Our divine Redeemer, in Galilee the summer before His sacred Passion, took with Him Saint Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, Saint James and Saint John, and led them to the heights of a solitary mountain. Tradition assures us that this was Mount Tabor, which is exceedingly high and beautiful, and in those days was covered with green trees and shrubs. It rises alone in the midst of the vast plain of Galilee. It is here that Christ appeared in all His glory. While Jesus prayed, He permitted the glory which was always due to His sacred humanity — and of which for our sake, not to alarm us, He deprived it — to diffuse its brilliance over His whole body. His face was transfigured and shone as the sun, and His garments became white as snow. Moses and Elias were seen in His company by the three apostles on this occasion, and were heard discoursing with Him of the death which He was to suffer in Jerusalem. The three were wondrously delighted with this glorious vision, and Saint Peter cried out to Christ, “Lord, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three tents, one for Thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias.”
While Saint Peter was speaking, suddenly there came a bright cloud from heaven, emblem of the presence of God’s majesty, and from out of this cloud was heard a voice which said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” By these words, God made known that in Christ they must recognize the One He had foretold to Moses, saying: “I will raise up from among them a Prophet like you; I will put My words in His mouth, and He will tell them all I command Him. If anyone does not want to hear the words that this Prophet will speak in My Name, it is to Me that he will have to answer for it” (Deut 18:18-19).
We cite below from St. Ephraim the Syrian, Sermon on the Transfiguration of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
By St. Ephraim the Syrian
He led them up the mountain to show them that He is the Son of God, born from the Father before the ages and in the last times incarnate from the Virgin, as He knows how, born ineffably and without seed, preserving her virginity incorrupt; for wherever God wills it, the order of nature is overcome. For God the Word dwelt in the Virgin’s womb, and the fire of His divinity did not consume the members of the Virgin’s body, but protected them carefully by its ninemonth presence.
He led them up the mountain to show them the glory of the Godhead and to make known to them that He is the redeemer of Israel, as He had shown through the Prophets, and they should not be scandalized in Him when they saw His voluntary sufferings, which as man He was about to suffer for us.
For they knew Him as a man, but did not know that He was God.
They knew Him as son of Mary, going about with them in the world, and He made known to them on the mountain that He was Son of God and God.
They saw that He ate and drank, toiled and rested, dozed and slept, things which did not accord with His divine nature, but only with His humanity, and so He took them to the mountain that the Father might call Him Son and show that He is truly His Son and that He is God.
He led them up the mountain and showed them His kingship before His passion, and His power before His death, and His glory before His disgrace, and His honor before His dishonor, so that, when He was arrested and crucified by the Jews, they might know that He was not crucified through weakness, but willingly by His good pleasure for the salvation of the world.
He led them up the mountain and showed the glory of His divinity before the resurrection, so that when He rose from the dead in the glory of His divine nature, they might know that it was not because of His harsh toil that He accepted glory, as if He lacked it, but it was His before the ages with the Father and together with the Father, as He said as He was coming to His voluntary passion, “Father, glorify me with the glory which I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5).
The facts themselves bear witness and his divine acts of power teach those who doubt that He is true God, and His sufferings show that He is true man. And if those who are feeble in understanding are not fully assured, they will pay the penalty on His dread day…
If He was not flesh, who was lying in the manger? And if He was not God, whom did the Angels come down and glorify?
If He was not flesh, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes? And if He was not God, whom did the shepherds worship?
If He was not flesh, whom did Joseph circumcise? And if He was not God, in whose honor did the star speed through the heavens?
If He was not flesh, whom did Mary suckle? And if He was not God, to whom did the Magi offer gifts?
If He was not flesh, whom did Simeon carry in his arms? And if He was not God, to whom did Simeon say, “Let me depart in peace”?
If He was not flesh, whom did Joseph take and flee into Egypt? And if He was not God, in whom were the words “Out of Egypt I have called my Son” fulfilled?
If He was not flesh, whom did John baptize? And if He was not God, to whom did the Father from heaven say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”?
If He was not flesh, who fasted and hungered in the desert? And if He was not God, whom did the Angels come down and serve?
If He was not flesh, who was invited to the wedding in Cana of Galilee? And if He was not God, who turned the water into wine?
If He was not flesh, in whose hands were the loaves? And if He was not God, who satisfied crowds and thousands in the desert, not counting women and children, from five loaves and two fishes?
If He was not flesh, who fell asleep in the boat? And if He was not God, who rebuked the winds and the sea?
If He was not flesh, with whom did Simon the Pharisee eat? And if He was not God, who pardoned the offenses of the sinful woman?
If He was not flesh, who sat by the well, worn out by the journey? And if He was not God, who gave living water to the woman of Samaria and reprehended her because she had had five husbands?…
If He was not flesh, who spat on the ground and made clay? And if He was not God, who through the clay compelled the eyes to see?
If He was not flesh, who wept at Lazarus’ grave? And if He was not God, who by his command brought out one four days dead?
If He was not flesh, who sat on the foal? And if He was not God, whom did the crowds go out to meet with glory?
If He was not flesh, whom did the Jews arrest? And if He was not God, who gave an order to the earth and threw them onto their faces?
If He was not flesh, who was struck with a blow? And if He was not God, who cured the ear that had been cut off by Peter and restored it to its place?…
If He was not flesh, who was hung on the cross? And if He was not God, who shook the earth from its foundations?
If He was not flesh, whose hands and feet were transfixed by nails? And if He was not God, how was the veil of the temple rent, the rocks broken and the graves opened?
If He was not flesh, who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”? And if He was not God, who said “Father, forgive them”?
If He was not flesh, who was hung on a cross with the thieves? And if He was not God, how did He say to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”?
If He was not flesh, to whom did they offer vinegar and gall? And if He was not God, on hearing whose voice did Hades tremble?
If He was not flesh, whose side did the lance pierce, and blood and water came out? And if He was not God, who smashed the gates of Hades and tore apart its bonds? And at whose command did the imprisoned dead come out?
If He was not flesh, whom did the Apostles see in the upper room? And if He was not God, how did He enter when the doors were shut?
If He was not flesh, the marks of the nails and the lance in whose hands and side did Thomas handle? And if He was not God, to whom did He cry out, “My Lord and my God”?
If He was not flesh, who ate by the sea of Tiberias? And if He was not God, at whose command was the net filled?