Question on Transfiguration


Question:

Respected Thirumeni,

Today, we observe as the Feast of Transfiguration and we celebrate Holy Qurbana. It seems, there are no special prayers. Even the Promeon and Sedra were usual ones. But we do have special hymns to be used on three occasions and the one immediately after the reading of the Gospel by the celebrant seems to carry some confusing message. This hymn describes Jesus going up the Mount Thabore (though Bible is silent on which mountain this happens) with Peter, James and John. In the next line, the hymn describes the coming of Moses and Elijah. It describes Moses coming from Mount Nebo and Elijha from the skies.

The background could be the Old Testament narration of their departure from this world. As Elijha was taken ‘up’ in a chariot of fire, the hymn mentions his coming to Mount Thabore from the ‘skies’. There is no confusion here. But Moses died on Mount Nebo and now, he is coming to Thabore exactly from the same Mount Nebo. And we believe, wherever one dies, he is taken to the Paradise. Therefore, the narration about Moses here in this hymn seems confusing and against what we teach.

I shall be thankful to Your Grace for a guidance on this. Or should we leave it as a poetic imagination? But even then, what we sing during our Holy Qurbana has to be within our practicing faith!

Your spiritual son (?),

Answer:

Dear (?)

Thank you for the mail and the question. First of all you can not apply all your rationale on our liturgy and specially hymns. They are primarily meditative and only secondly theological or factual. For us the departed ones are continuing the journey towards the perfection of their salvation. I do not know what you mean by ‘paradise’. It in our faith refers to a condition of perfect bliss. A perfect bliss is attained only on the second coming of our Lord. Until then the departed continue the kind of relationship they had while in this world with God and one another towards perfection. ‘Paradise’ is not a place, rather a condition and is a mythological explanation of the condition of perfect bliss.

Bible is a compilation of memories kept alive by the worshipping community and we can not geographically locate places mentioned in the Old Testament particularly and in general in the Bible for sure with few exceptions like Jerusalem. Names to places in the Bible, as you may see from the Bible itself, were given in context (eg. Gen. 28:19). The fathers of the Church take the Biblical stories and events some what freely and then make meditative hymns and prayers. For example there is no place in the Bible that the thief who confessed at the cross was that on the right hand side. But our liturgy at several places refers to him as the one on the right hand side. When the hymn says that Moses came from Mt. Nebo, they only mean to say that Moses came to Jesus from where he was last found. This is not a reference to his after death condition. It simply considers Moses as still a living person. It will not be right on our part to read too much in to these hymns. What is important in this hymn is both Moses and Elijah were real historical figures and were present before our Lord.

Hope I addressed your qurstion.

Regards and prayers

Thirumeni

Second Question:

Respected Thirumeni,

This is a sort of continuation to my mail dated 6th August, 2011 on which guidance is awaited.

To teach those great lessons on Transfiguration such as the fellowship of the living and departed, the pre runner of the Glorification of Jesus after his resurrection and so on, why God chose Moses and Elijah? Why Job or Daniel or Noah was not considered? Why Abraham, Isaac or Jacob whom we remember as those with whom we long to have fellowship after our departure was not considered? Why Jeremiah or Isaiah or Hosea or Amos who all worked for God in most trying circumstances was not considered? Could the reason be that Elijah and Moses were not buried by men?

Kindly advise me (?)

Answer:

Dear (?)

The question is why Jesus chose Moses and Elijah to be on the Mount of Transfiguration with him? The answer would be those were the leaders of the Israelite community that suits well with the mission of Jesus.

1. Moses is the one who lead the people from slavery to freedom in a political context. Now Jesus was attempting to liberate Israel and then the whole world from bondage to freedom not only in a political context, but in a holistic manner. When Jesus was attempting to do this, and when discussion about that was taken up, he could not forget the one who, though in a limited way, worked out freedom movement in the past.

2. Elijah was the one who conducted the sacrifice on the Mount Carmel to re-establish Israel’s relationship with God and through that reestablishment of genuine worship. Now Jesus was conducting a discussion on how to re-establish Israel’s lost relationship through his own sacrifice. Elijah through the sacrifice was with animals and was just to re-establish relation of Israel with God. Jesus’ sacrifice was to re-establish relation of the whole creation with God. So he chose to do it by his own sacrifice and the scope was much wider. However, he wanted the presence of the one who conducted a similar sacrifice in the past, though with limited scope. There is no one else who can substitute these two people when we consider the situation.

Combined together, we may see that when God does some thing, He includes those leaders of the past who did similar thing for God in history. This is a clear indication that even today when God does some thing in our lives or history, he wishes to have the presence of people of the past, though they may not be present alive in this world. God considers them as living ones with him to participate in the discussion and actualization of God’s plan for the world. This will be a powerful answer to those who say that in our worship we do not have to remember the departed ones. In our worship we are attempting to actualize the effect of the sacrifice of Jesus in our specific historical context and life situation. When God considers these contexts He invites people of the old also in to the actualizing group. Our remembrance of the departed in worship is only recognition of God’s invitees in our worship. If we do not do that, we will be disregarding and ignoring the method of God who works out our salvation in specific context.

Regards and prayers

Thirumeni

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