which Adam was formed in the Garden of Paradise. Thus, we may conclude, that Christ, in claiming to be the source of the water of the Feast of Tabernacles, as Saint Cyril has confirmed, is actually claiming to be the foundation stone of creation, that “foundation stone,” upon which the wise builder, God, has built his house, the temple of Paradise. This foundation stone, which is the center of the mountain of Eden, must be factored into the Transfiguration narrative, Christ is not only the shining one who stands in Eden like Adam before the fall, He is Eden; Christ is the mystical Paradise which the Jews of the Old Testament sought in the Feast of Tabernacles.
[xii] Ephrem, Hymns on Paradise, 91.
[xiii]Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 338.
[xv] Chilton, Paradise Restored, 46.
[xvi]Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 335.
[xvii] Chilton, Paradise Restored, 45.
[xviii]Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 335.
[xix]2 Macc. 10:1-8.
[xx]Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 336.
[xxiii] Gray, Mission of the Messiah, 32.
[xxiv] This also could be interpreted as the eighth day of the feast by placing Peter’s confession on the seventh day, the day of the Great Hosanna, when the messiah would be proclaimed king.
[xxvi] See chapter one.
[xxvii] Nehemiah 8:15. Translation taken from the Knox Bible for the word “mountain” (2 Esdras 8:15).
[xxviii]Tim Gray, Mission of the Messiah, 94.
[xxix]At the Transfiguration, “Jesus reveals God the Father’s desire to transform humanity into the likeness of divine glory” (Tim Gray, Mission of the Messiah, 96).
[xxx]Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 50.
[xxxi]St. Ephrem the Syrian, “Sermon on the Transfiguration of our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,” 4-5; available from http://www.anastasis.org.uk/on_the_transfiguration.htm; Internet; accessed 20 May 2003. The final use of the word “show” in the quotation is in the past tense in the original text.
[xxxii]Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 52.
[xxxiv]Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 265.
[xxxv] Chilton, Paradise Restored, 44.
[xxxvi] The comparison of the High Priest with a young stout tree is full of meaning. As was mentioned above, the tree of life in Eden was recognized by Saint Ephrem as the “sun of Paradise.” This “sun” was located in the inner most sanctuary and was the source of life for the rest of the world. The High Priest standing in the midst of the Holy of Holies, surround as he was by golden pomegranates, palm trees, lilies and Cherubim, was like the tree of Paradise through which God communicated his blessing to man. This interpretation, when applied to Christ, who identifies himself as both the food of life and the light of the world (Jn. 6:54, 8:12) explicitly links our Lord to the Holy of Holies in Eden, the dwelling place of God. At the Transfiguration, Christ becomes the light upon which the believer may gaze and enter into the paradise of Eden.
[xxxvii] C.f. Saint Augustine, “Moses and Elijah, that is, the Law and the Prophets.” [Saint Augustine, Sermons on New Testament Lessons, XXVIII, contained in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. vi (Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 347]. Certain biblical scholars have also noted the similarities between this account and the account of the Mosaic Sinai event. See Tim Gray, Mission of the Messiah.
[xxxviii] Pope Leo XIII instructs his flock as follows: “He [later biblical commentators] must not on that account [on account of the work of the Fathers of the Church] consider that it is forbidden, when just cause exists, to push inquiry and exposition beyond what the Fathers have done” [Leo XIII, Proventissimus Deus (18 November, 1893), N.C.W.C. Translation: On the Study of Holy Scripture (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, n.d.), par. 15].
[xxxix]Gray, Mission of the Messiah, 95.
[xl]See Week I.
[xli]It is this reality that is revealed in the promise of Christ to the good thief at the crucifixion, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). Saint Ephrem the Syrian, singing his Hymns on Paradise, says, “Adam had been naked and fair, but his diligent wife labored and made for him a garment covered with stains. The Garden, seeing him thus vile, drove him forth. Through Mary Adam had another robe which adorned the thief; and when he became resplendent at Christ’s promise, the Garden, looking on, embraced him in Adam’s place” (St. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise, IV.6).
[xliii]Festal Menaion, 487.
[xliv]Festal Menaion, 486-87.
[xlv]Ferdinand Prat, S.J., Jesus Christ, His Life, His Teaching, and His Work, Vol. 1, 424.
[xlvi]Fitzmyer, Gospel According to Luke, 801.
[xlvii]Saint John Chrysostom, “Homily LVI: Matt. XVI. 28,” in Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1978), 347.
[xlviii]This path of interpretation is confirmed by the Church at the Second Vatican Council in the document Dei Verbum, where the fathers explain that among the essential criteria for interpreting scripture is the “the content and the unity of the whole Scripture” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, section 12).
[xlix]Joseph Raya, Transfiguration of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Combermere, Ontario: Madonna House Publications, 1992), 46-47.
[l]Gregory of Nyssa, “On the Canticle of Canticles,” quoted in Raya, Transfiguration, 47.
[li] Festal Menaion, 483.
[lii]Peter’s exclamation may indeed be an expression of the ecstacy which he is experiencing; Riesenfeld sees in this the eschatological anapausis. And Danielou, confirming Riesenfeld, identifies these words as expressing the “rest of the life to come.” Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 340.
[liii]St. Ephrem the Syrian, “Transfiguration,” 10.
[liv]“Simon was sent to build the Church in the world, and he is making tents on the mountain; for he is still looking at Jesus in human terms” (Ibid., 11).
[lv]At the time of the Babylonian exile the shekinah cloud departed from the Temple, never to return (Ez. 10). Now, upon Tabor, Christ is the center of the glory cloud of God, he is the center of the Holy of Holies. If the tip of tabor, like the tip of Sinai has become a “holy of holies,” then the Apostles stand in the midst of the heavenly Jerusalem, the Temple of God, the Garden of Eden.
[lvi]The use of the Isaiah servant image within the context of Luke 9 is perfectly fit. The desires of Peter are purified in the words of the Father. It was only a short while before the Tabor event that our Lord responded to Peter’s proclamation of faith that Jesus was the “Christ of God,” with the words “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elder’s and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised from the dead” (Lk. 9:22). Now, the Father calls our minds to the Servant prophecies of Isaiah, a Servant whose “appearance was . . . marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men” (Is. 52:14), and who will be like a “lamb led to the slaughter.” By recalling the necessary suffering of the Servant of YHWH the desires of Peter to remain on Tabor are reoriented. The “Christ of God,” must suffer and die, and only then will the everlansting anapausis come to men. Only through the crucifixion of the Lamb will the Light arise and the glory of the Lord shine forever upon His people (Is. 60:1-2).
[lvii]Thierry Maertens, A Feast in Honor of Yahweh, trans. Kathryn Sullivan (Notre Dame, Ind.: Fides Publishers, 1965), 82. Maertens is most likely drawing upon the Messianic enthronement psalm (2:6-7) as well as 2 Sam. 7:14.
[lviii]Gray, Mission of the Messiah, 96-97 (emphasis added).
[lix]Festal Menaion, 469.