Transfiguration: Paradigm of Desert Wisdom Part 2

Saint Gregory Palamas transmits his Athonite vision of transfiguration as the decisive paradigm of every  experience of uncreated grace which illumines and glorifies the saints.  Transfiguring light (phos), according to Hesychast tradition, is neither an intelligible nor a sensible light, but is uncreated light, although, of course, it illumines the intelligence and the senses from within.  The Tome of Mount Athos, written by Saint Gregory Palamas in 1340, insists on this and the Palamite Councils of Constantinople in 1341, 1347 and 1351 confirm it.  Indeed, this is the consensus of the whole Patristic tradition, that the light of transfiguring illumination is uncreated not created, that the wisdom that discerns the uncreated glory of grace is uncreated not created.  It is God’s own wisdom that beholds God’s uncreated glory and it is God’s uncreated light that awakens wisdom in the Name to God’s uncreated glory in the midst.  

Transfiguration remains the decisive paradigm of Hesychast wisdom in the desert to this day, explicitly affirming that the light of Christ’s transfiguration on Mount Tabor is uncreated not created, never to be confused with any created light, whether intelligible or sensible.  The Patristic tradition taught that the change that we call transfiguration was not in Christ but in the awareness of the three chosen disciples.  Wisdom’s transfiguring awareness awakened them to the uncreated presence of God in Christ, insight that lies at the heart of all desert wisdom.  Both Christ’s wisdom and his glory are uncreated.  Both Christ’s awareness and his presence are uncreated, because his Name, ‘I AM,’ reveals God, not just information about God.  But transfiguring awareness does indeed embrace created intelligence and created cognition in an ineffable manner that transforms and deifies them.  There are no delusional dualisms nor idolatrous monisms lurking here in God’s transfiguring wisdom or glory.  The pure in heart see God not with their dualistic minds or reifying sense perceptions, but by grace, which is uncreated wisdom unveiling uncreated glory.  For Saint Gregory Palamas, wisdom is uncreated not created energy, beholding glory which is uncreated not created energy, but the mind is illumined and the senses transfigured in the deifying mysteries of glory and wisdom.

 Saint Seraphim of Sarov transmitted this transfiguring awareness in a snow laden clearing in a frozen Russian forest, awakening direct awareness of transfiguring presence in the immediate presence of transfiguring awareness.  Saint Seraphim of Sarov is decisive confirmation that desert wisdom is transfiguring, but he was acutely aware that a fatal insensitivity to transfiguring insight was rife in his day.  In our time, this insensitivity has hardened further into many sorts of frozen fixation and addictive resistance that refuse to turn and see.  But it remains a fact that we are all created in the image of God and that this image, being uncreated energy of wisdom beholding the uncreated glory of God, is an uncreated mystery not a created phenomenon.  In the illumined heart of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, transfiguring awareness is aware of the presence of transfiguring glory, glory being transfiguring presence that transfigures awareness, whether in the nineteenth century, or indeed, in any age.  Uncreated energies such as wisdom and glory do not die out, or run out of energy like created energies in time.  Speech runs out of its capacity to express these mysteries, but transfiguring energies never run out of their power to illumine and glorify the saints.

Desert wisdom centres as blessed stillness in hallowing silence but cannot avoid sometimes being obliged to try to say what cannot strictly be said at all.  Prophecy speaks in veiled, poetic diction of a pearl, of mustard seed, of water or fire, of bread or leaven, of a Bridal Chamber or a Holy of Holies and these symbols and parables still speak to awakening hearts even though they inevitably fall short of the ineffable glory that they symbolise.  Elders are obliged to become prophets in order to say what blessed stillness means.  Saints are obliged to pray verbally in order to prepare their hearts to hear the Spirit’s ineffable words.  The living witness of the desert knows the transfiguring wisdom of glory and the transfiguring glory of wisdom, both of which purify hearts with uncreated fire, illumine hearts with uncreated light and deify hearts in uncreated glory, depending upon the heart’s capacity to receive them and make them its own.  Transfiguration will assuredly continue to be the revelatory  paradigm of desert wisdom because wisdom never ceases to reveal transfiguring glory and glory is unceasing in its desire to be loved and known by transfiguring wisdom.  Centred in God’s decisive recognition of God’s transfiguring glory, wisdom is God’s unique insight into transfiguring glory, God’s God-centred glorification of God, transfiguring all through all.