“In the Old Testament, to see God was to die; in the New Testament to meet God is to live.” Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of blessed memory, in his Meditations on a Theme.
Having come from a Presbyterian and Evangelical background, one of the repeated refrains was that the high point of the Old Testament (the locus of the metanarrative) was the exodus and the giving of the law. I have heard this repeated again and again by Evo scholars, and so central a place is it in Reformed Theology, that the system of Covenant Theology would break down without it. I won’t get into why here, it is beside the point. I bring this up because this was not the view of the Fathers, nor the view of Orthodox Church (and I would dare say you would be hard pressed to find it among Roman Catholics, e.g., see Fr. Aidan Nichols’ Lovely Like Jerusalem). No, the pinnacle of the Old Testament, the metanarrative to use our modern hermeneuticalists’ lingo, is Christ. Of course it is obvious that Christ cannot be a metanarrative. What the Old Testament gives us is Deus absconditus (Thou art a God who hides himself Is. 45:15), and a God of darkness (And the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was Ex. 20:21). This absence of God, so much a focus in Met. Anthony’s book Learning to Pray, is an existential problem for everyone, but in the Old Testament it was also a ritual and thus an ontological one. What does all that mean? For we Christians now, the presence of God is something sought, something longed for (or at least should be), something desired and at times fulfilled. If it is not, it is a commentary on our existence (our existential reality), that God, for really good reasons, has stood apart from us. In the Old Testament, while the desire was there, the fulfillment was not. There was something wrong with who and what the people of God were, that there was no way they could be united to God in that time, in that Christ had not taken flesh yet from our flesh. This can be most clearly seen in II Cor. 3 where St. Paul talks about how the glory of the old covenant was ephemeral, and that the blinding light that radiated from Moses’s face was a temporary glory, and actually spoke of the absence of God, and not His presence. If there is anything climatic about Sinai, it is God’s revelation of Himself to Moses, when Moses was hid in the cleft of the rock, and allowed to see but the back of God’s glory. So overwhelming was this that the Israelites had to veil Moses’s face. This veil is analogous, of course to the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. God was separate, hidden, whose face to see was to die.
This all changes with Christ. The full revelation of Christ as God is made complete with His death, for it is there and then that God has ended the separation, ritual and ontological, which kept us from Him. As we sing on the feast of the Transfiguration, Christ revealed Himself to the Peter, James, and John so that they would know that His death was voluntary. He has power over life and death, and the power to lay His own life down is part of the revelation of His divinity. No one could take it from Him. Note that He had hung upon the cross for but six hours. The soldiers and Pilate are surprised He’s dead (men had hung upon crosses for days). Further, He cried not with a whimper, but a loud voice “Consummatum est!” And so the revelation of God on Sinai finds its antitype in Mt. Tabor and the transfiguration. This Paul clearly has in mind when he ends II Cor 3 with the declaration that we are being transfigured into the same image, from glory to glory. The King James simply used the word “changed” and almost all modern versions use the world “transformed,” but all of this seems to skirt what St. Paul is clearly alluding to here, which is the Transfiguration of Christ, for he uses the same word, metamorphosis, that the Evangelists use of the transfiguration of Christ. And this is made explicit when St. Paul, talking about how the “god of this world” has blinded the minds (he uses the word noema, a cognate of nous, designating intellectual activity) of the unbelieving – – a blindness analogous to the blindness of Jews – – informs us that “God . . . hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
The light of Christ then, is the full revelation of God. We have now seen the Face of God, for we see Christ. There are no shadows in icons, for the light within an icon shines from the central figure, thus dispelling the darkness. So with us, the light Christ that illumines us should be dispelling the darkness. We as Christians, illuminated and feasting on the heavenly life, should be resplendent before the world. The very power that transfigured Christ on Mt. Tabor is no transfiguring us. (I am of two minds whether this light is something given to us new, part of our union with God effected by the Incarnation and Christ’s vanquishing death, or is something in us from our creation, having been created in Christ’s image, but something that lays dormant and smoldering awaiting the divine Wind to blow it into a flame, but that is another post.) With this the case, we await the Light of Christ to illuminate what we are, what we should be. No longer are we confined to merely seeing the back of God reflected in the face of Moses, but we see the very glory of God in the face of Christ, the Light of Light!