This feast commemorates the manifestation of Christ’s glory as recorded by St. Matthew. “Jesus took Peter, James and his brother John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves, and was transfigured before them. And His face shone as the sun, and His garments white as snow. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking together with him. The Peter addressed Jesus, saying ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If You will, let us set up three tents here, one for You, one for Moses and one for Elias.’ As he was speaking, behold. A bright cloud overshadowed them, and suddenly a voice out of the cloud said, ‘ This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear him.’ And on hearing it the disciples fell on their faces and were exceedingly afraid. And Jesus came near them and touched them, and said to them, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.’ But lifting up their eyes, they saw no one by Jesus only” (Mt. 17:1-8).
Their miracle happened during the second half of Christ’s public ministry. The fathers of the church number it among the greatest of those miracles, which testify to Christ’s divinity. One can find an account of the Transfiguration also in Mark 9:1-8, in Luke 9:28-36, and also in St. Peter’s second Epistle 1:10-21.
From a psychological standpoint, the miracle of Transfiguration took place at a very opportune time. The cross of Calvary was already casting its shadow when Jesus ascended Mount Tabor with His beloved disciples, destined to see Him in Gethsemane at the time of his humiliation and abasement. They would need such a miracle to be spiritually strong when the time of trials came. “You were transfigured on the mount and Your disciples insofar as they were able beheld your glory, O Christ our God, that, when they should see You crucified they would remember that Your suffering was voluntary and could declare to all the world that You are truly the effulgent splendor of the Father” (kontakion).
A stiffed neck Israel had rejected the Messias; but now the true Israel represented by Moses and Elias, recognized and adored him. One was a representative of the Law, the other, a representative of the prophets, “ for the Law and prophets do serve You since You are God” (kathisma).
The Transfiguration has a deep meaning for the liturgy. Liturgical texts exist not merely to instruct us, mainly to signify that which actually takes place. What once happened on Mount Tabor happens every time the Holy Sacrifice is offered. Christ is, in fact, being transfigured on the altar. Under the simple appearances of bread and wine, the eyes of faith can see the glorified Christ. The Holy Eucharist is “the sacrament of transfiguration.” The liturgy goes even further. It not only reveals Christ transfigured but allows us to share His glory.
The feast probably originated in the fourth or fifth century. Sermons dealing with the event are found among those of St. Augustine and St. Leo the Great. The Armenians keep the feast for three days as one of the five great feasts of the year. The Roman rite was slow to adopt it, however, and it is not mentioned before 85 A.D., though it appears in the synaxaria of the Copts and in the eight century menology of Constantinople. Synaxarion (Gr., collection) is a collection of short biographies of the saints. In 1457, Pope Callistus III extended the feast to the Roman rite in memory of the victory won by John Capistran and John Hunydadi over the Turks at Belgrade in 1457, the news of which reached Rome exactly on August 6.
The feast has a one-day pre-festive period and a seven day post-festive one.
On this day, fruits are blessed, especially grapes, because they are symbolic of the perpetually new transfiguration of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
Next Feast Days
|July 20||Feast of the Prophet Elias|
|August 6||Transfiguration of our Lord|
|August 15||Dormition (Assumption) of the Mother of God|
|August 29||Beheading of St. John the Baptist|