Desert wisdom looks to the transfiguration for its paradigm of revelation in uncreated light and uncreated glory. The Exodus theophany of the Name on Mount Sinai was the foundational paradigm, developed theologically by Saint Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Denys, but the transfiguration theophany on Mount Tabor was for Saint Maximus and Saint Gregory Palamas the prism that gave the desert its decisive paradigm. The desert’s foundational paradigm was the revelation of the Name in wisdom and glory, unveiling theologia mystica to elders in the original Sinai theophany of the Burning Bush. Hesychast tradition turned to Holy Transfiguration to develop this foundational paradigm, imparting mystical theology to desert wisdom as transfiguring awareness of the mystery of Christ’s transfiguring presence, presence which manifests both a theophany of the Father and a christophany of the Son. Rooting transfiguration in the wisdom of uncreated light, the uncreated glory of the Father glorifies the Son with glory that in the Spirit, the Son communicates to us in the Name, restoring us in glory to the Father. Founding mystical theology in the economy of Christ’s incarnation, holy transfiguration completes it when the Name is hallowed, revealing the wisdom and glory of the Holy Trinity. Christ’s transfiguration reveals mysteries of uncreated light in Christ’s unveiled face, illumining seers of the Name in the robes of his uncreated light, glorifying all who glorify God’s Name in his body of uncreated glory.
For the desert, Christ’s transfiguration was the paradigm of wisdom that reveals the uncreated light of saving grace, opening wisdom to infinitely expansive realms of uncreated glory. The radiant icons of Christ’s unveiled face, body of glory and robes of light were an epiphany for the desert, an epiphany that was at first a theophany of the Father, but which the Spirit unveils as a thrice-holy christophany of the Son. Wisdom imparts mystical theology in the desert as transfiguring awareness of the mystery of Christ’s transfiguration, which embraces wisdom’s theophany, christophany and thrice-holy epiphany of glory. Saint Maximus says of this epiphany that the Logos in appearing, conceals himself, and in hiding, manifests himself (Ambigua 10). By revealing the light of his glory, Christ veils his hidden Godhead but his mysterious yet radiant hiddenness is nevertheless utterly revelatory.
The beauty of hallowing glory in the unveiled face of the transfigured Christ is the desert’s paradigm of healthy, wholesome wisdom. Glory is incarnate here where wisdom is revealed, concealed from curious scrutiny, revealed to humble, awakened hearts. Desert hermeneutics is very varied in its interpretations, which can be figurative, tropological, allegorical, anagogical, or mystical as well as literal, but in each case, transfiguration functions as a decisive paradigm. Everything is symbolic on many levels for wisdom, meaning that sober silence is sometimes the only way for wisdom to abide in the manifold glory of uncreated light. The wisdom genre of the desert ‘Century’ was employed for a thousand years, from Evagrius in the late fourth century to the disciples of Gregory Palamas in the late fourteenth century, to pass on the charismatic wisdom of desert elders, but in more than six centuries since then, although collections of Centuries were revered in Orthodox Christian monasteries, new books of Centuries were no longer inscribed. Paradigms were moving away from transfiguring paradox and wisdom’s catalytic impasse or aporia, (no created way forward, no way out or no way through, leaving only a leap into uncreated wisdom), towards rational theological exposition, moving the centre of gravity away from spiritual awakening to intellectual understanding. But the paradigm of holy transfiguration continued to inspire desert wisdom at its heart, even if the theological centre of gravity was shifting away, as contemplative decline gradually set in.
Hesychast wisdom loves to return to transfiguring vision by way of hallowing impasse to discern the hidden depths of manifold wisdom, wisdom that illumines and glorifies those who behold God’s ineffable, God-centred glorification of God. In the Spirit’s unceasing prayer in the heart, the mysteries of transfiguration awaken sleeping hearts, arising as uncreated light into glory, raising death from death by death into deathless life. In uncreated light, God is seen in uncreated glory, transforming into light those whom glory illumines. The light of the glory of Christ’s unveiled face remains the decisive paradigm of all experience of transfiguration in the desert. It is handed down not only in icons and interpretations of Scripture but as enlightenment in the Holy Spirit, to which the writings of Saint Symeon the New Theologian bear witness. Transfigured ‘seeing,’ theoria, is awakened through translucent ‘turning,’ metanoia. It is not a mere exchange of ideas. For Saint Macarius, turning is likened to uncreated fire, the flame of the Name revealed in the burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai, purifying the heart by consuming its confusions and divisions, leaving divine-human being whole and unconsumed. Coming with power in the transfiguring Kingdom, wisdom and glory are uncreated not created energies, sometimes manifesting as uncreated fire in a burning bush, sometimes as uncreated light in Christ’s transfigured, unveiled face.