· The feast of the Transfiguration in the Western-Syrian tradition ·
In the Western-Syrian tradition, the great feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord highlights with beautiful images the divinity of Christ manifested through his humanity: “Lord God, make us worthy of celebrating in holiness, chanting psalms in purity, and singing of you with songs of joy, on the feast of the manifestation of the glory of your divinity on Mount Tabor. Your grace, in fact, moves us from evil to good, from sin to justice.” The transfiguration manifests the divinity of Christ, in some way at the level of understanding of the disciples.
In the vespers of the sedro , a Syrian liturgical composition in poetic prose, the events which happened on Mt. Tabor are described, “You, Lord, wanted the human spirit to come closer to your majesty, and you wanted your eternal light, your Only Son, to shine on creation to illuminate those who sat in the shadow of death. And he appeared on earth in our human nature to restore to us the majestic image that you know.” In a long series of phrases that begin with, “today,” the sedro enumerates the salvific events: “Today, the angels come down to honor the Only Son who has changed his aspect to manifest to the world the richness of his glory. Today, Peter, James and John are delighted because they have seen the glory of his majesty and were frightened in front of his vision. Today, Elijah the Tesbite arrives and adore the Lord of prophets who came to authenticate his prophecies. Today, Moses, the head of the prophets, rises from the tomb and comes to see the Lord who appeared to him in the burning bush, that was not consumed. Today, the disciples know that your Only Son has power over the living and the dead and they know that he too will die and will live, and with his death he will save people and nations.”
The texts use different passages from the Old and New Testament as a pre-figuration of the redemption of Christ: “Today, Elijah the prophet comes to your beloved Son to intercede for the salvation of men and supplicates him saying: Lord, if Issac’s climb towards sacrifice sanctified the altar, will not your climb towards Golgotha sanctify all men? Rise, Lord, on the altar of Melchizedek, because you are the living bread and the holy offering that accepts sacrifice and death. Come, Lord, to crucify sin and kill death, and may Adam be bathed in your life-giving blood. Today, Moses the prophet, begs your beloved Son, saying: come down, Lord, towards your beloved son Adam, and renew the image of his glory, because the likeness of your majesty had been cancelled. Adam awaits you and trembles, saying that you must come to give him back his joy, to him and to those who are with him are in prison.”
Ephrem, too, parallels Tabor with Golgotha: “When Simon climbed up Tabor, he tried to persuade the Lord: Lord, it is beautiful to be up here, without those who could disturb us! It is beautiful for us to be with the just in the tent of beatitude. It is restful to be with Moses, Elijah and not in the temple, full of hate and bitterness.” Ephrem then places Peter, with James and John, “Blessed are you, Simon, that you were like the head and the tongue of the body of your brothers! This body is made up of disciples and the sons of Zebedee were its eyes. Blessed are they who asked their master of the thrones after having contemplated his throne. In Simon, the revelation which comes from God was heard and became a rock that does not move.”
Often Ephrem returns to the image of the body of the apostles with Peter as its head, and Tabor and Golgotha by its side,: “The scent of the kingdom filled Peter, and it was sweet to him. He saw the glory of the Lord and he delighted in the presence of Moses and of Elijah and the absence of Caiphus and Herod. Simon, despite his ignorance, spoke with great wisdom, and recognized Moses and Elijah. The Spirit, manifesting itself through the mouth of Simon, said the same things that before he had ignored. Light of the Spirit and human freedom act together.”
Finally, Ephrem presents the transfiguration of the Lord as the pre-figuration of his resurrection: “His face was transformed on the mountain, before dying, so that the disciples would not doubt the transformation of his face after his death and would believe that he who changed the clothes with which he was covered, will also resurrect the bodies with which he was covered.”
St. Peter’s Square
April 24, 2019
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