The Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Part II)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our True God and Our Only True Savior,

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

THE HOLY TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD, GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST

The Transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor took place a little before His 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 hadst specially chosen, Thou hast gone up, O Master, into Mount Tabor". And in the Kontakion hymn 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."

So, canonically Christ's Transfiguration should be celebrated in the month of March, corresponding to the time of the year when Pascha is celebrated. But since this time coincides with the period of Holy Lent and could not be celebrated festively, the feast was transferred to the sixth of August. This date is not chosen at random, as it is forty days before the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (14 September), which is similar to Holy and Great Friday.

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

The Transfiguration of Christ is the 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 the at the Transfiguration the Disciples were not yet members of the deified Body of Christ, as they became on the day of Pentecost.

However, there are also events in the life of Christ which constitute a transfiguration, when the Disciples were granted to see some rays of Christ's Divinity. I shall cite two of these events.

One was the calling of the two Disciples to whom Saint John the Baptist pointed out Christ. The Disciples had no sooner heard the Worthy Forerunner saying: "behold the Lamb of God", than they followed Him. And then "Jesus turned, and seeing them following, asked them what they were looking for. To their question about where He was staying, He invited them to come there with Him. And the Evangelist notes: "So they went and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day" (St. John 1:35-39). The fact that Christ turned His face and saw them means that He revealed the glory of His face to a small degree, which prompted them to want to stay with Him. Christ's home is the Light, for He is God "dwelling in unapproachable Light", and the fact that they stayed in His home that day means that the Disciples stayed a whole day in the vision of the Uncreated Light.

Thus we understand that the calling of the Disciples was not a simple invitation to which they responded because they had great ardor, but it was a fruit of the vision and revelation. And it shows, as Saint Theophylaktos says, that it is to those who follow Christ that He shows His face, the glory of His face, since if one does not actively follow Christ, one cannot attain the vision of God, for "how can he who has not purified himself and followed in purity be illuminated with knowledge?"

The second case is the calling of the Disciples, among whom was the Apostle Peter. Christ met them after the unsuccessful fishing and told them to cast their nets into the lake again. When against all expectation they caught many fish, Simon Peter threw himself at the feet of Christ and said: "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." And St. Luke the Evangelist justifies him: "For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken" (St. Luke 5:1-11). The Apostle Peter's sense that he was a sinful man was a fruit and result of the amazement, and of the ecstasy in which he was left by the miracle. It was an experience of the glory of God, the sense of the presence of the Son and Logos (Word) of God, but also of his own impurity, his sinfulness. If this event is compared with parallel apocalyptic events in the Old and New Testaments it shows that it is an amazement coming not form external events, but from a revelation of the glory of God.

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" (Saint John of Damaskos). 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.

It is said in the liturgical texts that during the Transfiguration Christ deified the human nature which He assumed. But this is said with a definite meaning and does not mean that it was only then that human nature was deified (theosis). According to Saint John of Damaskos, human nature was deified by the hypostatic union and communion with God the Logos (Word) which came about from the moment of His conception in the womb of the Theotokos on the day of the Annunciation. At that moment the Divinity deified the human nature, while the human nature was deified (St. Gregory the Theologian). During the Transfiguration of Christ this human nature, deified by its assumption by God the Logos (Word), was made manifest to the Disciples. Previously it was unknown, now it became manifest. It is in this sense that several troparia (hymns) speak about the deification of human nature during the Transfiguration.

This very fact leads us to the view on Mt. Tabor we do not have only a Transfiguration, a revelation of Christ, because he really showed some rays of His divinity then, but we also have a transformation of the Disciples. The Disciples were granted to see the deification (theosis) of the human nature of Christ, precisely because they themselves were transfigured. The Holy Fathers speak of a change in the Disciples. "They were changed and so they saw the change" (Saint Gregory Palamas). This means that there was a change, a Transfiguration of Christ, but this became known because there was also a change, a transfiguration of the Disciples.

The transfiguration of the Disciples took place in their whole psychosomatic being. The Disciples did not see the divine Light only with their nous, which is the eye of the soul, but also with those bodily senses which had previously been empowered by the uncreated energy of God and transfigured in order to see it. The bodily eyes are blind to God's Light, since man's eyes are created and cannot see the uncreated light. This is why they were changed by God's action and granted to see the glory of God (Saint Gregory Palamas). (Source: The Feasts of the Lord by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos).

(To be continued)

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TRANSFIGURATION: WHY BLESS GRAPES?

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 be transformed by the glory of the Lord.

This is an ancient tradition. The first week of August, on the 6th of August, the farmers used to gather the early fruits of their summer harvest (grapes, figs, etc.) and to present them in the Church to be blessed and to give them for free to the faithful Christians. These fruits are called the "beginnings."

In a text from the 7th century ("the laws of the Kingdom" by emperor Constantine Porfirogenitos) this tradition is described vividly: "The Emperor of Constantinople gathers the "beginnings" ("aparches") in Chalcedone, where there are many vines, and then he waits for the Patriarch of Constantinople to come on the holy day of Transfiguration, to bless the fruits and to personally hand out the grapes to the laymen."

In footnote 2 for Canon III of the Canons of the Holy Apostles it says that, "during the festival of the Dormition (Koimisis tis Theotokou...they used to offer bunches of grapes to the Patriarch...at the end of the Divine Service. Today, however, (this is St. Nikodemos Hagiorite writing in the early 19th century) it is the prevailing tradition in most regions for such grapes to be offered at the festival of the Holy Transfiguration of the Savior, and for them to be offered by the priest."

A nun, Mother Eufrosini adds...

However, as grapes do not ripen at the same time everywhere, the Church adapted this tradition in various ways. In some places in the Holy Land, for instance, grapes are blessed on the feast of the Prophet Elias. In Russia, where grapes were not always readily available, apples were more commonly blessed, and Transfiguration is known as "Yablochny Spas", "the Apple Feast of the Savior". In Northern Russia, where even apples were not ripe by August, it was traditional to bless peas.

In addition, the blessing of grapes, that is specifically, mentioned liturgically, is an allusion to the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the New wine that is Christ's Blood that nourishes us spiritually. The Liturgical prayers also refer to Christ Himself as the "divine cluster" attached to the Cross from which "Drips the Mystic Wine." (Source: Houston Young Adult Conference).

Please note: Thank you all who brought grapes to the Holy Transfiguration Divine Liturgy today. God bless you all KAI TOY CHRONOU! And on to Next Year!

Tomorrow of course strict fast resumes.

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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

+Father George