Seventy-five years ago today, “on the feast of the Transfiguration, a light appeared from above and everything changed. In the sky there was a great cloud, and the light radiated forth brighter than the sun.”
Brighter Than a Thousand Suns says the title of a 1956 history of the atomic bomb and its aftermath, told through the lives of the scientists who developed it. I recall reading it when I was is high school, and, even at that age when all things scientific fascinated me, I have memories not only of fear and dread – the Cold War and the Arms Race were gaining an intensity that would climax, but not end, in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis – but also of sadness at the infighting and great personal tragedies that afflicted many of them. the Although it’s still in print, I’m not going back to the book to test the accuracy of my memory.
Much has been made of the, perhaps ironically providential, occurrence of this event on the Feast of the Transfiguration. I’m sure the decision-makers had no idea of the significance and legacy of this coincidence.
One of the better refections on this feast in the light of the irreversible threat of nuclear annihilation is a piece on a website devoted to Greek Orthodox spirituality, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Transfiguration“, the title being a take-off on the subtitle of the movie, Dr. Strangelove. The quote in the first paragraph is from this article. The author continues:
There was a thunderous sound, as if the heavens had opened. In an instant 66,000 souls fell to the ground, never to get up again. The city of Hiroshima was obliterated by a single bomb, the A-Bomb. The land was disfigured, irradiated. Over 100,000 ended up perishing from its effects, and those who survived it were changed, bearing the disfiguration in their bodies. This Bomb was a great mystery to the world, and through it the United States meant to speak to the world and to say “Be afraid.” . . .
Hiroshima was chosen to be the site of revelation to the world. The bomb had been revealed to a select group in New Mexico earlier that summer. The scientists and officials watched with great reverence and devotion. One blind woman miles away said she saw the light as well. A semi-official report of that first blast read “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” The operation was named Trinity. . . .
Three days later, another bomb was dropped over Nagasaki. The crew were all Christians and just before leaving, they sat with two Christian Chaplains who blessed them and their mission. Nagasaki was home to the largest Christian community in Japan. Over half of the Christians in Japan were killed by the bomb, succeeding where 200 years of intense persecution by the Japanese government had failed. The steeple of the Cathedral of St. Mary was used by the bombers for targeting. The bomb exploded directly over the Cathedral, which was the largest Christian Church in the orient at the time, with over 15,000 members. Exactly one week before Hiroshima was bombed was the feast of St. John the Soldier of Constantinople. St. John was canonized for his refusal to kill Christians and other innocents and for disobeying orders to do so. Some of the crew expressed doubt about the bomb they were dropping, but “orders were orders.” . . .
The Transfiguration is a promise to a broken world. A promise that all scars will be healed, all divisions overcome, all wars ended, and all souls restored. The Earth will no longer be a crucible of destruction, but the realm of the Kingdom. Atomic radiation will not shine forth from broken bodies, but the uncreated light from transfigured ones. Men will no longer aspire to harness the power of God, but will kneel before their king. There will no longer be cause to be afraid.
Today we remember. Once again the human race had looked upon itself and the world it inhabited with fear, hatred, and violence, and resorted to the most heinous mass execution of civilians that had ever occurred in an instant- the fruits of our dehumanizing fear. Against this, we find the words of the Transfigured whispering to us, “do not be afraid.” Let us pray that we do not need another great cloud and light before we “listen to him.”