"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday, 5 August 2016


THE TRANSFIGURATION by Dom Alex Echeandia O.S.B.

Feast Day: August 6

The Transfiguration of Christ is the culminating point of His public life, as His Baptism is its starting point, and His Ascension its end. Moreover, this glorious event has been related in detail by St. Matthew (xvii, 1-6), St. Mark (ix, 1-8), and St. Luke (ix, 28-36), while St. Peter (II Pet., i, 16-18) and St. John (i, 14), two of the privileged witnesses, make allusion to it. 

About a week after His sojourn in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them to a high mountain apart, where He was transfigured before their ravished eyes. St. Matthew and St. Mark express this phenomenon by the word metemorphothe, which the Vulgate renders transfiguratus est. The Synoptics explain the true meaning of the word by adding "his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow," according to the Vulgate, or "as light," according to the Greek text.
This dazzling brightness which emanated from His whole Body was produced by an interior shining of His Divinity. False Judaism had rejected the Messias, and now true Judaism, represented by Moses and Elias, the Law and the Prophets, recognized and adored Him, while for the second time God the Father proclaimed Him His only-begotten and well-loved Son. By this glorious manifestation the Divine Master, who had just foretold His Passion to the Apostles (Matt., xvi, 21), and who spoke with Moses and Elias of the trials which awaited Him at Jerusalem, strengthened the faith of his three friends and prepared them for the terrible struggle

of which they were to be witnesses in Gethsemani, by giving them a foretaste of the glory and heavenly delights to which we attain by suffering.


Already in Apostolic times the mount of the Transfiguration had become the "holy mount" (II Pet., i, 18). It seems to have been known by the faithful of the country, and tradition identified it with Mount Thabor. Origen said (A.D. 231-54) "Thabor is the mountain of Galilee on which Christ was transfigured" (Comm. in Ps. lxxxviii, 13). In the next century St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catech., II, 16) and St. Jerome (Ep. xlvi, ad Marcel.; EP. viii, ad Paulin.; Ep. cviii, ad Eust.) likewise declare it categorically. Later St. Proculus, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 447; Orat. viii, in Transfig.), Agathangelus (Hist. of Armenia, II, xvii), and Arnobius the Younger (d. 460; Comm. in Ps. lxxxviii, 13) say the same thing. The testimonies increase from century to century without a single dissentient note, and in 553 the Fifth Council of Constantinople erected a see at Mount Thabor (Notitif Antioch. . . . patriarch.). 

Some modern writers claim that the Transfiguration could not have taken place on Mount Thabor, which, according to Josephus, was then surmounted by a city. This is incorrect; the Jewish historian speaks neither of a city nor a village; he simply fortified, as he repeats three times, "the mount called Itabyrion" ("Bell. Jud.", II, xx, 6; IV, i, 8; Vita , 37). The town of Atabyrion of Polybius, the Thabor or Celeseth Thabor, the "flank of Thabor" of the Bible, is situated at the foot of Mount Thabor. In any case the presence of houses on a wooded height would not have made it impossible to find a place apart.
It is again objected that Our Lord was transfigured on Mount Hermon, since He was at that time in its vicinity. But the Synoptics are all explicit concerning the lapse of time, six days, or about eight days including those of departure and arrival, between the discourse in Caesarea and the Transfiguration, which would infer a somewhat lengthy journey. Moreover the summits of Hermon are covered with snow as late as June, and even the lesser peaks of 4000 or 5000 feet are likewise snow-covered in February and March, the period of the Transfiguration. Finally, the ancients judged of the height of mountains by their appearance, and Thabor especially was considered a "high mountain", if not by David and Jeremias, at least by Origen and St. Jerome and the pilgrims who made the ascent.


The feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated on August 6th because it is 40 days before the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.   The two feasts have been twinned, as it were, because the Passion of Christ is the inner meaning of the Transfiguration, and the Transfiguration reveals to us the inner meaning of the Cross.   Together they show us the Christian Paradox which runs throughout the Gospel.

There are obvious similarities in the scene of the Transfiguration and that of the Garden of Gethsemane.   In both, Peter, James and John are chosen witnesses when Jesus goes apart from the rest in order to pray.   In both scenes, the apostles' reaction is to fall asleep.   Then there is sheer contrast: the theme of the Transfiguration is light, while the theme of the Passion is darkness; the theme of the Transfiguration is awe and joy, the theme of the Passion is fear and sadness.   In the Transfiguration, they hear God's voice affirming his Son, "This is my Son, the Beloved.  Listen to him;" while  in the Passion, we hear the voice of the Son, "My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me."  In the Transfiguration, the overriding theme is glory; while crucifixion was the most humiliating death in the Roman world.

 However, in St John's Gospel where there is no Transfiguration, the theme of glory and that of the Cross become one: it is by the Cross that the Father and his Son are glorified.  This is the Christian paradox.  In the darkness, the pain, the humiliation of the Cross, the Father revealed his true Nature in and through his Son as kenotic, self-giving: fully operative on the Cross is the Blessed Trinity.

What is the light of Mount Tabor?   It  is the self-emptying love of the Father manifested in the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit.   What is the darkness of Christ's death on Mount Calvary?   It is the self-emptying love of the Father stooping down to embrace the human race in its need, which is floundering in its denial of God and in its pathetic self-assertion that ends in death, and reconciling it to himself in the "Yes" of his Son that leads to resurrection and eternal life.  

In the Resurrection, Christ does not switch off his obedience unto death so that it becomes simply an event of the past, having served its purpose.  It becomes a permanent dimension of his being and goes on to transform his human nature in the power of the Holy Spirit, realising its true potential as light and glory.   The darkness of the cross becomes the light of the resurrection, and death is transformed into life.   This is the Christian paradox.g

It starts with the Holy Trinity  in which the Father pours his whole being into his Son by his eternal act of self-giving, the Holy Spirit, who, residing in the Son, becomes the act of the Son's total dedication to the Father.

The French Jesuit Jean Daniélou (1905-74) wrote that "Without a doubt the master-key to Christian theology, which distinguishes it utterly from all rational theodicy is contained in the statement that the Trinity of Persons constitutes the structure of Being, and that love is therefore as primary as existence."  The Orthodox theologian Metropolitan John Zizioulas draws out the logical consequences of this in "Being as Communion"

The question remains, What kind of love?  It is not the kind of love that loves in order to receive, but a love that loves in order to give, to bestow, to enable.  It is the kind of love that enabled Mary to be the Mother of God; that enabled the Logos to take on human nature and, in doing so, to be united to every human being that ever existed or will exist, thus allowing him to live, to die and to rise again on behalf of all; that allows bread and wine to become Christ's body and blood and those who share in this body and blood to become one body with him, bringing about the Church, and, by ascending through  death and resurrection in Christ, uniting it to the Father (Epistle to the Hebrews).  This love is the self-emptying love of God, active as the Holy Spirit.

This Christian paradox is seen everywhere and in every aspect of Christianity.   There is a liturgical piety which puts all emphasis on the resurrection of Christ, "Christ is Risen!"; and this is absolutely central to Christianity.   

There are those who put all their emphasis on Christ's Passion and centre their piety on images of Christ's suffering and death; but this would make no sense if Christ had not risen - it is just that they can identify with Christ's suffering better than with his resurrection; but what fills them with hope and joy is that Christ has risen, because the love by which he freely suffered has conquered suffering and has given meaning to their suffering also.   The suffering and the darkness they experience in the present are in Christ the prelude to joy and light.   The titles they give their images of Christ's suffering and death express their belief in th Christian paradox: a buffeted and suffering Christ is called "the Captive Lord" or "the Just Judge"; an image of Christ dead on the cross is called "the Lord of miracles", "the Lord of Life", "the Lord of Agony". He is called "Lord" in his very weakness and death because Christ is Risen!

Hence, the transfiguration in light of St Seraphim of Sarov shows us the true meaning of the stigmata or wounds of crucifixion on the body of St Francis of Assisi, and the stigmata of St Francis of Assisi tell us that the experience of luminous transformation in St Seraphim indicates the extent to which he shared in the passion of Christ.  Transfiguration and crucifixion cannot be separated.

The Christian paradox also turns ecclesiastical authority on its head. If you follow all that Christ has to say about how his disciples should exercise their authority, and if you accept all he says as he says it, you will already know that Christian authority is fundamentally different from ordinary, everyday authority in the world.  I shall be content to simply quote Pope Francis.

To the Chaldean Church, suffering persecution in Syria, Iraq and other places,
Pope Francis told the Synod of the Chaldean Church to “empty and humble themselves” reminding them “the only authority is the authority of service, the only power is the power of the Cross”.
The Pope addressed members of the synod earlier today, speaking about the responsible use of authority in the Church, saying that “journeying together is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice”.
The Holy Father urged them to “keep always before you the image of the Good Shepherd who is concerned for the salvation of his sheep … May you imitate him: zealous in seeking the salus animarum of priests as well as laity, realising full well that the exercise of communion sometimes demands a genuine kenosis, a self-abasement and self-spoliation.

He gives this message fairly constantly: Christian authority is kenotic, it enables, it does not impose, it allows, it is ready to step aside, hoping that people will learn from experience.  It does all this because that is what God does, and we can only follow God's lead.

"The only authority is service."   Christ taught this when he washed the feet of his disciples:
"You do not understand what I have done?  You call me Master and Lord, and rightly:so I am.  If I, as Master and Lord, have washed your feet, you should wash each other's feet..  I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you."

Pope Francis, talking about his universal ministry, has said that the basic question about his universal jurisdiction over the whole Church can realistically be asked in a different way, How many feet can he wash?   When the question is asked within an evangelical context, when Christian authority is modelled on Christ's authority rather than on worldly authority, it ceases simply to be a threat to other churches.   

"The only power is the power of the Cross."  We have an icon in our chapel in Peru called "The Marriage of the Lamb."   In it, Christ is quite dead, but standing in his tomb.   ('Dead but standing' is a reference to the Lamb in the Apocalypse which is hailed as the Lion of Judah but appears as a gutted lamb: Apoc. 4, 6).  His Mother, dressed in the clothes of a Byzantine bride, embraces the standing body.   Although dead, there is a glimmer of light deep within the body, ready to burst out and transform the body at the moment of resurrection.  However, this is not apparent now.   All we see is Christ's obedience unto death and Mary's assent to her Son's death in life.   This brought about a union of the two that is likened to marriage: Mary becomes the new Eve, the personification of the Church in her relationship to Christ's Adam.  This self-identification with Christ on the Cross which we celebrate in the Eucharist is the very source of all the Church's powers.  Fundamentally, all the Church's powers are different ways of exercising that love and obedience 'unto death' which Christ put into practice on the Cross and to which Mary assented, becoming by that fact Mother of all Christians.  When the popes forget this, they cease to be recognisable as a Christian institution.  The Church is a visible entity, but it only becomes visible to the world by living the Love that Christ revealed on the Cross.

Hence, Pope Francis told the Polish bishops recently, we must take on aggressive modern secularism, not primarily by criticising those who are its victims, but by out-loving them.  Let modern human beings come to realise that God loves them infinitely more than the secular world does.  When people realise this, they will come to Christ in droves; but the Church itself must manifest this crucified Love to the world, because it is its only Light capable of transfiguring the modern world.

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