The Holy Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


"And He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light" (St. Matthew 17:2).

The Holy Transfiguration is a theophany--a manifestation of God, especially of the Divinity of Christ, through a display of His Uncreated, Divine energy. Therefore, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Holy Transfiguration as a major feast day.

The transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor took place a little before His Holy Passion, forty days before the passion and Crucifixion, to be exact. Moreover, the purpose of the Transfiguration was to confirm the Disciples in the faith that this was the Son of God, so that they would not be weakened by the things that they would see in those days. This truth is seen in the troparia (hymns) of the Church. In one we sing: "Before Thy precious Cross and Thy Passion, taking with Thee those among Thy holy Disciples that Thou hast specially chosen, Thou hast gone up, O Master, into Mount Tabor". And in the Kontakion of the feast it says: "...that when they saw Thee crucified, they might know that Thy suffering was voluntary, and might proclaim unto the world that Thou art truly the Brightness of the Father."

The events of the feast are preserved in all three synoptic Gospels, for the Transfiguration is a central event in the life of Christ and contains many theological messages. (Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Lk. 9:28-36).

The Transfiguration of Christ is a crowning event in the life of the Disciples which relates to Pentecost, for it is a great experience of God. To be sure, there is a difference between the Transfiguration and Pentecost, in that at the Transfiguration the Disciples were not yet members of the deified Body of Christ, as they became on the day of Pentecost.

The word 'transfiguration' means change of form. In other words, at a certain moment Christ revealed what He had been concealing. He manifested the glory of the Divinity with which His human nature was united from the moment of His conception in the womb of the Theotokos. Through His great love for mankind Christ concealed what He always had, in order that the Disciples should not "be burned" by reason of their unfitness, because they had not yet been prepared.

At that moment Christ was transfigured, "not assuming something that He was not, nor changing into something which He was not, but manifesting what He was to His own Disciples" (St. John of Damascos). Essentially, when we speak of the Transfiguration we mean that He manifested the glory of His Divinity, which He kept unseen in the visible body, because men were not able to face it.

Saint John Chrysostom says that Christ did not show His whole Divinity, but a small energy of it. And He did this, on the one hand, to give information about what the Divine glory of the Kingdom is like, and on the other hand, out of love for mankind, lest they even lose their life on seeing the full glory of the Godhead. Therefore the Mystery of the Transfiguration is both a revelation of the Kingdom and an expression of God's love and His philanthropy.

Christ's Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor took place after a proclamation by Christ. "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the Kingdom of God present with power" (St. Mark 9:1). And at once the Evangelist describes the event of the Transfiguration which happened six days later, for, as we see in the Gospels, no other event was placed between them, neither teaching nor miracle. This means that these days between Christ's word and His Transfiguration were spent in silence.

People say many things about what the Kingdom of God is. Some identify the Kingdom of God with the will of God prevailing throughout the world, others with the future blessedness of the righteous. However, the connection of the Kingdom of God with the Transfiguration of Christ indicates that the Kingdom of God is the vision of the uncreated grace and glory of the Trinitarian God in the human nature of the Logos (Word), and is indeed the deification (theosis) of man.

The Church and the divine Eucharist can be called the Kingdom of God, if those who live in it attain the vision of the uncreated glory of God, which is the real Kingdom. If we speak of the Church and the Kingdom of God and do not link them with seeing God, the vision of the uncreated light, we are making a theological error. Moreover, the mysteries (sacraments) of the Church manifest the Kingdom of God and guide man to it, precisely because they are very closely connected with the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God.

It is a fact that God is and is called Light, for, on the one hand, it is a revelation of Christ Himself, who said: "I am the light of the world" (St. John 8:12), and on the other hand, because all who were granted to see Him saw Him as radiant light. Saint John Chrysostom points out that the Evangelist says that the Person of Christ shone like the sun, because there is no other image to present the radiance of Christ's Person at that moment.

On Mt. Tabor in addition to the Trinitarian God there are five persons. Near Christ are two outstanding persons of the Old Testament, the Prophet Moses and the Prophet Elijah, as well as the three Disciples, Peter, James and John. The first are representatives of the Old Testament, of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah), and the Apostles are representatives of the New Testament.

The Disciples had two main reasons for knowing that the persons who had appeared from the Old Testament were Moses and Elijah.

First, by the grace of God. In other words, they recognized the God-seeing men of the Old Testament because they were in God's Light. As Saint Gregory Palamas says, God's Light reveals the whole future, and much more, it reveals the present and the past. Secondly, the God-seeing men of the Old Testament were recognized by the Apostles from the conversation which they had with Christ. The Holy Evangelist writes: "And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him" (St. Matthew 17:3). The words of St. Luke the Evangelist, who also gives the content of the conversation, are characteristic: "Then behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem" (St. Luke 9:30-312). The men of the Old Testament who were revealed at that moment were speaking of Christ's Passion.

The fact that Christ's body was a source of uncreated grace has momentous consequences for the Life of the Church. For just this reason we are able to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. In Holy Communion man does not receive the grace of God in an abstract way, but receives Christ's Body, which is identical with God and is a source of uncreated grace. To be sure, this is said in awareness that not every Christian who takes Communion is made holy, but only one who has been prepared, who is a real and living member of the Church, of the Body of Christ. Holy Communion works in accordance with the person's spiritual condition.

Saint Maximos the Confessor teaches that Christ is not shown to all in the same way, but to the beginners He is shown in the form of a servant, while to those who are ascending the mountain of vision of God He is shown "in the form of God."

The Transfiguration of Christ shows us just what Orthodox theology is. From the teaching of the Church we know that theology is not conjectural and cerebral knowledge, but man's sharing in the deifying energy, vision of uncreated Light and, indeed, deification (theosis). When we speak of theology we mean experience and vision of God.

In conclusion we must say that the Transfiguration of Christ is the central event in Christ's life, but also a fundamental point in the life of man. Therefore, it must be analyzed not with beautiful, moral thoughts and sentimental effusions, but in the framework of orthodox theology. Moreover, we live in the Church and are trying not simply to become good people, but to be gods by grace. The life of the Church and Orthodox theology summon us to this height. 

[source: The feasts of the Lord by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos]

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George