Breathing with both lungs
"The Church must breathe with her two lungs!" (Pope John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, no. 54). By the “two lungs” the Pope meant the Western and the Eastern Christian theological Traditions. They are both valid, they complement each other and help each other. They often shed a splendid light on each other.
As christians, and Catholics we should lead the world with our capacity to make things “catholic” i.e. universal: valid for all. We can't do that without at least letting both lungs work.
The richness that the Gospel's Seed develops on each part of the world belongs to everybody and all of us need all its parts.
The mystery of the “Transfiguration of the Lord” is a very special example of the diversity of the two traditions. This makes it a strategic point in the life of the Church. In a matter that important as the “Transfiguration” we need to let the two lungs work very well. Therefore the Eastern Tradition should be explored, deepened and explained. Everybody will benefit from it.
Did you know that both traditions see the Transfiguration in a different way?
For the Western Theological Tradition (embodied in st Thomas' Aquinas commentary, and in the Preface of the Roman Missal) Christ did objectively change, He was really transfigured, His clothes changed colour and aspect, His Face as well, and a real Cloud hovered over the Apostles, Moses and Elijah, and Jesus, and overshadowed them. This event is considered to be very useful for the Apostles in order to help them go through the toughness of the Passion of Christ (it strengthened them).
The Eastern Theological Tradition, without negating the fact that this huge grace and event must have had a important effect on the Apostles in order to help them to go through the trial of the Passion, offers quite a different understanding of that Event.
Let me state few facts that characterise the Eastern vision of the Transfiguration:
First: All the mystery of prayer is enclosed in the Mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Therefore this mystery is central in the Teaching on Prayer. It embodies it. For instance we can see that S Luke's version of the Transfiguration focuses on its relation with “Prayer”: they went up “to pray” (Luke 9:28).
Second: any Iconograph, starts his Mission in the Church, exercising himself first on the Icon of the Transfiguration. It is with this Icon that he/she works on the Light. The “contemplation of Light”, and “expressing it” are central in the Iconograph's Mission.
Third: Jesus didn't physically change that day! From day one, from the moment when the Son of God receives a human nature in Mary's womb, His human nature is, in a way, “transfigured” by this union (the union, in One Person, the Person of the Eternal Son of God, between the two natures).
Fourth: The Apostles, by climbing the Mountain with the transformative Force of Jesus, are purified and transfigured so they are made capable of seeing Jesus as He is. Jesus is the one who changes them.
Fifth: In the Transfiguration, the Apostles did contemplate the Uncreated Nature of Jesus (and not a created light).
Sixth: The Transfiguration is the fulfilment of the Promise made right before it by Jesus Himself to show to some of them the Kingdom: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God. About eight days after Jesus said this [promise], he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying [...]” (Luke 9:27-29).
I am sure there are many other aspects but, as you can already see, if you combine these 6 elements of the Eastern Theological Tradition, you'll find revolutionary understanding of the Transfiguration that will open amazing new horizons.
First, there is a Promise: Jesus speaks to his Apostles and prophesies to them that some of them won't die before seeing the Kingdom (or the “see the Son of God coming in his kingdom” (Mt 16:28)). Applied to us, this means the same: amongst the people who read the Gospel or listen to its Proclamation in the Mass, there are people standing there who will have an amazing experience.
Second: by climbing the Mountain we find a lot of information useful to understand Jesus' Action on the Apostles: “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart.” (Mt 17:1)
- “took with him” He grabs them with His Power. He saves them, bringing them from darkness to His Light.
- Election of some: because they are more fervent.
- “Led them up”: again Jesus Action.
- “a high mountain”: the quality of His Action.
- “apart”: content of His Action.
He is capable of transforming the human being, bringing the “new being” into life and into its fulness. So we “become like Him”, and therefore can “see him as He is”: “we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Third: the discovery that the apostles changed and that we are invited to change like them becomes the foundation of our Christian life, setting for us the real goal: to be transformed in Christ in order to “see Him as He is”. This is the core of “Spiritual Theology”: divinisation, or transformation. We understand that this central task embodies everything for us in our Christian life, including our “Spiritual life”.
We understand why and how the Transfiguration is such an amazing event for the Theological Spiritual Eastern Tradition. It is our Treasure. To a degree, it embodies all the Gospel.
We can easily, as well, understand the importance of its' Feast, every year (6th of August).