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Rooted in Detachment

Living the Transfiguration

Author(s): Kenneth Stevenson

ISBN13: 9780232526929

ISBN10: 0232526923

Publisher: Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd (25 Jun. 2007)

Extent: 144 pages

Binding: Paperback

Size: 13.5 x 0.5 x 21.6 cm

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  • Drawing on his own transfiguring life experiences, including a bout of leukemia, as well as from Eastern Christian iconography, the Fathers of the Church and other theologians, Kenneth Stevenson shares his own moving "lectio divina" on the Transfiguration.

  • Kenneth Stevenson

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    Rooted in Detachment will be an indispensable source for spiritual reading, prayer, study, patristic and liturgical theology, and preaching. Drawing from his own transfiguring life experiences, including a bout with leukaemia, as well as such diverse sources as Eastern Christian iconography, Origen, Jerome, Augustine, Chrysostom, Grundtvig, Jeremy Taylor, modern biblical scholarship, and others, Kenneth Stevenson shares with us his own disciplined lectio divina into which we are invited so that we may might contemplate and live the event and process of the Transfiguration of Christ. If an Eastern Christian icon is more properly described as "written," then this book is more properly described as "painted," an iconographic text in which the biblical narrative shines through for the reader to enter and experience.’

    - Maxwell E. Johnson, University of Notre Dame, USA


    ‘Deeply learned and deeply experiential - and the combination is a winning one. We learn to read the story of the Transfiguration of Christ through the eyes of writers ancient and modern, and also from the perspective of Stevenson’s encounter with leukaemia, which illuminates his reflections without taking them over. A worthy successor to Michael Ramsey’s The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ (1949).’

    - John Barton, Oriel & Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, Oxford University


    ‘At once clear and accessible, with wide learning, this is a book to enrich both prayer and scholarship. Whilst giving detailed attention to the biblical accounts, it is particularly strong on the way the transfiguration has been interpreted down the ages. All this is illuminated by the author’s own experience of serious illness.’

    - Richard Harries





    The Transfiguration stands as a gateway to the saving events of the Gospel.
    (A. M. Ramsey, 1904-88) (1)

    In the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow there is an icon of the Transfiguration. As one looks at it, the eye is taken straight to the central figure of Christ, bathed in white, with the two figures of Moses and Elijah on either side in deep yellow and brown. Below are the three disciples, Peter, James and John, also in yellow and brown, terror-struck by what is going on above them. But they are not cut off from the action, because each of them is at the receiving end of a blue ray emanating from Christ. There is also one detail not unknown in later Transfiguration icons that does not appear in earlier ones. Between the three upper figures and the three lower figures, as if both to exaggerate and to minimise the distance between the two zones, there are two much smaller scenes, which depict Jesus and the disciples ascending the mountain and then descending it. And as if to make the point that this is all about Christ himself, he stands out as the leader. He leads them up the mountain but he also leads them down.

    Icons are impossible to put into words, and this particular example, painted by Theophanes the Greek around the year 1403, is no exception. If I could describe it, there would be no point in painting (or writing as its technically called) in the first place. Unlike many in the earlier Greek style, this icon has no golden background that swoops all the figures into eternity and brings them right under our very noses. Instead the perspectives on eternity and history are shown primarily by the gold-backed Christ-figure, gleaming in white, and drawing both past (Moses and Elijah) and present (the three disciples) into a new kind of understanding of who they are and what they are called to be and do. In his study of the relationship between Byzantine Transfiguration iconography and theology, Andreas Andreopoulos shows how central this particular tradition has been and continues to be; indeed it is the scene that trainee icon-painters traditionally cut their teeth on; and the tradition for this scene is remarkable enough in itself. That suggests a kind of confirmation of what Michael Ramsey writes towards the end of his little masterpiece, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ, probably the only great book written on this subject in the twentieth century: The Transfiguration stands as a gateway to the saving events of the Gospel.

    The trouble with the word icon is that it has come to be used in so many connections in recent years. In some ways, this is a reversion to its original meaning: icon is, quite simply, the Greek word for a picture. And only four centuries ago, when the English language imported Greek and Latin words, all it meant was a likeness, whether in the form of a statue or, later on, an illustration in a book. It was only in the 1830s, when interest in the Christian East began to be felt, that icon took on a new lease of life: an icon became a holy picture, painted according to established rules in the Greek or Russian manner, with stylised figures, haloes on their heads, and difficulties in using the word more widely today are compounded by the fact that the secular icon is neither Christ, nor one of his followers in whom his redeeming grace has begun to triumph. Instead, it is a celebrity, someone held up to be ideal, someone glamorous, likeable, perhaps, but all the time waiting for the newspaper coverage of something shady from the past, or else a piece of bad luck in the future.

    There is nothing that has to be of necessity wrong or evil in the culture in which we are set. What Christians are called to do is identify its weaknesses, which we share with our contemporaries, as well celebrate and extend its strengths and challenges: the prophetic spirit can just as easily speak from right outside the confines of the community of faith, as both the Old and New Testaments make clear. That word transfigure is a case in point, the Christianisation of a word with a pagan background. It is taken from a Latin word, transfiguro, used around the time of Christ by writers such as Ovid (43 BC - c. AD 17), to describe the changes in form of gods and people in his (mainly Greek) stories, called the Metamorphoses, the long-established Greek word for the process. Transfigure was therefore the obvious word to use when translating how Jesus was metamorphosed on the mountain, as the Greek original puts it in two of the gospel narratives (Matt. 17:2; Mark 9:2). St Paul uses exactly the same word, metamorphose, change in form, when describing how the Christian is to be transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), a transformation and renewal that starts in this life by our not being conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2). Here is a prime example of a word being baptised by Christianity. The first known early Latin Christian writer to use transfiguro was Tertullian (c. 160, c. 225) in North Africa, echoing the version of the Latin Bible he used. The term as used in the New Testament, whether in the gospels or by Paul in his letters, is about a profound change, by God in the Christ through the spirit. Transfiguration therefore is not like a picture of something long dead and gone but resembles more an ikon that draws us into its own narrative, which is the life of God among us now.

    The icon by Theophanes, unlike many others, includes those smaller scenes of the trudge up the mountain and the walk back down. In other words, there is both ascent and descent. In order to see the transfigured Christ, we have to leave behind the familiar, but we also have to come down again; there can be no staying permanently in an unnaturally extended religious comfort zone. Interestingly, the painter of that icon takes care to depict Christ paying even more attention to the disciples on the way down than on the way up! But there is another reason for the choice: it is because of the Russian way of mixing the heavenly and the earthly, the white and shining Christ-figure surrounded by landscape and humanity in dirty yellows and browns. And just to make the point of the relationship between eternity and history even more subtle, it is in the hands of the figures that the challenges are perhaps most expressed, whether it is the welcoming Christ, the quizzical Moses and Elijah, or the terror-struck yearning of Peter, James and John. Here we do not see celebrities, in all their glossy and superficial perfection, tottering on their fragile way. Instead we see ourselves and our own world judged, challenged, and beautified - and faced down as well.

    The Theophanes icon, therefore, is a narrative of the Transfiguration. It is no static scene, but is full of movement, telling the events recorded in the first three gospels (Mark 9:19; Matt 16:28-17:9; Luke 9:27-37) as well as (more briefly) right at the end of the New Testament (2 Pet 1:16-19). To see the icon as a narrative is to open ones eyes to a different, more allusive way of looking at the gospel than many of us do most of the time. We are not just dealing with words, nor with comparing and contrasting the different ways in which the gospel-writers work (important though it is). We are dealing with events, with human beings, and the way Jesus confronts these events , Israels past , and challenges and renews his own followers as well. But the icon cannot tell the whole story. The icon is there to help us to pray. And that is one of the reasons why it has to direct us to the biblical narratives that inspired the iconographer in the first place. To these we shall now briefly turn, as an introduction to the more detailed reflections that will come later on with each of the succeeding chapters, whose themes are promise, ascent, change, visitors, enthusiasm, cloud, voice and descent.

    While New Testament commentaries on the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all discuss the Transfiguration from their respective points of view, (3) there have been very few books specifically on this subject. Two recent studies are notable exceptions. John Paul Heil looks at the narratives from the point of view of their relationship with the rest of each gospel (4). Dorothy Lee, on the other hand, examines each narrative, comparing them with each other, but with the rest of the New Testament as well (5). While New Testament scholars in the past have concentrated on what they thought lies behind the gospel narratives, a refreshing development in recent years, reflected partly in Lees book, is attention to the way the narratives have been interpreted down the centuries, the reception-history of the gospels (6). Here is a prime example of the importance of not seeing biblical studies living in a separate world from historical theology, and in that connection we must not overlook John McGuckins ground-breaking comparative study of the Transfiguration in the Greek and Latin Fathers of the first millennium (7). Because of the richness of the traditions associated with the Transfiguration, it is something of a surprise that these treasures, one of the main features of the pages that follow, have not been opened up more fully before. Regardless of what was included in the narratives and what was not, they have still been read by different groups of people, in some very different contexts, whether as part of Lenten (or pre-Lenten) discipline, as a special festival on 6 August, or on some other occasion, perhaps as the topic of a special sermon or series of sermons.

    What, then, of the narratives themselves, in the context of the gospel-writers? Todays consensus , although not entirely unanimous , is that Marks gospel is the earliest of the three. It is the shortest, and its portrait of Jesus is by far the most enigmatic. All the time, the underlying question concerns Jesus identity, and the extent to which this is either revealed by Jesus (does he know it himself?), or understood by his followers. As Lee puts it: The theme of the [Marcan narrative] is primarily Jesus identity, which is both manifest and secret at the same time" (8). This is shown in the three main variants in the Transfiguration narrative. The first is that, unlike Matthew and Luke, there is no reference to Jesus face (Mark 9:2); the second is the almost wistful reference to Jesus dazzling garments, such that no one on earth could bleach (Mark 9:2), pointing to the heavenly character of the transforming clothing; and the third is when Peter is depicted as not knowing what to say when he suggests building three tabernacles (Mark 9:6). Marks overall style is simple, sharp-edged, and as enigmatic as Jesus himself. And, as we shall see, it is his gospel which uses the inner cabinet of Peter, James and John more than the others, and which highlights their lack of understanding, even after the revelation on the mountain; in the middle of the very next chapter James and John themselves ask for ringside seats in the Kingdom (Mark 10:35).

    Marks narrative is both simple and unique. But hardly any sermons specifically on his version have come down to us. Jerome, good biblical scholar that he was, preached on it, probably at some time between 394 and 413. And he shows no signs of a tendency we shall come across in other preachers to harmonise the gospel-variants, instead pointing up the three special features we have just identified (ch. 2). Bishop John Wordsworth (1843-1911), on the other hand, preaching to the students of Salisbury Thekogical College, on 6 August 1911, uses the opening words of Marks narrative as the text (Mark 9:2), but then goes on to suggest that Lukes narrative should be used in any officially authorised Anglican revision! (9) The Venerable Bedes commentaries on the three gospel narratives, on the other hand, which come from Northumbria in the first part of the eighth century, show a profound awareness of their variants (10).

    With Matthews gospel, we are by contrast faced with the most read narrative of all, because of the position given to Matthew as the first gospel from earliest times. Both Mark and Matthew refer to a high mountain (Mark 9:2; Matt. 17:1), but for Matthew mountains are very significant. It is from the mountain that Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1); it is to the mountain that Jesus goes to pray (Matt 14:23); and it is on the mountain that Jesus heals the sick who are brought to him (Matt 15:29). And, after the mountain of Transfiguration, there follows death and resurrection, leading on to the final mountain, where Jesus commissions the disciples to go out and proclaim his message (Matt 28:19-20). Matthew, the most Jewish of the gospel-writers, sees Jesus as the heir of Moses, with the new Law, which is about the new Kingdom, proclaimed in the Beatitudes on that mountain, the heavenly Kingdom which is echoed in the opening words of the Lords Prayer (Matt 6:9-13). If Graham Stanton is right, the community that produced this gospel were thrown out of the synagogue and were forced to claim their identity in the proclaimed Jesus who had superseded Moses (11). This means that the variants in his narrative are crucial. Jesus face is mentioned, shining like the sun (Matt 17:2), in order to compare him with Moses on Mount Sinai (Exod 34:29-35). He reverses the order of Elijah and Moses from Marks account (Matt 17:3; cf. Mark 9:4). The Voice adds the words in whom I am well pleased (Matt 17:5), in order to underline his uniqueness, and to refer back to Jesus baptism (Matt. 3:17). And the awesome evocation of the memory of Sinai is redoubled with Matthews important addition at the end, when the disciples are full of fear, and Jesus comes to them, touches them, and tells them to rise up and not be afraid (Matt. 17:6-8), thus complementing the Voice that has spoken. Here is the new Moses indeed! As Lee puts it, On the mount of transfiguration, [Jesus] re-enacts the story of Moses ascent up Mount Sinai, revealing himself as the one who embodies the law in word and deed! We shall be encountering more treatment of Matthews narrative than any other, for the simple reason that until the liturgical changes of recent years, his was the gospel passage that was usually read in the West. This is still the case for the Eucharist on 6 August in much of the East. There are a number of consequences, principally the sheer stability of knowing one version, and one only, as well as the observable fact that iconography, for example, tends to reflect Matthews features, if any at all. The icon described earlier makes much of the disciples fear, with Christ almost appearing as if he is about to go down to them, touch them, and tell them to rise up and not be afraid. All this comes across in the many expositions and sermons of the Matthew account that we shall be looking at, whether by John Chrysostom (c.347-407) in late fourth-century Antioch (see Chapter 5) or Nikolai Grundtvig (1783-1872) in mid nineteenth-century Copenhagen (see Chapter 4). To the contemporary informed reader, accustomed to enjoying all three narratives in turn, such a concentration on Matthew may come across as lopsided, but it is still the principal choice of tradition, whether we like it or not.

    When it comes to Lukes gospel, we are on different territory altogether. Here is Jesus as the Lord of history, the middle of time, to echo the original German title of Hans Conzelmanns study some years ago (13). The portrait is still somewhat impressionistic, but there is always a greater sense of history unfolding than in either of the other gospels; hence, for example, the care with which Jesus birth is set in the much wider context of Roman Emperor and Roman governor (Luke 2:1), to say nothing of the list of ruling worthies that head up the following chapter, at the start of Jesus public ministry (Luke 3:1). With Luke, of course, we have the added advantage of two books, the gospel of Jesus and a history of the early church: hence the way that the former ends and the latter begins with the ascension, the culmination of Christs life and ministry (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:6-11). The variants in his narrative underscore these concerns. After about eight days (Luke 9:28) more obviously symbolises completion than after six days in the other two accounts (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2). Then, Jesus goes up to the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28), as he does at other significant points in his ministry, demonstrating his close relationship with the Father: at his baptism (Luke 3:21), before calling the disciples (Luke 6:12), before asking them about his identity (Luke 9:18), as well as in Gethsemane (Luke 22:40f), to say nothing of the poignant moment when he prays for those who are crucifying him (Luke 23:34). And then we have the special feature which, along with Jesus praying, is picked up by numerous preachers, even though they are basing themselves on Matthew(!), namely the way Moses and Elijah discuss with Jesus his exodus (departure) at Jerusalem. Luke, the historian gospel-writer, binds into his account a sense of purpose, prayer, and a direct relationship between this particular episode and those which follow.

    As we have just pointed out, Luke is referred to by Matthew-inspired preachers, just as not a few pick up the fact that Mark asserts that no earthly bleacher could provide a whiter garment (Mark 9:3). But unlike Mark, who attracts barely any daring expositor of old, there is a steady trickle of Luke-orientated writing, for example the commentary by Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-97), and the sermons by Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), Proclus of Constantinople (d. 446), followed by Timothy of Jerusalem in the sixth century, who is the most particular of the three in using the Lucan variants (14).

    Much later on, Luke acquiers a special place among Anglican preachers. We noted earlier John Wordsworth championing him. In the seventeenth century, as we shall see, both John Hacket (1590-1670; see Chapter 3) and Mark Frank (1613-64) based their preaching on his narrative (see Chapter 6), in Hackets case providing us with the most extensive course of sermons on the Transfiguration so far known. It is not hard to find an explanation, which may well be a mixture of the need to move away from Matthews prominence, as well as sheer entrancement with Lukes unique features. It may also have something to do with another of Lukes variants, the way he resists using the word transfigured for the more impressionistic change in the appearance of Jesus face (Luke 9:29).

    So far, we have concentrated on the gospel accounts, which inevitably leads to some consideration of how all this fits in with the liturgical tradition, how these narratives have been read across the centuries. Indeed, one of the strengths of Heils study is that he places the reader (for him, the audience) as the challenged participant in each gospel from the very beginning, so that the Transfiguration, while being still a profound surprise, pivots the audience back to understand its meaning both in the light of Jesus teaching about suffering and about the events about to unfold in relation to our redemption. As he puts it, heavenly glory lies not in the wish to escape but in the courage to embrace rejection, suffering, and death." It is this holistic insight on the Transfiguration, as an integral part of each gospel, that is an important marker to put down. now, before we embark on how it has been interpreted down the ages.

    But we need to look briefly at the way transfiguration fares in the rest of the New Testament. There is no Transfiguration narrative in the Fourth Gospel, because it is shot through with transfiguration from start to finish. After three days, the only time indication in the entire gospel and one that expresses completion in another way, Jesus performs the first of his great signs, at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). Michael Ramsey (16) makes a great deal of this theme, echoed in the root meaning of glory as reputation, renown, signalled at the very start, with the glory of the incarnate Word (John 1:14), and continuing with the other signs: the healing of the noblemans son (John 4:46-54), the impotent man (John 5:2-9), the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:4-13), the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-7), and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44). And he pushes the theme further into the Upper Room, with transformation dominating the mood of the so-called Farewell Discourses (John 13-16) and the High Priestly Prayer where Jesus offers himself to the Father (John 17) in a way that suggests that glory and cross are so closely linked as to be indistinguishable from each other. In the sermons and expositions of the Transfiguration we shall be looking at, the Fourth Gospel is sometimes in the background, for example in the rich preaching in the fourteenth century of Gregory Palamas (c. 1296-1359; see Chapter 7), where John seems to provide something of a frame for what he has to say.

    The same is true, to a lesser extent, of transforming texts in St Paul, whether of seeing Christ with unveiled face (2 Cor. 3:16-18), Christs humility and exaltation (Phil. 2:5-11), or of our bodies being transformed (Phil 3:21) (17). But the most used text by far is the testimony of the author of the Second Letter of Peter (2 Pet 1:16-19), where apostolic witness is central, but with a shortened narrative that mentions the mountain, the changed appearance of Jesus, and the voice, but not Moses and Elijah, Peters response, or the fear of the disciples, or the cloud (18). This is the passage most frequently adopted for the epistle reading for the Transfiguration as a feast in its own right, rather than as a narrative read in connection with Lenten observance, and understandably so.
    Space precludes a proper treatment of the rest of the New Testament, since our concern is with the tradition of interpretation of the narratives themselves. For the icon of the Transfiguration is invariably inspired by the three gospel narratives, even if it has tended to concentrate on Matthews version more than the other two. Central to the Transfigurations position in all three gospels is its relationship to the cross, in Matthew and Mark, but a few chapters further on (Matt 26-27; Mark 14-15), whereas in Luke there is much more of a gap (Luke 22-23), perhaps in part compensated for by Lukes insertion of the reference to Moses and Elijah talking about just this, the departure at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). Indeed, Jesus has already predicted his impending death beforehand (Matt. 16:21ff; Mark 8:31ff; Luke 9:21ff), with Peter refusing to accept it, and no sooner have the four of them come down from the mountain than Jesus begins to take up the same theme (Matt. 17:9ff; Mark 9:9ff, Luke 9:44f).

    How, then, do the icon and the living gospel narrative transfer into worship, whether in the collective context of a liturgy, or the simple use of a prayer-card in a Bible on which an icon may be illustrated? The answer is that the transference has already begun. We need to break down these neat distinctions. You cannot have icon without gospel narrative, and gospel narrative inevitably forms some sort of scene in the mind. The Transfiguration is so vivid and central a scene that it has audience participation from the word go, which pivots back into the rest of the gospel. In that sense, it is indeed a gateway to the cross, and beyond. And that is why the Christian tradition has never quite known how to handle it.

    In the Christian West, contemporary use of the Transfiguration narrative in the liturgy is lavish, which is why it is all the more important to think more deeply about it. It is read before or near the start of Lent, in order to relate it directly with those central events of Christs death and resurrection which it is supposed to prefigure, not as a kind of prepackaged reward in advance, in order to soften the pain, but as both a hope and a warning that the two belong together. The Roman Catholic Lectionary of 1969 stays with the Second Sunday in Lent, where it has been read since 1474, the difference being that the three gospels are read in sequence each year. But the earlier practice was not to read it on the Sunday, but from at least the time of Pope Leo the Great (d. 460) it was the Gospel set for the Ember Saturday, the day before, when ordinations took place, though, in the context of a Vigil Mass, in practice the Gospel was (at least originally), read early on the Sunday morning. John Chrysostom preached a course of sermons on Matthews gospel while a presbyter in Antioch in 390, among which was an exposition of the Transfiguration generally thought to have been delivered in Lent (see Chapter 5) (19). This older tradition, which has nothing to do with a festival at all, will keep recurring among the preachers and expositors we shall be looking at. Modern ecumenical take-up of the Roman lectionary, Anglican and Lutheran included, tends to make a significant adaptation, by reading the Transfiguration narrative on the Sunday before Lent, so that it becomes a kind of bookend to the start of the solemn season; this may be partly because at the time of the Reformation northern Europe had not caught up with the change made for the Second Sunday in Lent in Rome in 1474.

    What, then, of the 6 August festival? Evidence suggests that it began in and around Jerusalem in the fourth and fifth centuries, and the day was chosen in order to be exactly forty days before 14 September, Holy Cross Day, because of a tradition that the Transfiguration took place forty days before the crucifixion (20). Jerusalem included in its ecclesiastical jurisdiction St Catherines Monastery on Mount Sinai, with its magnificent mosaic of the Transfiguration dating from the mid sixth century, which Andreopoulos has shown is central to the development of subsequent iconography (21). The feast probably reached Constantinople during the time of the great hymn-writer Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740), who was a monk at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from 675 until 685, when he moved to serve at the Great Church of Sancta Sophia, Constantinople, after which he became Archbishop of Gortyna in Crete. It was a major feast, which developed a magnificent series of hymns and lections, compensating for Matthews version at the Eucharist with Lukes at Mattins.

    One of the main motivations for the shift in the Orthodox East from exposition of the narrative to introducing the feast seems to have been its christological importance , about both the humanity and the divinity of Christ manifested to the disciples and (by extension) to us. The subsequent trade route sees it slowly appearing in the West, but as a minor feast only, at first in Spain in the eleventh century. This was followed in a magnificent push by Peter the Venerable (1092/1094-1156), Abbot of Cluny from 1122 to 1156 (see Chapter 8), who directed its observance in all Cluniac communities in 1132 (22). Already established in different ways in different parts of the Catholic world, it was officially imposed in 1457 by Pope Callixtus III, a Valencian sensitive to the memory of Moorish domination in Spain, who used as a pretext the Christian defeat of the Turks at Belgrade on 22 July in the previous year, news of which had reached Rome on 6 August , it was a world far removed from todays inter-faith conversations and collaboration in community-building. Biblical as the feast was in origin, it was too recent an addition to impress the Reformers. It disappeared from view in the 1549 English Prayer Book, although it reappeared in 1662, but in the calendar only, lying somewhat dormant until its revival in the nineteenth century.
    We are thus faced with what is in origin an Eastern festival, inspired by associations with Mount Tabor, a hill to the southwest of the Sea of Galilee under two thousand feet high. Somehow it has reached the Christian West, but without the central place it occupies in the Orthodox Calendar as one of the Twelve Feasts, though even here Andreopoulos has doubts about its appropriateness in August, when it is overshadowed by the Dormition (Assumption) on 15 August; he, too, thinks it belongs in Lent (23). But there are other uses, too, which we shall encounter. At the Danish Lutheran Reformation, the Transfiguration narrative was thought too good
    entirely to lose; hence its appearance from 1556 onwards, tucked away at the very back of beyond in the Churchs year , the 27th Sunday after Trinity or the 6th after Epiphany. These were occasions for which medieval books made no provision, probably because they only occurred every so often, due the vagaries of the Churchs year. We shall be looking at Grundtvigs preaching and hymnody for these Sundays (see Chapter 4). Then there is an altogether novel approach, probably adopted by other preachers down the ages, which is to preach a course of sermons on the narrative at a convenient time somewhere else in the year; a prime example is John Hacket, in seventeenth-century London, for whom the Transfiguration belongs firmly in the season of Easter (see Chapter 4). As each chapter unfolds, with its treatment of the gospel narratives for each episode, and its coverage of specific authors chosen for their way of handling the event, the Transfiguration will emerge in an ever richer light.

    History does not solve the Transfiguration, because it is too rich and complex to belong in any one corner. Todays exposure to all three gospel-writers in sequence either before or near the start of Lent is probably on balance the most appropriate place. But one must not overlook 6 August, provided it is backed up by the rich language of spiritual ascent and exposure to the uncreated light that is such a hallmark of the Orthodox tradition, at once so different from the less ambitious tendency in the West to see the Transfiguration as a special experience on a spiritual pilgrimage. This may well correspond to different views on how the narrative , and even the icon , is to be interpreted. Is it a matter of straight exposition, like that of John Chrysostom, Grundtvig, or Mark Frank? Or is it more allegorical, taking us into a far more complex world, as with Origen (c.185 - c. 245) and Gregory Palamas? Once again, history does not resolve any of these questions , nor should we expect it to do so. Yes, its true that Byzantine icons grew out of the feast, but the ecumenical trade-route to the West now provides them with worlds for devotion and study that are different from their place of origin. And whether Transfiguration is seen as a narrative, a pivot on the way to Good Friday and Easter, or as a festival in August, it remains a crucial gateway to the central truths of our redemption.


    1. A. M. Ramsey, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ (London: Longmans, 1949, 2nd edn Libra Books, 1967), p. 145.
    2. See Andreas Andreopoulos, Metamorphosis: The Transfiguration in Byzantine Theology and Iconography (Crestwood NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 2005), pp. 244-50; see also figure 22a for colour reproduction. This is an excellent study; but his attribution to Ephrem the Syrian of a Greek homily probably preached in Antioch two or three centuries later (pp. 73, 85, 219) needs to be noted, see below, n.20, Sachot, p. 442.; see also Ch. 5 n. 19.
    3. See, for example, W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr, The Gospel According to St Matthew, Vol. II, Critical and Exegetical Commentary Series (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), pp. 668-718; Edward Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark (London: SPCK, 1970), pp. 180-3; and C. F. Evans, Saint Luke, TPI New Testament Commentaries (London: SCM Press /Philadelphia: Trinity Press, 1990), pp. 413-21.
    4. John Paul Heil, The Transfiguration of Jesus: Narrative Meaning and Function of Mark 9:2-8, Matt. 17:1-8 and Luke 9:28-36, Analecta Biblica 144 (Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 2000).
    5. Dorothy Lee, Transfiguration, New Century Theology (London/New York: Continuum, 2004); see also the important work of Harald Riesenfeld, J?®su Transfigur?®: Larriere-plan du recit evangelique d

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