Opening address by the Prior of Bose

1. The Transfiguration as revelation of the Kingdom of God.

The Transfiguration is an event prophesied by Jesus, who after the first announcement of his passion-death-resurrection told his disciples: “Verily I say unto you that there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (Mk 9.1; cf Mt 16.28; Lk 9.27). Some disciples therefore are destined to a vision before their death, and will see during their terrestrial life the coming of the Kingdom of God (Mk and Lk), will see the coming of the Son of man (Mt). Like the Elder Symeon who had obtained from the Holy Spirit “that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Lk 2.26), some receive a similar promise from Christ himself: the Kingdom of God, which Matthew identifies with the Son of Man, that is with Christ himself, will be shown to them. Jesus is the Kingdom of God in person, he is the autobasileia, the self-same Kingdom, as Origen well understood (Commentary on Matthew XIV 7, 10.7 [on Mt 18.23]).
Six days (Mk and Mt) or 8 days (Lk) after these words were spoken, “Jesus taketh with him Peter and James and John and leadeth them up into a high mount apart by themselves”(Mk 9.2). He makes a choice, out of the twelve he selects and takes them with him only three, those that were among the first to be called to follow him (cf. Mk 1.16-20). They are the three disciples most close to Jesus, those who had already been invited to witness the resurrection of the daugther of Jairus (cf. Mk 5.37-43), those who will also witness the de-figuration of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, on the eve of his passion (cf. Mk 14.32-42). They are selected not for particular virtue or merit, but in the inscrutable will of God, so that they may render testimony, become witness of Jesus, witnesses par excellence: Peter will be “a witness (martys) of the sufferings of Christ and also a partaker (koinonos) of the glory that shall be revealed” (1 Pet 5.1); James and John will drink from the cup and will be baptised, according to the promise made by Jesus (cf. Mk 10.38-39). They will be witnesses and therefore martyrs!
It is they whom Jesus took with him, who went with him on the high mountain, the mountain of the revelation of God, which ever since the 2nd century AD (cf. Gospel of the Hebrews, cited by Origen in Homilies on Jeremiah, XV 4.21) is identified with Mount Thabor, mentioned also in Psalm 89.13. If this ascent on the mountain echos all the accounts of Epiphany, of the revelation of God in the Old Testament: mounts Sinai and Horeb, which are one and the same mountain (cf. Ex 3.1) where Moses ascented and descented (cf. Ex 19-34) and Elijah (cf. 1Kings 19.1-18); “the mountain of the Lord’s house exalted above the hills” (Isa 2.2; Mic 4.21)…
Therefore this ascent, which Mark and Matthew emphasize that it is directed to a “mountain apart” (cf. Mk 9.2; Mt 17.1) while Luke specifies that its purpose was prayer (cf. Lk 9.28), happens in view of an important event, in which the disciples will enjoy a revelation prepared by God, a revelation which concerns their Master, whom Peter had confessed a little earlier as Christ Messiah (cf. Mk 8.29 et par). And while Jesus was praying, “he was transfigured” (divine passive form metemorphothe: Mk 9.2; Mt 17.2), underwent a change of form in garments and body. Luke, fearing that the readers of the Gospel will perceive this event as a myth, as a metamorphosis in the manner of Greek pagan rites, prefers a more neutral expression: “the fashion of his countenance was altered” (heteros Lk 9.29). We note here how the event is truly inexpressible and how the language of the Gospels is inadequate: Matthew says that “his raiment was white as the light”, Mark describes the garments as “shining, exceeding white so as no fuller on earth can white them”, Luke defines them “glistering”. The three accounts attempt therefore to describe the light of these garments, having surely in mind that light is the garment that envelops God (cf. Ps 104.2); in truth, however, the source of this light is Jesus himself: this is why the body of Christ was transfigured (Mk and Mt), his countenance shone like the sun (Mt) and the fashion of his countenance was altered (Lk).
In place of the everyday human body and face of Christ as the disciples knew it, the change allows an altered face to be seen, a luminous face, a face transfigured by a power which could only be divine. If Paul confessed in the hymn in the Letter to the Philippians:

Who, being in the form of God (en morphe Theou)
Thought it not robbery
To be equal with God;
But made himself of no reputation
And took upon him the form of a servant (morphe doulou)
And was made in the likeness of man:
Being found in fashion as a man (Phil. 2.6-7)

in the Transfiguration, he who had taken up the form of a servant takes upon him his Godly form and shines with divine light. Origen had noted how the Transfiguration echos the abovementioned passage. He writes:

You wish to know whether the disciples, when Jesus was transformed before those he had led to the mountain, saw Jesus in the form of God, which he had before, having taken up on earth the form of a servant? Well, listen to these words, if you are able, in a spiritual sense and note that it is not said solely that he was transfigured but that “he was transfigured before them” as St Matthew and St Mark say. You will then reach the conclusion that it is possible that he was transfigured before some and before others not. (Commentary on Matthew, XII 37.1-21 [on Mt 17.2]).

Something of the glory, of the light of God is resplendent in Jesus, as far as the disciples were able to see: Jesus appears in the form of one of the “righteous shining forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (cf. Mt. 13.43), as he himself had revealed; appears as one of the holy wise men who “shall shine in the firmament as stars for ever and ever” (Dan 12.3). What happens therefore is a true Christophany, a theophany such as those recounted in the Old Testament for Moses (cf. Ex 3.1-15; 34.5-28), Elijah (cf. 1Kings 19.1-18) and other prophets, notably Isiah (cf. Isa 6) and Ezekiel (Ezek 1).