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August 6, 2022

Homily Two on the Transfiguration of the Lord (St. Chrysostomos of Smyrna)

By St. Chrysostomos, Metropolitan of Smyrna

(Delivered on August 4, 1912)

From the event of the Lord's Transfiguration begins the second period of the Lord's public life, which was his final journey to Jerusalem, where the passion, the cross, and death awaited Him, which were also the main purpose of His life on earth, and the object of the preaching and the preparation of the first part of His early ministry.

But when the first period of the Lord's public life on earth began by a sign from heaven in Jordan, then the heavens were opened, and a voice came from there: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11). Similarly, this second period begins with a sign from the sky: "Suddenly, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice came from the cloud, saying: This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased."

But in this second period of His life, which began with the transfiguration, Jesus no longer had the aim of teaching the multitudes or performing miracles; He had taught many teachings; He had performed many wonderful works. Now it was time to prepare the disciples for his passion and death.

After so many exalted teachings, after so many amazing miracles, he had to show His disciples the end that awaited Him and the associated inseparable passion and sufferings, betrayals, renunciations, reproaches, sufferings, Golgotha, the Cross, death. It was not possible for Him to preach these things publicly, and to His Apostles He barely dared to reveal them, but now it was to reveal it to them as well, and to prepare them to bravely accept them, while at the same time precautions were not needed to take!

First of all, it was necessary, in order to make sure of the faith of those who were near to Him, to ask them those two big questions: a.) "Who do people say that I the Son of man am?" and b.) "Who do you say that I am?" And when it was confirmed by the great and official confession of Peter, saying "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God", the disciples knew that he was the Son of God, and from then on He began to tell them the future things were happening to Him: "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the High Priest and the Scribes, and they will condemn Him to death" and so on. That He must go to the prophet-killing city and there become the object of a horrible tragedy and the game and prey of the most cruel and horrible death by the cross and that on the third day He will be resurrected, that is to say, after the cross will come glory, after death the resurrection, after the descent into Hades, the Ascension into the heavens.

But because the passion and the death were inevitable and clear, for these were also the Lord's daily lot, the glory and the resurrection was a hidden and unknown and incomprehensible mystery to the disciples, especially because of the Lord's great sacrifice and magnanimity, walking towards a certain and voluntary death, which appeared to the disciples and especially to Peter, foolish, and the disciples were bitterly scandalized that their teacher was going to die, because they did not understand the Scriptures according to which the Messiah was destined to willingly die for the world in order to save the world. Because of this, with His special daily teachings to the Apostles, whose constant object and theme of His sermon was the approaching betrayal and arrest and His death on the cross, throughout the period from being in the parts of Caesarea Philippi on His way back to Mount Tabor, he sharpened the faith and strengthened the character of the disciples, and when He reached Mount Tabor He set His sights precisely on this goal of performing the greatest and most glorious miracle of His Transfiguration, in order to show a small glimpse of the unattainable glory, which with the Cross awaits the conqueror of the passion and death, and so that it may take root in the hearts of the disciples the belief that Golgotha will be succeeded by the Resurrection, and the three-day underground burial by the glorious Ascension to heaven.

Therefore, this miracle of the divine and majestic Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor was in a way a foreshadowing and a foretelling of the Lord's life-giving Resurrection from the dead, of His wondrous Ascension from the Mount of Olives, and of His glorious Second Coming, so that "when they see You crucified and dead in the tomb, they may understand Your voluntary passion, and proclaim to the world that You who suffered and died willingly are truly the Savior of the world, the Christ, the radiance of the Father."

This miracle took place as follows and under the following circumstances of the Lord.

Jesus departed from Caesarea Philippi, where He had asked His disciples those two great questions, about which we said above, and having passed the Jordan and the lake of Gennesaret he arrived and landed in the great plain of Jezreel, which occupies such a famous position in the history of Israel, and in the middle of which as a high point dominating the whole plain of Palestine rises this wonderful Mount Tabor, which rises 850 meters above the surface of the sea.

Down there in the foothills of the mountain, when Jesus arrived, He saw a large crowd of people, awaiting the one who was about to appear, and they followed Him; there He ordered His nine disciples and the whole crowd to wait, and He took the three leader disciples, that is, the two sons of thunder, James and John, and the rock of faith, Peter, because they alone were judged worthy to be spectators and eyewitnesses of His ineffable majesty and to see the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father, a son by nature and not by grace, filled with grace and truth, and touching the hearts of those who are strengthened to hold on to their faith, so that they may stand steadfast later to contemplate and see His unimaginable and unspeakable humiliation.

Towards evening it was time to climb the mountain; it took a two-hour hike to reach the top; the nightingale began to spread its black wings over the mountain. Christ moved a little away from His disciples to pray alone. In the midst of this, the disciples, exhausted from the hike and climbing the mountain, and weary for sleep, fell asleep.

Christ prays alone, and the object of His prayer is His approaching death, which He was about to undergo in Jerusalem. The prayer of Jesus is so majestic in the solitude of that mountain! what an inspiration! what an entreaty! What greatness there must have been in that prayer! From the splendor of the transfiguration we are able to judge the greatness of that prayer, because at the time of the performance of that prayer the transfiguration took place!

Christ is praying, then suddenly the night is illuminated by a light of brilliant and unparalleled beauty. Mount Tabor was enveloped in such a splendor of divine light, so that light, emanating, and its lightning were the only tangible things to which the Apostles were able to compare the divine and incomparable brightness and radiance.

Christ prays, and this noetic Sun of Righteousness becomes the focus and center of a new and unusual dazzling light: His face shines like the sun when it is in mid-heaven and dawns with a pure light on everything. Rays and waves of joyful and unexpected light with incomparable brilliance are emitted from the body of the praying Jesus; and those clothes of His reflect a brilliant and incomparable whiteness, which is a weak image of the most-white and most-pure color of the light which can be give when approaching.

In the midst of that unusual light-pouring, in a way that surpasses all understanding, two beautiful and brilliant forms appear.

Source: «Ἱερὸς Πολύκαρπος» Ἔτος Β΄, Σμύρνη, ἀρ. 70, 4.8.1912, σσ. 1122-1125. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.