Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.” So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Indeed, Aaron and Hur are with you. If any man has a difficulty, let him go to them.” Then Moses went up into the mountain, and a cloud covered the mountain. Now the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. The sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel. So Moses went into the midst of the cloud and went up into the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:12-18)
On the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, we read the above scripture from Exodus, learning about Moses ascending Mount Sinai to meet the Lord God in the dark cloud of God’s glory. St Gregory of Nyssa, who wrote an allegorical interpretation of Moses life and ascent on the mountain, says the cloud of God’s glory was impenetrable to the human eye. The people watching Moses climb the mountain, lose sight of him and Moses realizes that in entering God’s presence, the people cannot see him. God alone can. Moses has become as invisible as God to the people of God.
“… [Moses] boldly approached the very darkness itself and entered the invisible things where he was no longer seen by those watching. After he entered the inner sanctuary of the divine mystical doctrine, there, while not being seen, he was in company with the Invisible. He teaches, I think, by the things he did that the one who is going to associate intimately with God must go beyond all that is visible and (lifting up his own mind, as to a mountaintop, to the invisible and incomprehensible) believe that the divine is there where the understanding does not reach.” (THE LIFE OF MOSES, p 43)
In Gregory’s interpretation of Exodus, Moses in climbing this mystical mountain, enters into the presence of God’s glory which is beyond human seeing, including beyond what the mind could reason. Gregory connects ‘seeing’ with what the mind is able to do accomplish through reason or philosophy. Moses is experiencing what God reveals about God’s self, something which cannot be attained by human effort. Moses is interfacing with God, ‘seeing’ God to the extent that God chooses to reveal Himself.
There is a sense that the luminous glory of God is experienced by us as darkness. As we enter into God’s glorious and luminous presence we at first experience this light as darkness because it is not something we are familiar with. Our minds cannot make sense of what we are seeing. Only when God reveals to us what we are looking at do we comprehend God. As we come closer to God we are moving into a realm which our minds cannot comprehend things in the normal way that we experience the material world. We are entering into the incomprehensible, and thus we encounter the light of God as darkness, until God enables us to see the light. St John Chrysostom notes how this light of God totally shocks us for it is not visible light, but divine light that we come to see. As we pray in Psalm 36:9 – “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” To see light within light is a mystical experience of God.
“But ‘then the righteous will shine like the sun’ (Matt 13:43), or rather even more than the sun. This comparison is made, not because their light will only be as great as the sun’s; but since we know nothing brighter than this star, the Gospel wanted to present the future brilliance of the saints in some familiar image. Since it says, when Jesus was on the mountain, that ‘he shone like the sun,’ it speaks in these terms here for the same reason. For the disciples showed, by falling on the ground, that the light was greater than this example. But if that light was not immense, but equivalent to the sun, they would not have fallen down, but could easily have endured it. So then, ‘the righteous will shine like the sun,’ and far more than the sun, in that time to come; but sinners will experience the ultimate sufferings.” (LIGHT ON THE MOUNTAIN, p 80)
For Chrysostom, the light which the 3 apostles experienced on the holy mountain at the Transfiguration of Christ, so shocked them that it knocked them down which shows it was not some kind of natural light. As he says, this wouldn’t have happened if they had seen a light equal to the sun, for we commonly see sunlight without being knocked over. This light was a force greater than the light of the sun. We not only will see God, but ourselves will be so transfigured by the event that we will become righteous ourselves and shine like the sun ourselves.