All of us are familiar with light. The sun’s light awakens us in the morning. It warms our skin when we are outdoors. It causes plants to grow, and indeed, they tend to grow TOWARD the light of the sun, seeking it’s nourishment.
We know about light that comes from other sources. We light candles in the Church as symbols of our faith, filled with warmth and light. We know about the light that comes from electricity. We know of light that comes from other things in nature, animals and insects which emit light, some under the sea, some that fly through the night air. We even know about light that comes from chemical reactions (the “light sticks” that are all the rage).
But inside every one of these sources of light that we’ve mentioned, each produces light that is a product explainable through the creation. The sun’s light comes from nuclear fusion which in turn emits photons. Candles burn the fuel of wax, and in the conversion of stored energy in the wax, again photons are emitted which we can see. This process is true in every instance of light we’ve mentioned.
But on Mount Tabor, something different happened. Our Lord takes Peter, James and John up the mountain, and there He meets with Moses and Elijah. And what do the Evangelists say about what happens there?
St. Matthew: His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light…. (And) behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them.” (Mat 17:2, 5)
St. Mark: His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. (Mark 9:3)
St. Luke: As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. (Luke 9:29)
What is the source of this light that the three Evangelists document? Note that their words do not define it, but rather allude to it, point to it. They have no words to use which can comprehend the reality of this light. It is “like” things, but it is not those things. St. John Chrysostom explains this inability to fully express what the Apostles witness, but cannot in human terms comprehend.
When the Lord wishes to say something about Himself, He uses human images. As for instance, He went up to the mountain, and was transfigured before them, and His face shone as the light, and His garments became white as snow. He revealed, he says, a little of His divinity, He showed them the indwelling of God… The Evangelist then wanted to show His brilliance, and so he says, He shone. How did He shine? Tell me. Exceedingly. And how do you say? As the sun… Why do you say so? Because I have no other star brighter. And He was white as snow. Why as snow? Because I have no other matter whiter. That He did not shine (in an earthly) way is indicated by the following: ‘And the disciples fell to the ground.’ If He had shone as the sun, the disciples would not have fallen (for they saw the sun every day, and did not fall); but because He shone more than the sun and more than the snow, that is why, unable to bear the brilliance, they fell down. (Homily 56 on Matthew)
St. John goes on to indicate that this light, different from light inside of creation, is the very Light of God Himself, not light from His creation, but the Light that IS His being.
It is THIS light that the saints of the church speak of as uncreated light. It is THIS light that we will encounter on that last day when we come before the Lord for Judgment. It is THIS light that reveals all things (for how did Peter, James and John know that those who spoke with the Lord were Moses and Elijah?).
May we be illumined by the Light that is Christ our Lord!