Transfigured Life (Part I)
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Transfiguration differ in some small but significant details. With typically colorful language, St Mark emphasizes Jesus’ garments, describing them as “glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.” St Luke adds that “the appearance of his countenance was altered”; and St Matthew declares, “his face shone like the sun.”
Each of these narratives makes the point that Jesus manifests what came to be called the shekinah, a word used in the Jewish Targums (Aramaic translations of the Old Testament, especially the Pentateuch). The term basically signifies “dwelling place,” but as the divine abode it connotes as well “glory.” The Jerusalem Targum on Leviticus 9:6, for example, reads: “the glory of the Shekinah of the Lord” will come upon the people as they seek atonement with God through various sacrificial offerings.
Each evangelist also offers unique details concerning the other figures in the Transfiguration scene. Luke elaborates most fully, declaring that Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus concerning the “departure” he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. The term used is exodon, a clear allusion to the New Exodus Jesus will endure through his crucifixion and fulfill by his resurrection. For his part, Matthew shows the interaction between Jesus and the disciples. They fall on their faces with “awe” or dread, only to be commanded, “Rise, and have no fear!”
Those who read or heard the Gospel account would immediately have recognized here a double allusion. The consoling words, “have no fear” is what has been termed a “formula of revelation,” as uttered by the archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation to the Theotokos (Lk 1:30), or by Christ himself as he approached his disciples in the darkness of night, walking on the water (Mt 14:27). And the initial order, “Rise!” is the same word that signifies “resurrection.” “Rise,” Jesus implicitly commands, “as you shall one day rise with me in glory!”
The Holy Fathers of the Church recognized in this passage not only a revelation of the true meaning of Jesus’ person and a manifestation of the Holy Trinity, analogous to the scene of Jesus’ baptism (the Father’s approving voice, the central focus on the Son, the presence and activity of the Spirit in the light or in the overshadowing cloud). They also found in this account a promise extended to all those who actively long to share in Christ’s death, resurrection and glorification.
~Adapted from John Breck, Transfigured Life, (http://oca.org/reflections/fr.-john-breck/transfigured-life), taken from the website of the Orthodox Church in America (http://oca.org/).