Tuesday, 25 October 2016

164: Lectio Divina, from the Human to the Divine Author

The Sacramental Nature of the Proclamation of the Word of God

Listening to the Word is epitomised in the word “Manducatio” (Latin) or "Manducation", which is an obsolete word that means "the taking of food", to consume the Word, chew, eat, ruminate, digest, intake.
Manducation” is used in monastic theology, and refers to the full operation of eating the Word of God, the English equivalent being “ingestion”.
This operation is a sacred operation for when Jesus wants to talk to us He gives us a Word. His Words are Spirit and Life, Holy Spirit and Divine Life. Receiving this Word is therefore a sacred operation. In the most recent theological thought and in the Magisterium we often find underlined the Sacramental dimension of the manducatio of the Word of God.
Listening to the Word of God at Mass - during the Liturgy of the Word and thereafter through the Daily Readings – is, consequently, a sacramental operation. In any sacrament, we have at least two dimensions: the visible Sign used (ie. water, wine, oil,...) and the invisible Grace. In the case of the ingestion of the Word of God (liturgically) we also have two dimensions: 1- The letter or literal meaning of the text, audibly proclaimed and 2- The invisible Word that Jesus utters. The Risen Lord, present among us uses one of the words of these texts, or an expression or a verse to talk to us, to say something to us, to give us a Word. The operation is like the Eucharist where the breaking of the Bread of His Word also takes place.

In this sacred operation and sacrament, the golden thread of the Communication of the Grace of God is an intelligible one. The words that are proclaimed are words that we are supposed to grasp with our mind, and the Word that the Lord will pronounce, even if it is sacred, will use our mind, lifting it up, and nourishing it with God's Light and Love. Other Sacraments, the normal seven sacraments - except Confession - have a more reduced use of the mind and a greater use of the symbol (Water, Oil, Bread, Wine,...). These other sacraments (except Confession) may talk essentially more to the depths of our being (the spirit) which is a supra-conscious area (above consciousness) rather than the conscious mind.

The Sacramental Dimension of the Process of Listening to the Word of God

The operation of the manducation of the word of God, having to deal with the human mind throughout, faces various challenges and temptations that can become obstacles. Why so? It is very important to notice that in modern times the Church has to clearly define the co-existence in the Bible of two authors: the Divine Author of the entire Bible who inspired all the words and who inspired only the words that God wanted the human authors to put down, and the said human authors who used their individual styles, capacities, talents, experience in order to write the sacred texts under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The existence of the human authors and a correct understanding of the Catholic Theory of Inspiration of the Bible led the Church to impel exegetes to study the human authors, their literary styles, intentions, tools,... in order to fully understand the text.

The science of exegesis was dedicated for more than 150 years to this study. The analysis of the texts with all scientific tools available to understand its letter or literal meaning was deployed with great energy and enthusiasm. As a result many studies and monographic works were written to explain each book of the Bible. All human industry was involved in this endeavour. As a result, often the researcher and writer as well as the reader have the impression of knowing the ins and outs of each book. All this effort can only be praised. It is needed and we can never afford to have the Bible in our hands without using these results, particularly the soundest ones.

Now, if we come back to the sacramental operation of the manducatio of the the Word of God, we will find that two movements are needed: 1- explained in the one described above: understanding the text in its context, understanding the intent of the Author, and the tools and ways he used these in order to express it. 2- the need to lift up the mind, to focus the mind (our inner ear) on the Divine Author, on the Risen Lord who wants to talk to us.

The first operation is realised through the natural light of reason and at the most with the general help of the Grace of God, the general Light of Faith.
The second operation can only be achieved with the specific help of the Grace of God, ie. the direct and personal intervention of the Holy Spirit in us, facilitating the communication (or coming) of the Word of Jesus in us.

The pitfall that any believer can fall into is to reduce or transform the operation of listening (manducatio) into the first operation: understanding the text, and extracting from it all that a serious intelligent study can offer. After completing this first action and thinking that he knows by then the ins and outs of the text, he or she will hit the "bottom" of the Word (see drawing)... will block the Sacramental operation, will make the text opaque and not transparent.
If we were to use the image of stained glass, we can say that focusing on the strictly literal meaning, thinking that we possess the ins and outs of it, is like focusing only on the pigment of a pane of stained glass. There is no vision of the essence of the stained glass, there is no vision of the light that comes through it. The excessive focus only on the stained glass itself, the closeness of our attention to it, makes it paradoxically opaque. It ends up by blocking the Word that comes from God through the literal meaning of the text.

The study of the text in this way, the study of the human author instead of remaining open to God, to the Divine Author, imprisons the human understanding of it, enclosing the text in the human comprehension of the mind. It puts the Divine Author into the shade and makes Him vanish. The sacred operation of listening, ingesting the Word ,cannot take place.
Thus the act of faith in the Word is improperly done, it ends at the bottom of the text instead of ending at Jesus' Mouth so to speak.

Catholic Theory of Inspiration

Here is the correct expression of the catholic theory of inspiration: "For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write - He was so present to them - that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood [use of the mind], then willed faithfully [use of the will] to write down, and finally expressed [art of expressing] in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise, it could not be said that He was the Author of the entire Scripture." (Pope Leo XIII, "Providentissimus Deus", 20) It is because the Holy Spirit was capable of elevating their minds and moving them, moving their will, helping them in the art of choosing, that God is the Author.

If we understand properly the catholic theory of inspiration, we will understand how the Holy Spirit inspired the human authors, guided their minds to choose the words He wanted, moved their wills to choose them and help their judgement, to choose the words and only those words that God wanted. Understanding properly how God is the Real Main author of the Bible and in which exact sense the human author is author, is to see the exact interaction between the Holy Spirit and the different faculties of the human author, to adjust thoroughly our act of faith in the Word of God that we read, and to show us how it is as bottomless as stained glass is. It shows the exact perspective from which the study of the human author must be viewed as this will determine the contours of the Word of God, and will avoid the “bottom” or basic meaning (see drawing below). In sum, if we study the limits of each piece of the stained glass we are in fact studying its human expression. But it is God from within, or the light from behind, that illumines the Text, makes it alive, makes it Sacramental, ie. under the Power of the Action of the Holy Spirit, here and now, every time the Sacrament is given (every time the Word is proclaimed and afterward “manducated” during Lectio Divina).


When practising Lectio Divina, we need first to understand the text, and we cannot avoid this step. The material aspect of the Word, the text, the material aspect of the Sacrament has to be laid down, explained, understood.
As a second stage, one has to allow a sacramental "distance" with the Text in order to listen through/to, to read through it, exactly as we would do with a beautiful pane of stained glass. After having contemplated the beauty of the craftsmanship, we will need to go back a few meters, lift our gaze to the entire stained glass window and see through it the light, the reflections that it offers to the Divine Light of the Risen Lord. Only under these conditions can the Lord talk to us.

Our Act of Faith in the Word we read could be weakened by attending at length to the exegetical explanations offered by serious studies. We could then have the impression of understanding the text, its ins and outs, and end up by hitting an opaque wall (the bottom of the Sacred Text) instead of renewing our Act of Faith in the Fact that these Words are inspired by God and that therefore their limits are God's limits, that their "bottom" so to speak is God himself, Jesus himself who inspired them and who wants to talk to us.
We are therefore invited to go from, first, a human understanding (at most with the general help of the Light of Faith) to a divine knowledge directly and personally given to us by the Holy Spirit, here and now, that does not come to us aside from the letter of the text, but through it, exactly as the Light does with the Stained Glass. The correct sacramental balance here between the Letter and the Spirit, between the limits that the letter offers (only a contour) and the amazing new depths that God can offer to it here and now, is achieved!

It is never a choice between the Letter and the Spirit. It is a choice not to remain imprisoned in the letter, but seeing that the letter has an opening toward God, allowing the Risen Lord here and now to talk to us.
It is never a matter of twisting the letter to our liking. It is never taking under our control the letter, trying to guess what the Lord wants to say. It is about doing a vigorous act of Faith in God who inspired this letter, and who is present here and now and capable to make it alive today in a unique way, so it becomes real food for all of our being and not a purely intellectual endeavour.

As we can see, the correct understanding of the catholic theory/notion of inspiration with its delicate divine vertical balance between the Divine Author and the human author, offers the only way for a Sacramental Manducation of the Word of God.

If any of the authors is misunderstood, or if the relationship between the two authors is misunderstood, our act of Faith during the Proclamation of the Word and during the Lectio Divina Manducation will be blocked and the Grace of God will not be "triggered" and will definitely not come through.


Thursday, 20 October 2016

Homily on the Transfiguration of Christ (St. Cyril of Alexandria)


By St. Cyril of Alexandria
(Commentary on Luke, Homily 51)

But I say unto you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste of death, until they have seen the kingdom of God. After about eight days, He took Peter, and John, and James, and went up to the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the look of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white, shining like lightning. And behold! two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who having appeared in glory, spoke of His death that He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Peter and they that were with him however were heavy with sleep, but having roused themselves, they saw His glory, and the two men that stood with Him. And it came to pass, that when they were separating from Him, Peter said unto Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tabernacles, one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah," not knowing what he was saying. While he spoke these things, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them; and they feared as they entered the cloud. And there was a voice from the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, hear Him." And when there was the voice, Jesus was found alone; and they kept silence, and told no man in those days any of the things they had seen. (Luke 9:27-36)

Those who are skillful in the combat rejoice when the spectators clap their hands, and are roused to a glorious height of courage by the hope of the chaplets of victory. So those whoso desire it are to be counted worthy of the divine gifts, and who thirst to be made partakers of the hope prepared for the saints, who joyfully undergo combats for piety's sake towards Christ, and lead elect lives, not setting store by a thankless indolence, nor indulging in a mean timidity, but rather manfully resisting every temptation, and setting at nought the violence of persecutions, while they count it gain to suffer on His behalf. For they remember that the blessed Paul thus writes, "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy of the glory that is about to be revealed in us."

Observe, therefore, how perfectly beautiful is the method which our Lord Jesus Christ uses here also for the benefit and edification of the holy Apostles. For He had said unto them, "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross every day, and follow Me. For he that will save his life shall lose it; and he that will lose his life for My sake shall find it." The commandment is indeed both for the salvation and honor of the saints, and the cause of the highest glory, and the means of perfect joy. For the choosing to suffer for the sake of Christ is not a thankless duty, but on the contrary makes us sharers in everlasting life, and the glory that is prepared. But as the disciples had not yet obtained power from on high, it probably occasionally happened, that they also fell into human weaknesses, and when thinking over with themselves any such saying as this, may have asked "how does a man deny himself?" or "how having lost himself does he find himself again?" And "what reward will compensate those who thus suffer?" Or "of what gifts will they be made partakers?" To rescue them therefore from such timid thoughts, and, so to speak, to mold them unto manliness, by begetting in them a desire of the glory about to be bestowed upon them, He says, "I say unto you, there are some of those standing here, who shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God." Does He mean that the measure of their lives will be so greatly prolonged as even to reach to that time when He will descend from heaven at the consummation of the world, to bestow upon the saints the kingdom prepared for them? Even this was possible for Him, for He is omnipotent, and there is nothing impossible or difficult to His all-powerful will. But by "the kingdom of God" He means the sight of the glory in which He will appear at His manifestation to the inhabitants of earth: for He will come in the glory of God the Father, and not in low estate like unto us. 

How therefore did He make those who had received the promise spectators of a thing so wonderful? He goes up the mountain taking with Him three chosen disciples, and is transformed to so surpassing and godlike a brightness, that His garments even glittered with rays of fire, and seemed to flash like lightning. And besides, Moses and Elijah stood at Jesus' side, and spake with one another of His departure, which He was about, it says, to accomplish at Jerusalem: by which is meant the mystery of the dispensation in the flesh; and of His precious suffering upon the cross. For it is also true that the law of Moses, and the word of the holy prophets, foretold the mystery of Christ: the one by types and shadows, painting it, so to speak, as in a picture; while the rest in manifold ways declared beforehand, both that in due time He would appear in our likeness, and for the salvation and life of us all, consent to suffer death upon the tree. The standing, therefore, of Moses and Elijah before Him, and their talking with one another, was a sort of representation, excellently displaying our Lord Jesus Christ, as having the law and the prophets for His body guard, as being the Lord of the law and the prophets, and as foreshown in them by those things which in mutual agreement they before proclaimed. For the words of the prophets are not at variance with the teachings of the law. And this I imagine was what Moses the most priestly and Elijah the most distinguished of the prophets were talking of with one another.

But the blessed disciples sleep awhile, as Christ continued long in prayer - for He performed these human duties as belonging to the dispensation - and afterwards on awaking they became spectators of changes thus splendid and glorious. And the divine Peter, thinking perchance, that the time of the kingdom of God was even now come, proposes dwellings on the mountain, and says that it is fitting there should be three tabernacles, one for Christ, and the others for the other two, Moses and Elijah. "But he knew not," it says, "what he was saying." For it was not the time of the consummation of the world, nor for the saints to take possession of the hope promised to them; for as Paul says, "He will change our humble body into the likeness of His, that is, Christ's glorious body." As therefore the dispensation was still at its commencement, and not yet fulfilled, how would it have been fitting for Christ to have abandoned His love to the world, and have departed from His purpose of suffering in its behalf? For He redeemed all under heaven, by both undergoing death in the flesh, and by abolishing it by the resurrection from the dead. Peter therefore knew not what he said.

But besides the wonderful and ineffable sight of Christ's glory, something else was done, useful and necessary for the confirmation of their faith in Him: and not for the disciples only, but even for us too. For a voice was given forth from the cloud above, as from God the Father, saying: "This is My beloved Son, hear Him. And when there was the voice," it says, "Jesus was found alone." What then will he who is disputatious and disobedient, and whose heart is incurable, say to these things? Lo! Moses is there, and does the Father command the holy apostles to hear him? Had it been His will that they should follow the commandments of Moses, He would have said, I suppose, "Obey Moses; keep the law." But this was not what God the Father here said, but in the presence of Moses and the prophets, He commands them rather to hear Him. And that the truth might not be subverted by any, affirming that the Father rather bade them hear Moses, and not Christ the Savior of us all, the Evangelist has clearly marked it, saying, "When there was the voice, Jesus was found alone." When therefore God the Father, from the cloud overhead, commanded the holy apostles, saying, "Hear Him," Moses was far away, and Elijah too was no longer nigh; but Christ was there alone. Him therefore He commanded them to obey.

For He also is the end of the law and the prophets, for which reason He cried aloud to the multitudes of the Jews: "If ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed Me also, for he wrote of Me." But as they persevered even unto the end in despising the commandment given by the most wise Moses, and in rejecting the word of the holy prophets, they have justly been alienated and expelled from those blessings that were promised to their fathers. For "obedience is better than sacrifices, and to hearken than the fat of rams," as the Scripture saith. And thus much then of the Jews, but upon us who have acknowledged the revelation, all these blessings have necessarily been bestowed, by means of and as the gift of the same Christ, by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, 10 October 2016

A Day with St Elisabeth of the Trinity on the occasion of her Canonisation

On Saturday 15th October, we are happy to present a one day course on Elisabeth of the Trinity. She was a French Carmelite nun whose messages on the Interior Life would be of great value to us all. She will be canonised on Sunday 16th October and we invite you to attend the course to learn about the life and message of this courageous nun.

A day with Elisabeth of the Trinity

Saturday 15th October 2016

What content is covered?

The lectures during this day with her will focus on four key areas:

1. Knowing her life
2. An introduction to her writings
3. An introduction to her doctrine
4. Discovering and praying her "Prayer to the Trinity"

Dates and times of the Course are:

15th October 2016, from 10 am to 4:30 pm.

Refreshments are provided. Please bring a packed lunch.

Where does the course take place?

The course will take place at St Mary of the Angels, Moorhouse Road, Bayswater, London, W2 5DJ. ('Notting Hill Gate' or 'Bayswater' Tube Stations and Buses 7, 23, 27, 28, 31, 70, 328)

Who will teach the course? 

The course will be taught by Jean Khoury, a full-time theologian who has studied and taught Spiritual Life in the Church for over twenty years. As well as lecturing world-wide on spiritual life and meditation, Jean is the author of several books, articles and studies on spiritual life and the founder of the School of Mary, a three-level formation in spiritual life (www.amorvincit.com).

Jean obtained a degree in Philosophy from the Institut Catholique de Toulouse (France), a Licence in Theology from the Teresianum (Rome) and a Masters in Spiritual Theology from the Institute Catholique de Toulouse (France). He is currently completing his PhD in Spiritual Theology at the Angelicum (Rome) with Monsignor François-Marie Léthel. Courses at the School of Mary constitute his sole source of income.

How much will the course cost?

The cost for the course is £25 for the day.

* Email schoolofmarylondon@gmail.com with your name and contact details and we will be in touch with details of how to pay the fee by bank transfer.

If you have any questions, please do phone Rufaro at: 07940904834

Who is Elisabeth of the Trinity? 

Elisabeth of the Trinity is a French Carmelite nun. She was born is 1880 at Bourges, France, entered at the age of 21 at the Carmelite Monastery of Dijon, and lived only 5 years and died at the age of 26 on the 9th of November 1906. 

She is much less known than her other French sister, St Therese of the Child Jesus, but deserves to be known as well for her life and message to the world. She is more discreet and her message is mainly on interiority. Her doctrine is so rich and deserves to be discovered. 

She said: "I think that in Heaven my mission will be to draw souls by helping them to go out of themselves in order to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence within which will allow God to communicate Himself to them and to transform them into Himself".

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Homily on the Transfiguration of Christ (St. Leo the Great)

A Homily delivered on the Saturday before the Second Sunday in Lent — On the Transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-13.
By St. Leo the Great

I. Peter's confession shown to lead up to the Transfiguration
The Gospel lesson, dearly-beloved, which has reached the inner hearing of our minds through our bodily ears, calls us to the understanding of a great mystery, to which we shall by the help of God's grace the better attain, if we turn our attention to what is narrated just before.
The Savior of mankind, Jesus Christ, in founding that faith, which recalls the wicked to righteousness and the dead to life, used to instruct His disciples by admonitory teaching and by miraculous acts to the end that He, the Christ, might be believed to be at once the Only-begotten of God and the Son of Man. For the one without the other was of no avail to salvation, and it was equally dangerous to have believed the Lord Jesus Christ to be either only God without manhood, or only man without Godhead, since both had equally to be confessed, because just as true manhood existed in His Godhead, so true Godhead existed in His manhood. To strengthen, therefore, their most wholesome knowledge of this belief, the Lord had asked His disciples, among the various opinions of others, what they themselves believed, or thought about Him: whereat the Apostle Peter, by the revelation of the Most High Father passing beyond things corporeal and surmounting things human by the noetic eyes, saw Him to be Son of the living God, and acknowledged the glory of the Godhead, because he looked not at the substance of His flesh and blood alone; and with this lofty faith Christ was so well pleased that he received the fullness of blessing, and was endued with the holy firmness of the inviolable Rock on which the Church should be built and conquer the gates of hell and the laws of death, so that, in loosing or binding the petitions of any whatsoever, only that should be ratified in heaven which had been settled by the judgment of Peter.

II. The same continued
But this exalted and highly-praised understanding, dearly-beloved, had also to be instructed on the mystery of Christ's lower substance, lest the Apostle's faith, being raised to the glory of confessing the Deity in Christ, should deem the reception of our weakness unworthy of the impassible God, and incongruous, and should believe the human nature to be so glorified in Him as to be incapable of suffering punishment, or being dissolved in death. And, therefore, when the Lord said that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and scribes and chief priests, and the third day rise again, the blessed Peter who, being illumined with light from above, was burning with the heat of his confession, rejected their mocking insults and the disgrace of the most cruel death, with, as he thought, a loyal and outspoken contempt, but was checked by a kindly rebuke from Jesus and animated with the desire to share His suffering. For the Savior's exhortation that followed, instilled and taught this, that they who wished to follow Him should deny themselves, and count the loss of temporal things as light in the hope of things eternal; because he alone could save his soul that did not fear to lose it for Christ. In order, therefore, that the Apostles might entertain this happy, constant courage with their whole heart, and have no tremblings about the harshness of taking up the cross, and that they might not be ashamed of the punishment of Christ, nor think what He endured disgraceful for themselves (for the bitterness of suffering was to be displayed without despite to His glorious power), Jesus took Peter and James and his brother John, and ascending a very high mountain with them apart, showed them the brightness of His glory; because, although they had recognized the majesty of God in Him, yet the power of His body, wherein His Deity was contained, they did not know. And, therefore, rightly and significantly, had He promised that certain of the disciples standing by should not taste death till they saw the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom, that is, in the kingly brilliance which, as specially belonging to the nature of His assumed manhood, He wished to be conspicuous to these three men. For the unspeakable and unapproachable vision of the Godhead Itself which is reserved till eternal life for the pure in heart, they could in no wise look upon and see while still surrounded with mortal flesh. The Lord displays His glory, therefore, before chosen witnesses, and invests that bodily shape which He shared with others with such splendor, that His face was like the sun's brightness and His garments equaled the whiteness of snow.

III. The object and the meaning of the Transfiguration
And in this Transfiguration the foremost object was to remove the offense of the cross from the disciple's heart, and to prevent their faith being disturbed by the humiliation of His voluntary Passion by revealing to them the excellence of His hidden dignity. But with no less foresight, the foundation was laid of the Holy Church's hope, that the whole body of Christ might realize the character of the change which it would have to receive, and that the members might promise themselves a share in that honor which had already shone forth in their Head. About which the Lord had Himself said, when He spoke of the majesty of His coming, "Then shall the righteous shine as the sun in their Father's Kingdom" (Matt. 13:43), while the blessed Apostle Paul bears witness to the self-same thing, and says: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18), and again, "For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. For when Christ our life shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:3). But to confirm the Apostles and assist them to all knowledge, still further instruction was conveyed by that miracle.

IV. The significance of the appearance of Moses and Elias
For Moses and Elias, that is the Law and the Prophets, appeared talking with the Lord; that in the presence of those five men might most truly be fulfilled what was said: "In two or three witnesses stands every word" (Deut. 19:15). What more stable, what more steadfast than this word, in the proclamation of which the trumpet of the Old and of the New Testament joins, and the documentary evidence of the ancient witnesses combine with the teaching of the Gospel? For the pages of both covenants corroborate each other, and He Whom under the veil of mysteries the types that went before had promised, is displayed clearly and conspicuously by the splendor of the present glory. Because, as says the blessed John, "The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (Jn. 1:17), in Whom is fulfilled both the promise of prophetic figures and the purpose of the legal ordinances: for He both teaches the truth of prophecy by His presence, and renders the commands possible through grace.

V. St. Peter's suggestion contrary to the Divine order
The Apostle Peter, therefore, being excited by the revelation of these mysteries, despising things mundane and scorning things earthly, was seized with a sort of frenzied craving for the things eternal, and being filled with rapture at the whole vision, desired to make his abode with Jesus in the place where he had been blessed with the manifestation of His glory. Whence also he says, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you will let us make three tabernacles, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elias." But to this proposal the Lord made no answer, signifying that what he wanted was not indeed wicked, but contrary to the Divine order: since the world could not be saved, except by Christ's death, and by the Lord's example the faithful were called upon to believe that, although there ought not to be any doubt about the promises of happiness, yet we should understand that amidst the trials of this life we must ask for the power of endurance rather than the glory, because the joyousness of reigning cannot precede the times of suffering.

VI. The importance of the Father's voice from the cloud
And so while He was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold a voice out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him." The Father was indeed present in the Son, and in the Lord's brightness, which He had tempered to the disciples' sight, the Father's Essence was not separated from the Only-begotten, but, in order to emphasize the two-fold personality, as the effulgence of the Son's body displayed the Son to their sight, so the Father's voice from out the cloud announced the Father to their hearing. And when this voice was heard, the disciples fell upon their faces, and were sore afraid, trembling at the majesty, not only of the Father, but also of the Son: for they now had a deeper insight into the undivided Deity of Both, and in their fear they did not separate the One from the Other, because they doubted not in their faith. That was a wide and manifold testimony, therefore, and contained a fuller meaning than struck the ear. For when the Father said, "This is My beloved Son, in Whom," etc., was it not clearly meant, "This is My Son, Whose it is to be eternally from Me and with Me? Because the Begetter is not anterior to the Begotten, nor the Begotten posterior to the Begetter. This is My Son, Who is separated from Me, neither by Godhead, nor by power, nor by eternity. This is My Son, not adopted, but true-born, not created from another source, but begotten of Me, nor yet made like Me from another nature, but born equal to Me of My nature. This is My Son, through Whom all things were made, and without Whom was nothing made because all things that I do He does in like manner, and whatever I perform, He performs with Me inseparably and without difference, for the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son, and Our Unity is never divided. And though I am One Who begot, and He the Other Whom I begot, yet is it wrong for you to think anything of Him which is not possible of Me. This is My Son, Who sought not by grasping, and seized not in greediness, that equality with Me which He has, but remaining in the form of My glory, that He might carry out Our common plan for the restoration of mankind, He lowered the unchangeable Godhead even to the form of a slave.

VII. Who it is we have to hear
Hear Him, therefore, unhesitatingly, in Whom I am throughout well pleased, and by Whose preaching I am manifested, by Whose humiliation I am glorified; because He is the Truth and the Life, He is My Power and Wisdom. Hear Him, Whom the mysteries of the Law have foretold, Whom the mouths of prophets have sung. Hear Him, Who redeems the world by His blood, Who binds the devil, and carries off his chattels, Who destroys the bond of sin, and the compact of the transgression. Hear Him, Who opens the way to heaven, and by the punishment of the cross prepares for you the steps of ascent to the Kingdom? Why do you tremble at being redeemed? Why do you fear to be healed of your wounds? Let that happen which Christ wills and I will. Cast away all fleshly fear, and arm yourselves with faithful constancy; for it is unworthy that you should fear in the Savior's Passion what by His good gift you shall not have to fear even at your own end."

VIII. The Father's words have a universal application to the whole Church
These things, dearly-beloved, were said not for their profit only, who heard them with their own ears, but in these three Apostles the whole Church has learned all that their eyes saw and their ears heard. Let all men's faith then be established, according to the preaching of the most holy Gospel, and let no one be ashamed of Christ's cross, through which the world was redeemed. And let not any one fear to suffer for righteousness' sake, or doubt of the fulfilment of the promises, for this reason, that through toil we pass to rest and through death to life; since all the weakness of our humility was assumed by Him, in Whom, if we abide in the acknowledgment and love of Him, we conquer as He conquered, and receive what he promised, because, whether to the performance of His commands or to the endurance of adversities, the Father's fore-announcing voice should always be sounding in our ears, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; hear Him:" Who lives and reigns, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.

Homily on the Transfiguration of Christ (St. Ephraim the Syrian) copied

Sermon on the Transfiguration of our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ
By St. Ephraim the Syrian

1. From the land comes the joy of harvest, from the vineyard fruits that give food, and from the Scriptures teaching that gives life. The land has one season for the harvest, and the vineyard has one season for the vintage, but the Scripture when read always overflows with teaching that gives life. The land when it has been harvested lies fallow and the vineyard when the grapes have been picked is unproductive, but when Scripture is harvested the grapes of those who expound it are not lacking in it. It is picked every day and the grape clusters of the hope in it are never exhausted. Let us then draw near to this land and enjoy its life-giving furrows; and let us harvest from it grapes of life, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said to his Disciples, ‘There are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of man coming in his glory’.[1]

2. ‘And after six days he took Simon Peter and James and John his brother to a very high mountain and he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white like light’.[2] Men whom he said would not taste death until they saw the image of his coming, are those whom he took and led up the mountain and showed them how he was going to come on the last day in the glory of his divinity and in the body of his humanity.

3. He led them up the mountain to show them who the Son is and whose he is. Because when he asked them, ‘Whom do men say the Son of man is?’[3] They said to him, some Elias, others Jeremias, or one of the Prophets. This is why he leads them up the mountain and shows them that he is not Elias, but the God of Elias; again, that he is not Jeremias, but the one who sanctified Jeremias in his mother’s womb;[4] not one of the Prophets, but the Lord of the Prophets, who also sent them. And he shows them that he is the maker of heaven and earth, and that he is Lord of living and dead. For he gave orders to heaven and brought down Elias, and made a sign to the earth and raised up Moses.

4. He led them up the mountain to show them that he is the Son of God, born from the Father before the ages and in the last times incarnate from the Virgin, as he knows how, born ineffably and without seed, preserving her virginity incorrupt; for wherever God wills it, the order of nature is overcome.[5] For God the Word dwelt in the Virgin’s womb, and the fire of his divinity did not consume the members of the Virgin’s body, but protected them carefully by its nine month presence. He dwelt in the Virgin’s womb, not abhorring the unpleasant smell of nature, and God incarnate came forth from her to save us.

5. He led them up the mountain to show them the glory of the godhead and to make known to them that he is the redeemer of Israel, as he had shown through the Prophets, and they should not be scandalised in him when they saw his voluntary sufferings, which as man he was about to suffer for us. For they knew him as a man, but did not know that he was God. They knew him as son of Mary, going about with them in the world[6], and he made known to them on the mountain that he was Son of God and God. They saw that he ate and drank, toiled and rested, dozed and slept, things which did not accord with his divine nature, but only with his humanity, and so he took them to the mountain that the Father might call him Son[7] and show that he is truly his Son and that he is God.

6. He led them up the mountain and showed them his kingship before his passion, and his power before his death, and his glory before his disgrace, and his honour before his dishonour, so that, when he was arrested and crucified by the Jews, they might know that he was not crucified through weakness, but willingly by his good pleasure for the salvation of the world.

7. He led them up the mountain and showed the glory of his divinity before the resurrection, so that when he rose from the dead in the glory of his divine nature, they might know that it was not because of his harsh toil that he accepted glory, as if he lacked it, but it was his before the ages with the Father and together with the Father, as he said as he was coming to his voluntary passion,[8] ‘Father, glorify me with the glory which I had with you before the world existed’.[9]

8. And so on the mountain he showed his Apostles the glory of his divinity, concealed and hidden by his humanity. For they saw his face bright as lightning and his garments white as light. They saw two suns; one in the sky, as usual, and one unusually; one visible in the firmament and lighting the world, and one, his face, visible to them alone. His garments white as light showed that the glory of his divinity flooded from his whole body, and his light shone from all his members. For his flesh did not shine with splendour from without, like Moses,[10] but the glory of his divinity flooded from him. His light dawned and was drawn together in him. Nor did depart somewhere else and leave him, because it did come from another place and adorn him, nor was it for his use. And he did not display the whole depth of his glory, but only as much as the limits of their eyes could encompass.[11]

9. ‘And there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him’.[12] And the words that they said to him were such as these: they were thanking him that their words and those of all their fellow Prophets had been fulfilled by his coming. They offered him worship for the salvation which he had wrought for the world for the human race; and that he had fulfilled in reality the mystery they had only sketched. There was joy for the Prophets and the Apostles by this ascent of the mountain. The Prophets rejoiced when they saw his humanity, which they had not known. The Apostles also rejoiced when they saw the glory of his divinity, which they had not known, and heard the voice of the Father bearing witness to his Son; and through this they recognised his incarnation, which was concealed from them. And the witness of the three was sealed by the Father’s voice and by Moses and Elias, who stood by him like servants, and they looked to one another: the Prophets to the Apostles and the Apostles to the Prophets. There the authors of the old covenant saw the authors of the new. Holy Moses saw Simon the sanctified; the steward of the Father saw the administrator of the Son. The former divided the sea for the people to walk in the middle of the waves; the latter raised a tent for the building of the Church. The virgin of the old covenant saw the virgin of the new:[13] [Elias and John;] the one who mounted on the chariot of fire and the one who leaned on the breast of the flame. And the mountain became a type of the Church, and on it Jesus united the two covenants, which the Church received, and made known to us that he is the giver of the two. The one received his mysteries; the other revealed the glory of his works.

10. Simon said, “It is good for us to be here, Lord”.[14] “Simon, what are you saying? If we remain here, who fulfils the word of the Prophets? Who seals the sayings of the heralds? Who brings to perfection the mysteries of the just? If we remain here, in whom are the words, ‘They dug my hands and my feet’[15] fulfilled? To whom do the words, ‘They parted my garments among them, and cast lots for my clothing’[16] apply? To whom does, ‘They gave me gall as my food, and with vinegar they quenched my thirst’[17] relate? Who confirms, ‘Free among the dead?’[18] If we remain here, who will tear up the record of Adam’s debt?[19] And who will pay his debt in full? And who will restore to him the garment of glory?[20] If we remain here, how will all that I have said to you come to pass? How will the Church be built?[21] How will you take the keys of the kingdom of heaven from me?[22] What will you bind? What will you loose? If we remain here, everything that was said through the Prophets will come to nothing.”

11. He then said, “Let us make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elias”.[23] Simon was sent to build the Church in the world, and he is making tents on the mountain; for he was still looking at Jesus in human terms, and placed him with Moses and Elias. And besides this he showed him that he did not need his tent, for it was he who had made for his fathers a tent of cloud in the desert for forty years.[24] “For while he was still speaking, a cloud of light overshadowed them”. [25] “Do you see a tent made without toil, Simon? A tent that prevents heat and contains no darkness? A tent that blazes and shines?”[26]

12. And while the Disciples were marvelling, out of the cloud a voice was heard from the Father, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.”[27] At the voice of the Father, Moses returned to his place and Elias returned to his country, and the Apostles fell on their faces to the ground, and Jesus stood alone, because the voice was fulfilled in him alone. The Prophets left and the Apostles fell to the ground, because the Father’s voice in witness, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him”, was not fulfilled in them. The Father taught them that Moses’ dispensation was fulfilled, and that they should listen to the Son, “For Moses, as a servant, spoke what he was ordered to, and he proclaimed what he had been told, and so did all the Prophets, until the one to whom it belongs has come,[28] that is Jesus, who is Son, not servant, Lord and not slave, who is master and not subject, lawgiver and not subject to the law. By divine nature, ‘This is my beloved Son’”. On the mountain the Father made known to the Apostles what was hidden from them. The One Who Is[29] reveals the One Who Is. The Father makes known the Son.

13. At that voice the Apostles fell on their faces to the ground; for there was a fearsome thunder, so that the earth shook at his voice, and they fell to the ground.[30] It showed them that the Father had drawn near; and the Son called them with his voice and raised them up.[31] For as the voice of the Father had thrown them down, so too the voice of the Son, raised them up by the strength of his divinity, which dwelt in his flesh and was united in it without change, both remain indivisibly and unconfusedly in one hypostasis and one person. He did not, like Moses, become resplendent from without, but as God he blazed with glory. For Moses was anointed with splendour by the appearance of his face, while Jesus in his whole body blazed, like the sun with its rays, with the glory of his divinity.

14. And the Father cried out, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him”. The Son was not separated from the glory of the godhead, for the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit are one nature, one power and once essence and one kingship. And he cried out to one with a simple name[32] and with fearsome glory. And Mary called him ‘son’, not separated from the glory of his divinity by his human nature; for he is one, God who appeared in a body to the world. His glory revealed the divine nature that was from the Father, and his body revealed his human nature that was from Mary; both natures coming together and being united in one hypostasis. Only begotten from the Father, and only begotten from Mary. And anyone who parts him will be parted from his kingdom, and anyone who confounds his natures will perish from his life. May anyone who denies that Mary gave birth to God not see the glory of his divinity; and anyone who denies that he bore a sinless body will be cast out from salvation and from the life that has been given through his body.

15. The facts themselves bear witness and his divine acts of power teach those who doubt that he is true God, and his sufferings show that he is true man.[33] And if those who are feeble in understanding are not fully assured, they will pay the penalty on his dread day. If he was not flesh, why was Mary introduced at all? And if he was not God, whom was Gabriel calling Lord? If he was not flesh, who was lying in the manger? And if he was not God, whom did the Angels come down and glorify? If he was not flesh, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes? And if he was not God, whom did the shepherds worship? If he was not flesh, whom did Joseph circumcise? And if he was not God, in whose honour did the star speed through the heavens? If he was not flesh, whom did Mary suckle? And if he was not God, to whom did the Magi offer gifts? If he was not flesh, whom did Symeon carry in his arms? And if he was not God, to whom did he say, “Let me depart in peace”?[34] If he was not flesh, whom did Joseph take and flee into Egypt? And if he was not God, in whom were words “Out of Egypt I have called my Son” fulfilled?[35] If he was not flesh, whom did John baptise? And if he was not God, to whom did the Father from heaven say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”? If he was not flesh, who fasted and hungered in the desert? And if he was not God, whom did the Angels come down and serve? If he was not flesh, who was invited to the wedding in Cana of Galilee? And if he was not God, who turned the water into wine? If he was not flesh, in whose hands were the loaves? And if he was not God, who satisfied crowds and thousands in the desert, not counting women and children, from five loaves and two fishes? If he was not flesh, who fell asleep in the boat? And if he was not God, who rebuked the winds and the sea? If he was not flesh, with whom did Simon the Pharisee eat? And if he was not God, who pardoned the offences of the sinful woman? If he was not flesh, who sat by the well, worn out by the journey? And if he was not God, who gave living water to the woman of Samaria and reprehended her because she had had five husbands? If he was not flesh, who wore human garments? And if he was not God, who did acts of power and wonders?[36] If he was not flesh, who spat on the ground and made clay? And if he was not God, who through the clay compelled the eyes to see? If he was not flesh, who wept at Lazarus’ grave? And if he was not God, who by his command brought out one four days dead? If he was not flesh, who sat on the foal? And if he was not God, whom did the crowds go out to meet with glory? If he was not flesh, whom did the Jews arrest? And if he was not God, who gave an order to the earth and threw them onto their faces.[37] If he was not flesh, who was struck with a blow? And if he was not God, who cured the ear that had been cut off by Peter and restored it to its place? If he was not flesh, who received spittings on his face? And if he was not God, who breathed the Holy Spirit into the faces of his Apostles? If he was not flesh, who stood before Pilate at the judgement seat? And if he was not God, who made Pilate’s wife afraid by a dream? If he was not flesh, whose garments did the soldiers strip off and divide? And if he was not God, how was the sun darkened at the cross? If he was not flesh, who was hung on the cross? And if he was not God, who shook the earth from its foundations? If he was not flesh, whose hands and feet were transfixed by nails? And if he was not God, how was the veil of the temple rent, the rocks broken and the graves opened? If he was not flesh, who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me”? And if he was not God, who said “Father, forgive them”? If he was not flesh, who was hung on a cross with the thieves? And if he was not God, how did he say to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”? If he was not flesh, to whom did they offer vinegar and gall? And if he was not God, on hearing whose voice did Hades tremble? If he was not flesh, whose side did the lance pierce, and blood and water came out? And if he was not God, who smashed to gates of Hades and tear apart it bonds? And at whose command did the imprisoned dead come out? If he was not flesh, whom did the Apostles see in the upper room? And if he was not God, how did he enter when the doors were shut? If he was not flesh, the marks of the nails and the lance in whose hands and side did Thomas handle? And if he was not God, to whom did he cry out, “My Lord and my God”? If he was not flesh, who ate by the sea of Tiberias? And if he was not God, at whose command was the net filled? If he was not flesh, whom did the Apostles and Angels see being taken up into heaven? And if he was not God, to whom was heaven opened, whom did the Powers worship in fear and whom did the Father invite to “Sit at my right hand”. As David said, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, etc.” If he was not God and man, our salvation is a lie, and the words of the Prophets are lies.

16. But the Prophets spoke the truth, and their testimonies were not lies. The Holy Spirit spoke through them what they had been commanded. So too John the pure, who leant on the breast of flame,[38] reinforcing the voices of the Prophets, speaking of God in Gospels, taught us when he said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him nothing that was made, was made. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.[39] God the Word from God and only begotten Son from the Father, consubstantial with the Father; the One who is from the One who is, preeternal Word, ineffably born, without a mother, from the Father before all the ages. The same is born, without a father, in the last times from a daughter of man, from Mary the virgin, as God incarnate, bearing flesh from her, and becoming man, which he was not, while remaining God, which he was, that he might save the world. And he is the Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten from the Father, and only begotten from a mother.

17. I confess[40] the same to be perfect God and perfect man, acknowledged in the two natures united hypostatically, or in person, indivisibly, unconfusedly and unchangeably; having put on flesh that is animated by a rational and intelligent soul, in all things becoming passible like us, sin alone excepted. He is both earthly and heavenly, temporary and eternal, starting and without beginning, timeless and subject to time, created and uncreated, passible and impassible, God and man, perfect in both, one in two and in two one. One person of the Father, one person of the Son, and one person of the Holy Spirit. One godhead, one power, one kingship in three persons or hypostases. So we glorify the Holy Unity in Trinity, and the Holy Trinity in Unity. In this the Father cried out, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him”.

18. All this the holy Catholic Church of God has received. In this Holy Trinity it baptises for eternal life. Into this Trinity it sanctifies with equal honour, confesses it without separation, without division; worships it without error, confesses and glorifies it. To this Unity in three persons belong glory, thanksgiving, honour, might, majesty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and always, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

[1] Matt. 16:28, but quoted from memory. The biblical text has ‘in his kingdom’. This saying is regularly linked to the Transfiguration, which follows immediately, by the Fathers.

[2] Matt. 17:1-2. The reading ‘very’, rather than ‘apart’, is that of D. ‘Simon’ is not in the text of the Gospel.

[3] Matt. 16:13.

[4] Jer. 1:5.

[5] This sentence is frequent in the liturgical texts. In the second Kathisma for Christmas Matins it is given as a quotation, “But as it is written: ‘where God so wills the order of nature is overcome.’” But what is the source? It occurs in inauthentic texts attributed to St Athanasios and St John Chrysostom and in St John Damascene’s Sacra Parallela. Athanasios Quaestiones aliae [spur.], Response 19 [PG 28:792, ll. 15-16]. Cf. Sermon on the Natvity [Sp.], [PG 28: 960, l.28]. Chrysostom On the Nativity [dub.], [PG 56: 385, l. 33]. John Damascene Sacra Parallela, [PG 95:1265, l.19]. In the first passage from Athanasios the text appears to be a citation.

[6] Cf. Baruch 3:38, one of the key ’incarnation’ texts from the Old Testament.

[7] Matt. 17:5.

[8] This phrase forms the opening of the Dismissal for the first half of Holy Week in the Byzantine rite.

[9] John 17:5. Again the citation is free, omitting ‘with yourself’ after ‘Father’. This is odd, since the somewhat awkward repetition in the original would seem to be the explanation of the curious repetition in the previous sentence, ‘with[syn] the Father and together with [meta] the Father’. The former is the preposition used of the Holy Spirit in the Creed. There is also an echo of Philippians 3:6-8.

[10] Cf. Exodus 34:29-34.

[11] This idea is a feature of the liturgical texts for the feast and is found in St John Chrysostom’s commentary on this passage.

[12] Matt. 17:3.

[13] The same idea is found in St John Damascene’s homily on the feast, ‘Today the virgin of the old proclaims to the virgin of the new the good tidings of the Lord, the virgin born from a Virgin’. He does not name Elias and John, and it is more than likely that the words ‘Elias and John’ in the present text are a gloss that should be deleted, especially since the next sentence makes the references quite clear.

[14] Matt. 17:4.

[15] Psalm 21:17.

[16] Psalm 21:19.

[17] Psalm 68:22.

[18] Psalm 87:5.

[19] Cf. Colossians 2:14.

[20] Adam’s ‘garment of glory’ is a theme of Jewish exegesis and is found in the Syriac texts.

[21] Cf. Matt. 16:18.

[22] Cf. Matt. 16:19.

[23] Matt. 17:4.

[24] Cf. Exodus 40:34-38, “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting”.

[25] Matt. 17:5.

[26] It is not clear whether these questions, as in the previous paragraph, are the imaginary words of Christ. I think it is likely and have therefore put them in quotation marks.

[27] Matt. 17:5.

[28] Cf. Gen. 49:10. This verse presents many problems, of both text and interpretation. Many mss have the finite verb, as here. And this is the almost unanimous reading of the Fathers. Modern critical editions of the lxx prefer the participle, which is the reading of the great uncials.

[29] Exodus 3:14.

[30] Matt. 17:6.

[31] Matt. 17:7.

[32] i.e. ‘Son’.

[33] The following list of contrasting pairs of sentences to highlight the two natures of Christ is like a number of similar ones in the Fathers. In Greek there is one towards the end of St Gregory the Divine’s third Theological Oration, On The Son; another in St Cyril of Jerusalem’s fourth Catechetical Lecture. In Latin St Leo the Great has similar passages both in his Tome to Patriarch Flavian (Letter 28) and in his letter to the Monks of Palestine (Letter 124). In Syriac the list in Narsai’s seventeenth Homily, An Exposition of the Mysteries, most closely resembles the one in our text both in length and rhetorical form. Since the allusions to the Gospels are clear, I have not overloaded the translation with a list of references in the footnotes.

[34] In the liturgical tradition Symeon addresses his prayer the Infant in his arms.

[35] The chronology of the events surrounding Christ’s nativity implied by the order in this list is interesting.

[36] At first sight this ‘couplet’ is curious. All the others can be easily linked to specific incidents in the Gospels, whereas this one seems quite general, and the modern Greek translator gives no reference. It is, I believe, a reference to the healing of the woman with a haemorrhage, Matt. 9:20-22, where the Gospel mentions Jesus’ clothing, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made whole”.

[37] This goes some way beyond what the text says.

[38] That Christ’s body is one ‘of flame’ is a feature of St Romanos’ Kontakion 30, On the Apostle Thomas, though the references here are to the risen Christ.

[39] John 1:1-3, 14.

[40] This confession of faith uses strongly Chalcedonian in language is unlikely, to say the least, to have been written by St Ephrem, who died some eighty years earlier.

Source: Translated by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash.