Home Articles Spirituality Transfiguration

RSS Syndication

Subscribe to my RSS Feed!
feed image


Transfiguration PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, October 12 2004 19:00
The icon of the Transfiguration shows Jesus in the center, with Moses the lawgiver on his left and the prophet Elijah on his right. These three figures who stand against a golden sky wear long robes, and Jesus is surrounded by a cloud of glory. He raises his right hand in blessing as he reveals his divinity.

Below the three standing figures sprawl Peter, James, and John, the most favored of Jesus’ disciples. They are clearly distraught, overcome by the dazzling show of the Lord’s glory. Unlike the Lord and the two great figures from the Hebrew Bible, they do not have haloes around their heads.

The icon described here bears the Greek title, The Metamorphosis, meaning the transformation. It celebrates the event in sacred history whereby the Lord Jesus reveals something of his divinity so as to strengthen his disciples before his forthcoming passion and death. This particular icon also celebrates the connection that Jesus has with Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah standing for the Prophets.

Icons like this one play a large part in Eastern Christianity. Members of the Orthodox and also the eastern Catholic churches make these images an important part of their spirituality. They draw inspiration from gazing on these works of art, allowing them to feed their souls.

Christians of the West tend to pay less attention to icons and leave them out of account in their spiritual life. Some, however, do find them helpful in developing prayerful patterns of daily living. For one day, at least, a group from my parish church took part in a day of prayer using the icon of the Transfiguration as a starting point.

For this occasion, a replica of this splendid icon was mounted on a stand for all to see. A lighted candle burned before it as a sign of spiritual presence. And the group of parishioners, following the lead of one of their priests, began by answering each part of a litany with the response “Let us pray to the Lord.”

This litany, or repetitive prayer of petition, came from the Byzantine liturgy that is used by many churches of the East. A recorded version of the Our Father in the Russian language was played, heightening an atmosphere conducive to prayer.

The first presenter, Ana-Maria, who in her professional life is a psychoanalyst, began her discussion by stating: “This icon is an image of you and me.” By saying this she meant that Christianity calls each person to share in God’s own life. Jesus, revealing his divinity, shows how people of faith can be raised above the human level and partake of the divine.

Ana-Maria acknowledged being sometimes “overwhelmed by life in general and by the mystery of God.” But she sees this experience of awe as an appropriate response to the glory suggested in the icon. For her, the Transfiguration also requires of believers that they share with each other their appreciation of the chance to live God’s own life.

Father Jim, in his presentation, rejected the idea of Christianity as enabling people to be good. Rather, this faith centers on the call to a transfigured life. “Don’t shoot merely for goodness,” he exhorted his listeners, “but for transfiguration.”

In looking at the icon, he suggested, one sees the purpose of life, namely to be transfigured, to be divinized. That is what God wants of human beings, according to basic Christianity. Another way of seeing it is that God calls everyone to become holy in the pattern of the glorified Jesus as shown in the icon.

Becoming transfigured is nothing humans can accomplish by themselves, however. Echoing Christian tradition, Father Jim stressed the role of the Spirit of God. “The Holy Spirit is the one who transfigures,” he said.

For those who follow the Christian tradition, spirituality refers ultimately to the Holy Spirit. It is not something generated by humans but instead depends on the activity of God in the human heart. One becomes a spiritual person through the loving initiative of the Spirit of God.

The people who took part in their parish’s day of recollection left after celebrating the Eucharist and reinvigorating their commitment to the transfigured Jesus. They returned to daily life with the image of the holy icon in their mind’s eye and with a renewed sense of their calling as Christians.

Richard Griffin