Archive | November, 2012

Pile #3 This Is My Beloved Son by Andreas Andreopoulos

12 Nov

This is my beloved Son: the transfiguration of Christ / Andreas Andreopoulos; forward by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia. Brewster, MA:  Paraclete Press. 2012. xiv, 142p. Includes bibliographic references.

My original Amazon review can be found here: “This Is My Beloved Son” : http://www.amazon.com/review/RQD9GCNQSQT80/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

The Lesser Known Feast

Throughout the year, Christians the world over celebrate events in the Life of Christ and the Saints, using the Ordo Kalendar, and the Martyrology. Of these events, one of the most singular is called the Transfiguration, or Metamorphosis -an event which tells of Jesus taking three of his disciples up to a mountain to pray, For Western Christians, the Transfiguration of Christ is one of the less focused on events in the life of  Jesus as applied to the life of the believer; and, along with the Trinity, one of the more difficult to preach on. Even though the Transfiguration receives attention twice in the year -readings for the Transfiguration occur before Lent during the Season of Epiphany (or the ‘Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles’), and again on August 6th -the traditional date of the Feast itself, it can be argued that the Transfiguration has the least impact of all the major events of Christ’s life and work in the Western Christian’s walk with God.  For this reason among others there are not many contemporary Western works of theology (in English) that independently cover the Transfiguration.

Transfiguration and Theosis

This is not the case in the East, which derives an entire fundamental spirituality of light and glory from a study of the Transfiguration.  The Eastern Church in it’s unique way, makes the Transfiguration one of the central events upon which the Christian life ought to be oriented.  There is much in patristic literature (including Sayings and Lives of the Desert Fathers) that make this point, and they relate the Transfiguration to a cornerstone doctrine known as Theosis, or the divination of Man -summed up in the following expression of Saint Athanasius: “God became man, that man might become God”.  A shallow reading of such a statement can of course lead to confusion, and accusations of polytheism (especially from Muslims and certain brands of Protestantism), and which may be one reason why it is only recently, historically speaking, that much attention has been paid, bot to the event, and to the doctrine of Theosis in the West arising out of a renewed discovery and dialogue with our Eastern Christian brethren. Happily though, Dr. Andreas Andreopoulos -a Greek born Reader in Orthodox Studies at the University of Winchester, UK-  has written extensively on the Transfiguration, and his most recent book This Is My Beloved Son: The Transfiguration of Christ serves as a gentle introduction for Western Christians and it is to this book that I will now turn.

Response, not Explanation

Andreopoulo’s present text is not quite scholarship, and not quite personal exploration, but more akin to a meditation and spiritual interpretation.  In a way it is the completion of his more scholarly work “Metamorphosis: The Transfiguration in Byzantine Theology and Iconography” (available from the same  publisher, and currently on my Amazon.com wish list).

In This Is My Beloved Son, he seeks not so much to explain the Transfiguration event itself (which he covers in great detail in the aforementioned “Metamorphosis”),  as to explore its continuing influence in the life of the Church and individual believer, arguing that the Transfiguration does double duty as a revelation of the mystery of Christ and of our destiny as human beings.  His own explanation for the book, quoted from the introduction: tells us: “This book may be described as my response to the mystery of the Transfiguration” (xiv).

Included within the book are a foreword by Kallistos Ware (another profound interpreter of Orthodoxy to the West), a brief introduction by the author, six chapters, and a set of bibliographic notes.  His presentation is complemented  by an informal writing style and reading pace graces the pages, and he treats  the reader not as a student to be lectured at, nor as a congregant to be preached to, but as a fellow traveler in the Way of Christ, who can benefit from the travel notes of another -an analogy he uses in the Introduction.

Transfiguration: Themes

He opens the book with a chapter that introduces major biblical themes that relate to the Transfiguration, such as: as light, glory, and life in Christ; and uses the rest of the book to build upon these and other images in interpreting and responding to the idea of Transfiguration.   And yet, each chapter is not a totally separate essay; he constantly alludes forwards and backwards to the various themes that make up the Transfiguration, relating them to the life of the Church and of the believer, almost as if he were composing a concerto, and weaving themes and motifs together from different parts of the whole. Throughout the text he places the Transfiguration as a focal point: looking forward to the Passion and Resurrection as well as  looking back to Christ’s Baptism. Just as importantly, he sees in the Transfiguration a revelation of the Trinity, the fullest expression of the Godhead.

Transfiguration and Faith: From the Beginning

Chapter two, then explores the close connection between Baptism (not just believer’s Baptism but the
Baptism of Christ) and Transfiguration -a revelation of the new life in Christ that faith in Him offers us, as well as a revelation of the Trinity. Chapter three brings us the imagery of the Mountain of faith  (whether that be Ararat, Moriah, Horeb, Sinai, Sion, Carmel, or Thabor)  representing a spiritual journey  of ascent and purification that leads us into deeper communion with God.  The Mountain provides the necessary separation that leads to revelation and back to reintegration into the community. The mountain as a site of ancient cultus (worship) tells us that such desire is widespread, and .

Transfiguration: Miracle and Revelation

Chapter 4 discusses the Transfiguration as Miracle, understood as a foretaste or insight into the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven (p81). In this sense, the Transfiguration is to be seen as a Miracle of Revelation -the miracle of the most complete revelation of the Trinity, comparable to the miracle of Creation itself, and as a prelude to the great miracle of the Resurrection.

Chapter 5 introduces two concepts unique to the East, and a major part of Eastern Christian mystical and theological symbolism: the Uncreated Light of God, and the distinction between His Essence (which is unknowable and where the West goes wrong from the Eastern standpoint) and His Energies (those activities of God  as actualized in the world which can be known). The Transfiguration is here viewed as a manifestation of the Uncreated Light of God (the epitome of  Eastern mystical experience akin to the Spiritual Mansions of St. Teresa of Avila).   The notion of the “Uncreated Light” of God perhaps needs some further elucidation for the Western Christian.  The Uncreated Light, identified with the light that enveloped Christ on Mt. Thabor,  is perhaps the most frequent mystical experience admitted to by Orthodox saints.  Isaiah in his vision, Moses and Elijah as they watched the Back of the Lord as He passed them by, St. Stephen’s vision at his death and the light that struck Paul blind on the road to Damascus, and of course the whiteness of Christ’s garments (and of many an angelic vision in Old and New Testament alike) are all counted as appearances of this Uncreated Light, understood to be the presence, working of God in this world -a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and the glory of God.  and uses the Gospel of John -the only Gospel to not record a Transfiguration event, but in Andreopoulos’s reading is properly understood in terms of Transfiguration.

The other central idea of chapter 5 is to understand the Transfiguration as looking forward to, and as a precursor of,  the Eucharist -the life-giving Mystic Supper- (both the Transfiguration and the Divine  Liturgy are here seen as a stepping into the Kingdom of God).

Transfiguration: Resurrection Life

The final chapter, Chapter 6, reflects on the Transfiguration as seen from the Resurrection life of Christ -he writes of seeing the Transfiguration in light of the Resurrection, as a foretaste of what our glorified resurrected bodies will be.   It brings all the themes together again, showing the unity of doctrine.

Significance of the Book

This book was acquired for me by my mother on a trip out west to see the Grand Canyon (I think she bought it at an Episcopal parish she visited) and was an eye-opener for me in many ways. The connection to both the Baptism and the Resurrection, as well as was an interpretation I had not previously come across.  It shows us the Transfigured Life in Christ as begun in Baptism, nurtured through the Eucharist, and oriented toward communion with God, through the Resurrection of Christ. It is important to accept that Andreopoulo’s book represents an Eastern understanding of the Transfiguration, and that this involves the real distinction between the unknowable Essence and knowable Energies of God, as opposed to the virtual distinction of Thomistic scholasticism, the formal distinction of Scotism.

Until next time then,  Read on my friends, and stay thirsty

 

edited on 12 December for consistency sake

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