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Transfiguration

The trans­fig­u­ra­tion of Christ is one of the cen­tral events record­ed in the gospels. Imme­di­ate­ly after the Lord was rec­og­nized by his apos­tles as “the Christ [Mes­si­ah], the Son of the Liv­ing God,” he told them that “he must go up to Jerusalem and suf­fer many things … and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16). The announce­ment of Christ’s approach­ing pas­sion and death was met with indig­na­tion by the dis­ci­ples. And then, after rebuk­ing them, the Lord took Peter, James, and John “up to a high mountain”—by tra­di­tion Mount Tabor—and was “trans­fig­ured before them.”

… and his face shone like the sun, and his gar­ments became white as snow and behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli­jah, talk­ing with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli­jah.” He was still speak­ing when lo, a bright cloud over­shad­owed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; lis­ten to him.” When the dis­ci­ples heard this, they fell on their faces with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, say­ing, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lift­ed up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were com­ing down the moun­tain, Jesus com­mand­ed them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead” (Mt 17:1–92, see also Mk 9:1–9; Lk 9:28–36; 2 Peter 1:16–18).

The Jew­ish Fes­ti­val of Booths was a feast of the dwelling of God with men, and the trans­fig­u­ra­tion of Christ reveals how this dwelling takes place in and through the Mes­si­ah, the Son of God in human flesh. There is lit­tle doubt that Christ’s trans­fig­u­ra­tion took place at the time of the Fes­ti­val of Booths, and that the cel­e­bra­tion of the event in the Chris­t­ian Church became the New Tes­ta­men­tal ful­fill­ment of the Old Tes­ta­men­tal feast in a way sim­i­lar to the feasts of Passover and Pentecost

In the Trans­fig­u­ra­tion, the apos­tles see the glo­ry of the King­dom of God present in majesty in the per­son of ChriSt They see that in him, indeed, all the full­ness of God was pleased to dwell,” that “in him the whole ful­ness of deity dwells bod­i­ly” (Col 1:19, 2:9). They see this before the cru­ci­fix­ion so that in the res­ur­rec­tion they might know who it is who has suf­fered for them, and what it is that this one, who is God, has pre­pared for those who love him. This is what the Church cel­e­brates in the feast of the Transfiguration.

Thou wast trans­fig­ured on the mount. O Christ God, reveal­ing Thy glo­ry to Thy dis­ci­ples as they could bear it. Let Thine ever­last­ing light shine upon us sin­ners. Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giv­er of Light, glo­ry to Thee (Tropar­i­on).

On the moun­tain wast Thou trans­fig­ured, O Christ God, and Thy dis­ci­ples beheld Thy glo­ry as far as they could see it; so that when they would behold Thee cru­ci­fied, they would under­stand that Thy suf­fer­ing was vol­un­tary, and would pro­claim to the world that Thou art tru­ly the Radi­ance of the Father (Kon­takion).

Besides the fun­da­men­tal mean­ing which the event of the Trans­fig­u­ra­tion has in the con­text of the life and mis­sion of Christ, and in addi­tion to the theme of the glo­ry of God which is revealed in all of its divine splen­dor in the face of the Sav­iour, the pres­ence of Moses and Eli­jah is also of great sig­nif­i­cance for the under­stand­ing and cel­e­bra­tion of the feast. Many of the hymns refer to these two lead­ing fig­ures of the Old Covenant as do the three scrip­ture read­ings of Ves­pers which tell of the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the glo­ry of God to these holy men of old (Ex 24:12–18; 33:11–34:8; 1 Kings 19:3–16).

Moses and Eli­jah, accord­ing to the litur­gi­cal vers­es, are not only the great­est fig­ures of the Old Tes­ta­ment who now come to wor­ship the Son of God in glo­ry, they also are not mere­ly two of the holy men to whom God has revealed him­self in the pre­fig­u­ra­tive theo­pha­nies of the Old Covenant of Israel. These two fig­ures actu­al­ly stand for the Old Tes­ta­ment itself: Moses for the Law and Eli­jah for the Prophets. And Christ is the ful­fill­ment of the Law and the Prophets (Mt 5:17).

They also stand for the liv­ing and dead, for Moses died and his bur­ial place is known, while Eli­jah was tak­en alive into heav­en in order to appear again to announce the time of God’s sal­va­tion in Christ the Mes­si­ah. Thus, in appear­ing with Jesus on the mount of Trans­fig­u­ra­tion, Moses and Eli­jah show that the Mes­si­ah Sav­iour is here, and that he is the Son of God to whom the Father him­self bears wit­ness, the Lord of all cre­ation, of the Old and New Tes­ta­ments, of the liv­ing and the dead. The Trans­fig­u­ra­tion of Christ in itself is the ful­fill­ment of all of the theo­pha­nies and man­i­fes­ta­tions of God, a ful­fill­ment made per­fect and com­plete in the per­son of Christ. The Trans­fig­u­ra­tion of Christ reveals to us our ulti­mate des­tiny as Chris­tians, the ulti­mate des­tiny of all men and all cre­ation to be trans­formed and glo­ri­fied by the majes­tic splen­dor of God himself.

There is lit­tle doubt that the feast of the Trans­fig­u­ra­tion of Christ belonged first to the preÃ?Easter sea­son of the Church. It was per­haps cel­e­brat­ed on one of the Sun­days of Lent, for besides cer­tain his­tor­i­cal evi­dence and the fact that today Saint Gre­go­ry Pala­mas, the great teacher of the Trans­fig­u­ra­tion of Christ, is com­mem­o­rat­ed dur­ing Lent, the event itself is one which is def­i­nite­ly con­nect­ed with the approach­ing death and res­ur­rec­tion of the Saviour.

… for when they would behold Thee cru­ci­fied, they would under­stand that Thy suf­fer­ing was vol­un­tary (Kon­takion).

The feast of the Trans­fig­u­ra­tion is present­ly cel­e­brat­ed on the sixth of August, prob­a­bly for some his­tor­i­cal rea­son. The sum­mer cel­e­bra­tion of the feast, how­ev­er, has lent itself very well to the theme of trans­fig­u­ra­tion. The bless­ing of grapes, as well as oth­er fruits and veg­eta­bles on this day is the most beau­ti­ful and ade­quate sign of the final trans­fig­u­ra­tion of all things in Christ. It sig­ni­fies the ulti­mate flow­er­ing and fruit­ful­ness of all cre­ation in the par­adise of God’s unend­ing King­dom of Life where all will he trans­formed by the glo­ry of the Lord.