MELETI 4 ON THE TRANSFIGURATION OF CHRIST:
THE APPEARANCE OF MOSES
AT THE TRANSFIGURATION
Some one has asked, "what about the appearance of Moses on Mt Tabor? Was this not an "out of body" appearance, since Moses was not caught up as were Enoch and Elijah?" Such a question could only arise from coarse materialism. Besides, why was it that, according to the Scripture, the Archangel contended for the body of Moses? Was Moses' body like that of John the Theologian resurrected and "caught up"? Did Moses appear on Mt Tabor actually with his body? St Ephraim the Syrian says of this:
"Now he summoned Elijah, who had been caught up, and Moses, who was resurrected, and the three witnesses from among the preachers, they who were indeed pillars (Gal.2:9), for they supported the testimony of the kingdom... And as they came down from the mountain Jesus charged them saying, `tell the vision to no man'. Why? Because He knew that they would not be believed, but they would be considered madmen. Men would say, `How did you recognize Elijah? And lo, Moses is dead and buried and no man knows his grave!' So there would be blasphemy and scandal because of this ... and He said, `wait until,' meaning that they should wait until the tombs be rent asunder and the righteous come forth, the recent and the ancient, and enter into Jerusalem (Mt.27:52 -53), the city of the great king. And lo, then will they believe that He Who resurrected them also resurrected Moses..."
St John Damascene says also:
"Moses represents the community of the saints of old who have fallen asleep, and Elijah, the community of the living, for He Who is transfigured is the Lord of the living and the dead. Moses entered into the promised land, because Jesus, the Bestower of the inheritance, brought him in, and those things which he beheld in a type, today shine forth more clearly."
Moreover, did the three apostles see Elijah and Moses carnally, or noetically, or not even that, but purely spiritually? They were in the light of God's glory, a part of that vision, and is the light of the glory of the Godhead seen by men physically or noetically, or purely spiritually? Let us see what St Gregory Palamas says of this:
"Do you see how the Unseen One is seen by those who are pure of heart, not however, seen sensibly, nor noetically, nor conceptually, but by some ineffable power? ... But I shall tell you openly. The first martyr saw spiritually, even as those who have seen that pure light through revelation ... And if you become full of faith and the Holy Spirit, you will see spiritually things which are invisible to the intellect [ν ο υ ς ; nous]."
And, as St John Damascene says of the vision on Mt Tabor: "Truly, the abyss of unapproachable light, today the uncircumscribable flood of divine radiance shines forth upon the apostles on Mt Tabor ... now things unseen by human eyes are seen ..."
It is sufficient to declare that Moses and Elijah were seen by the apostles, but how and in what manner is known to God. It is enough to know that they did appear, and some of the fathers have explained why they appeared but few have ventured an explanation of how. We must remember here that we are dealing with an actual revelation of the glory of the Godhead, of Christ "coming in His glory." And so we are already not dealing with any sort of physical/material phenomenon (or would one assert that the light of God's glory is a physical, thus a created light?) So, we are outside time, space and all physical phenomena, and all on Tabor is taking place within the vision of the glory of the Godhead and, as Saint Anastasios of Antioch says:
."..they (the apostles) went up to so lofty a place so as to be vouchsafed a vision which was called the Kingdom of Heaven by Him Who revealed Himself to them, being transfigured with the prophets."
How, St Gregory Palamas asks, did the apostles even recognize the prophets? By revelation, he replies. And St Anastasios of Antioch concurs, adding, "And certainly the apostles were also prophets."
How was Moses there? More surprising, how was Elijah there, being in a corrupt body which will some day die a martyr's death? If Elijah is still in his carnal, mortal, un-regenerated body (for it will die) how then is he with God in the spiritual world and appearing in that very immaterial light of the glory of the Godhead; how is his sinful carnal body participating in the glory of God? This question alone should make one wary of hasty conclusions concerning Moses. Yet, to a certain degree, we answered both these questions __ how was Moses there, and how was Elijah there __ already in Chapter 3 of The Soul, The Body and Death. About Elijah (and Enoch) we can say little, and only look in wonder. Nevertheless, the saints are participants in God. They are freed from the laws of time and place. They are participants already in God's glory. As participants in God, they are wherever God is. And if, in revealing Himself in that manner in which He does __ by the vision of His uncreated, immaterial glory __ what is so marvellous if He, at the same time, also in like manner reveals those who are always with Him, participating in Him and His glory? Whether Moses is immaterial soul or resurrected body, he is with God, and Elijah, by the will of God is also with God. God is not bound by laws.
Will one insist that Moses had to have a material form (even a "subtle" one) in order to be seen by the apostles? Well, then, will one also insist that, for the purpose of this vision, the glory of God became material, had a created form? Light is not immaterial. It is physical, measurable, refractable. To insist that God could not reveal Moses on Tabor without his having at least a "subtle" form also, it would seem, implies the Latin doctrine of the material, created form of God's glory. If God was unable to reveal Moses on Tabor without his having an external form, how was He able to reveal the light of His glory without its having a material form? In other words, the insistence that Moses had some sort of a material form on Tabor (other than, perhaps, his own resurrected body, as St Ephraim suggests) forces us to re-fight the Palamite controversy all over again, because the essence of the question is quite clearly the same as Barlaam the Calabrian's challenge to St Gregory Palamas. Indeed, St Gregory says that Moses was immaterial on Tabor.
Now, obviously, the Transfiguration was a super-divine manifestation, something beyond the capabilities of all such scholastic reasonings. Time and place do not exist here. The apostles could have been seeing Moses as after the general resurrection itself, for that matter, unless we are to limit God and His glory in time and space __ for this was that very same glory in which Christ will appear again at the last day (and look at the Apocalypse of St John the Theologian, for example).
Thus, in examining the fathers, we find a consensus that Moses and Elijah were seen and recognized by the apostles by means of revelation. This fact already bars us from seeking definitions or scientific style explanations as to how Moses (or Elijah) were seen on Mt Tabor. But we have certainly seen enough to exclude any notions that Moses was on Mt Tabor in an "out of body appearance" or in the form of a "subtle body" (as the Gnostics might suggest). Let us conclude with these words of St Gregory Palamas:
"But why did he separate the chief apostles from the rest and lead them alone to the mountain? Surely to show them something great and mystical. How, then, would the sight of sensible light be something great and mystical, since those who were chosen perceived such light even before being led off, as did the rest? What need would they have had of the power of the Spirit, and of the addition (to nature) by means of this power, or an alteration in their eyes, so as to be able to see light that is sensible and created? How should the glory and kingdom of the Father and the Spirit be sensible light? And how shall Christ in the future age come in this glory and Kingdom, when there will be no air, no light, nor any need of [physical] place or any such thing, but instead of all this there will be God, as the Apostle says. If God will take the place of all these things, He certainly will take the place of light. Wherefore it is proved that that light was the light of the Godhead. Hence the most theological of the Evangelists, John makes clear in his `Revelation' that the future and enduring city `has no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it, for the glory of the Lord did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof' (Rev.21:23). Has he not, then, clearly shown us here also Jesus Who is now divinely transfigured on Tabor, Who has His own Body as a lamp, and Who instead of light has the glory of the Godhead which became manifest to those who ascended the mountain with Him? Now concerning those that dwell in the city, John says that `They need no lamp, neither the light of the sun, for the Lord God shines upon them, and there shall be no night' (Rev.22:5). What, therefore, is that light, `with which there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning' (Js.1:17)? What is this immutable and unwaning light? Is it not the light of the Godhead. But how could Moses and Elijah __ and especially Moses, who was a soul and not something material __ appear and be glorified by means of sensible light? They appeared in glory and spoke of the departure which Jesus should accomplish in Jerusalem. But how did the apostles recognize them when they had never seen them before, unless it was by the power of revelation given by that light."
Such are the revelations which the saints receive, but all those things which take place "outside the body" are demonic delusions, since the experience of God and the things of God take place in the depths of the body, for, "know ye not that your bodies are become temples of the Holy Spirit," and it is a true rule of all godly prayer that:
"Wisdom moved by the Spirit is, according to theologians, the power of mental, pure, angelic prayer; a sign of this is that during prayer the mind is free from forms, with no image either of itself or of anything else appearing for an instant, since it is drawn away from the senses by the light acting within. For then the mind is removed from everything material and is like lights, being ineffably merged with God into one spirit."
Where and how does one thus become so close to God? Saint Abba Dorotheos of Gaza replies:
"To the degree that the saints enter into the things within, desiring to come near to God, in proportion to their progress in the things within, they do in fact come closer to God and to their neighbour."
Here, we have touched upon a wondrous source of edification and spiritual instruction. Let the reader not be satisfied with only the few words of the Spirit-bearing fathers cited here. Rather, let everyone be moved to seek more, as a thirsty man in a desert craves water, let us seek spiritual sustenance and edification by reading whatever is to be found of the Orthodox fathers, and prepare ourselves to receive the light of grace like the wisemen of the East to whom God revealed the noetic vision of the light of a star, seen within themselves. For it was, as St John Chrysostom says, a noetic vision, and not a real star, and it was seen within themselves, and not by anyone else. They saw it well enough to follow it, but it was obviously not visible outside themselves. For with the faculties of the physical body, no one beheld it. Sensual vision is never enough to see with in any case. How many saw Christ and His mighty deeds as a "threat" and how many saw and beheld the Son of God, "that Messiah that is to come?" How many of the things of God and eternity are ever seen with the sensual vision? The sensual vision, it seems, only presents some evidence of what reality might actually consist in, and unless we see that evidence in another light, through different "eyes," then we never perceive it at all. The epic of the Magi is like the life of the Prophet Moses, and it would seem that it is also a testimony about the spiritual life of all believers. The Magi saw the light of God's kingdom within themselves __ with the eyes of the mind, those special "eyes" of the soul. And they saw it because their souls were open to this perception when the grace of God should bring it to them. They saw the evidence of the manifestation of the kingdom of God, which was beginning to grow within them, and with no little difficulty and struggle, they followed with unshakable faith, that evidence until it led them to the King Himself. Yet, when they saw the King, there was nothing in His appearance or surroundings (to those carnal eyes) which would commend belief in or reverence to Him. Still, they not only worshipped Him, but even adored Him. They could not have reverenced Him, they could not have recognized Him, except for that divine light, that evidence of the Kingdom which was manifested within them, and which the eyes of the soul perceived. When they set out and struggled to reach the King of that kingdom, they were led by the light of God's grace to Him, and they were able to recognize the King on account of that kingdom which was already manifested by the Spirit within them. The perception was noetic __ within them. The vision of the "star" was noetic __ within them. The recognition of the King was noetic, by means of spiritual eyes opened and enlightened by the grace of God, operating in a soul willing to co-operate with it.
Now, the saints (indeed, all believers) have "seen His star shining..." and followed it, the light of this grace accepted into the soul which is willing to co-operate with it. They have struggled, set out on the desert path, to follow that light. Howbeit, the "world" does not see this light, this "star," and thinks those who are following it are bereft of good sense. And if the world seeks confirmation of that testimony of those who are following this "star," it is only so it can slay the offspring of this faith, so it can "send forth and slay all the children" of that faith.
Let the world seek its spiritual goals "out there," outside the body, in the realm of the "Prince of this World." But let us, Orthodox Christians, hearken diligently to the fathers, with all sobriety and discretion, and in Orthodox fashion, struggle to keep our mind within ourselves, striving to cleanse and make ready the temple of our bodies, that our souls may find the Holy Spirit and the things of God, there in His kingdom in the depths of ourselves, where they are to be found.
A FURTHER NOTE:
VISUALIZATION AND IDOLATRY
Our descriptive apparatus is dominated by the character of our visual experience. It is for just this reason that linguistically based assumptions lead to errors in our understanding of the Divine and the eternal, the nature of heaven, the nature of hell and the relationship between body and soul in human beings. Linguistically based assumptions are derived from the presumption of visualizability. Language develops on the matrix of vision and is a developed system of imitation of and metaphor for things heard and seen. Idolatry, I surmise, can arise from the impulse to linguistically describe and define the unseen. This results in metaphor or allegory. When the metaphor for the unseen is, as it must be, visualized, some form of idolatry results. In Orthodox Christian theology we are preserved from this idolatry by the concept of the apophatic. In this regard, the words of Abba Isaak the Syrian are extraordinarily important when he says: "Speech is the language of this world, but silence is the language of the world to come," by which he also precludes the visualization of "things yonder." We are further protected against idolatry by Abba Isaak when he says of Apostle Paul: "Indeed, he wrote that he saw divine visions and said that he heard words, but was unable to describe what were those words or the figures of those divine visions. For when the mind in the spirit of revelation sees these things in their own place, it does not receive permission to utter them in a place that is not their own. Even if it should wish, it could not speak of them, because it did not see them with the bodily senses. Whatever the mind receives through the senses of the body, this it can express in the physical realm. However, whatever the mind perceptibly beholds, hears or apprehends within itself in the realm of the spirit, it has no power to express...For this very reason the blessed Paul by one word closed the door in the face of all theoria and the exclusion thereof he anchored in silence, where even if the mind were able to disclose that which belongs to the realm of the spirit, it would not receive permission to do so. For he said that all divine visions which the tongue has power to disclose in the physical realm are phantasies of the soul's thoughts, not the working of grace."
This is interesting, because it shows us that the ability to visualize in material terms and to describe in language are interrelated, and that noetic things are subject to neither. For whatever visual and concrete concepts or ideas one has about the nature of heaven, hell, the Divinity, the partial and last judgments, and all things "yonder" are without fail delusion and phantasy. According to St Gregory Palamas, this is the also the mystery of Apostle's Paul's words that when he had his noetic experience, he did not know whether he was "in the body or out of the body." St Gregory does not allow the concept of "out of body experiences" but says of Paul: "He beheld, he says, `whether out of the body I know not, or within the body I know not'. That is to say, he did not know whether it was the intellect or the body that was seeing. For he sees, but not by sense perception, and yet [he sees] like sense perception sees perceptible things, clearly and even more clearly than sense perception. And he sees himself that, by the ineffable sweetness of that which he sees, he is apart from and caught away not only from every material and noetic thing, but even from himself." This is the point that neo-Gnostic writers do not grasp: "whether in the body or out of the body" does not at all indicate an "out of body experience," but rather precludes all visualizability or language based description of the experience and the vision, and thus guards against idolatry.
1. Jude 9
2. Commentary on the Diatessarion, 14:5,8,9,10
3. On The Transfiguration, P.G. 96:572
4. The Triads, 1.3:30
5. ibid fn. 36.
6. Homily on the Transfiguration, P.G. 89:1369
7. First Homily on The Transfiguration, 50.
8. ibid, fn. 39.
9. First Homily on the Transfiguration, P.G. 89:1369.
11. St Gregory of Sinai, Most Edifying Chapters, para.116.see also, para.131 and 132 (in the Philokalia)
12. Discourses and Sayings, para.6.
13. Homily on Matthew, 6:3.
14. It is more complex than that since warning crys, food communications and sexual attractions are all part of the use of language and of its origins. In Cratylus Plato calls words "an imitation of that which it imitates," and Aristotle refers to words as "imitations" (Rhet.3:1) but they had something of the concept that words conveyed essence and not simply names. There is another form of language which we must discuss later: the language of silence and of inner prayer — the language of paradise and of the world to come; the language of Rm.4:26 and 1Cor.14:15..
15. Epistle to Symeon of Caesaria
16. The Triads, 1.3:5; 21