The Feast of the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (August 6)


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



The Holy 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 chant: "Before Thy Precious Cross and Thy Passion, taking with Thee those among Thy Holy Disciples that Thou had specially chosen, Thou has 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 Lent and could not be celebrated festively, the feast was transferred to the 6th 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 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 (St. Matthew 17:1-8; St. Mark 9: 2-8; St. Luke 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.

However, there are also other 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 net 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 Saint 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 of 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 from external events, but from a revelation of the glory of God.

The word 'transfiguration' ('metamorphosis') 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 the 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. (Source: The Feasts of the Lord. An Introduction to the Twelve Feasts and Orthodox Christology by His Eminence Metropolitan of Nafpaktos HIEROTHEOS)

(To be continued)