Monday, August 07, 2006

Transfiguration: Byzantine and Anglo-Catholic Lectionaries

On the Feast of the Transfiguration, one sees the commonality of the East and the West. The lectionaries for both the Byzantine and Western liturgies select nearly identical readings. Both choose St. Peter's own record of the Transfiguration for the Epistle. The Gospel differs merely in the choice of one Synoptic over another: St. Mark in the Byzantine Orthodox tradition, St. Matthew's version of the same event in the Anglican Missal, American Edition.

This blog usually underlines the similarities between Eastern and Western practice, which are legion. These readings are another example. However, in this case, I will point out the two outstanding differences between the Gospel accounts:

St. Mark wrote that Christ took Sts. Peter, James, and John to Mt. Tabor "six days" after the last event recorded, while St. Luke wrote it occurred after "eight days."

St. John Chrysostom reconciled these two chronologies thus: "'After eight days,' does not contradict this; for he reckoned in both the day on which Christ had spoken what goes before, and the day on which He took them up."

Secondly, St. Luke adds one additional piece of information -- at the time of the Transfiguration, "Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep." This prefaces the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the three apostles would again abandon our Lord at the time of His greatest need. I would find a profound connection with the disciples's failure, but mine is much more mundane: I've often fallen asleep during private prayers, as well.

St. Ambrose of Milan commented in passing on their drowsiness:
Peter saw this Grace: so, too, did those who were with him, though they were heavy with sleep. For the incomprehensible magnificence of the Godhead overwhlems the perceptions of our body. For if the sharpness of bodily vision cannot bear the ray of the sun directly into watching eyes, how may the corruption of human members endure the glory of God? And, thus, the garment of of the body, purer and finer after the removal of the materiality of vices, is fashioned for the Resurrection. And, perchance, they were so heavy with sleep that they saw the radiance of the Resurrection after their repose. Therefore, keeping vigil, they saw His majesty, for none sees the glory of Christ unless he is vigilant. -- Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, Book 7:17.
Whatever vigil they may have held on this occasion, it's clear we must attempt to heal our own infirmities. But we are buoyed by this Gospel account, as well as that in the Garden: "Peter ascended, who received the keys of the Kingdom; and John, to whom His Mother is entrusted; and James, who was the first to mount a Bishop's Throne" (St. Ambrose, Exposition, Book 7:9). These were truly the chiefest of His followers -- and they failed Him. Yet despite their flaws, Christ graciously revealed a glimpse of His pre-existent glory.

In fact, the Orthodox belief is that the revelation was granted -- and not to the other nine apostles -- in part because of their oustanding efforts, but more importantly because the revelation of heavenly glory itself confirmed them in their faith and established them in His righteousness. We believe the highest praise is to "taste and see that the Lord is good." Upon experiencing this spiritual sweetness, one develops a taste for it. Thus, the Western baptismal ritual administers a grain of salt to the newborn, to give the child a savor for eternal life. So, too, does St. Augustine tell us that the one who commands us to ask, seek, and knock is Himself the answer, the path, and the door. It is by Him and to Him we go, learning to love Him for His own sake. He is the destination and the means of our spiritual journey. It is the transfigured Christ we receive in the most Blessed Sacrament, Which also transfigures us. But it is this direct participation in the energies of the Holy Trinity that gives us a taste for yet more. If you grow tired of reading the Gospels, drowsy in prayer, distracted in the Mass, remember you are in good company -- "so great a cloud of witnesses" who have overcome the same distractions and not behold Him eternally in Heaven to the degree they learned to on earth.

"If the transfigured humanity of Christ and the society of but two saints [Moses and Elijah-BJ] seen for a moment, could confer delight to such a degree that Peter would, even by serving them, stay their departure, how great a happiness will it be to enjoy the vision of Deity amidst choirs of Angels forever" -- The Venerable Bede.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Fr Matthew said...

A correction here. In our Archdiocese, the Transfiguration account for both rites is actually from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, so you can actually draw another direct parallel between the two rites.

One point of confusion (which I came across in preparing my homily for yesterday) is that the account given from St. Luke is given in the 1928 BCP (and, as a consequence) the Anglican Missal, American Edition. However, the standard for propers in the Vicariate is from the English Missal (and is reflected in the Orthodox Missal), which gives St. Matthew's account.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Fr. Matthew,

Thank you for this note. Gosh, but am I ever red-faced!

My Orthodox Missal has been on loan to a local priest for awhile. I worshipped in Byzantium yesterday morning while traveling, but to keep my heart in the West I looked at the Anglican Missal, American Ed. ....

I knew there were differences between the two (and between the English Missal and the Orthodox Missal), mostly in the wording of a few propers, but this one escaped me.

I've changed this post to reflect this. And blushed for an hour. Thanks for the welcome correction.

I hope St. Columba's is treating you well. They're blessed to have a priest of your quality there.

Father bless,
Ben

12:29 PM  
Blogger Fr Matthew said...

One project I hope to get to (someday) is to do a comparison of propers in the various missals to see where the differences lie. I think that's item 1,067 on my current project list...

8:44 AM  

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