The Feast of the Holy Transfiguration of Christ

Transfiguration Icon

Today in the Orthodox Church we commemorate the Transfiguration of Christ.

The Apolytikia of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, Grave Mode

Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God,
showing to Thy disciples Thy glory as each one could endure.
Shine forth Thou on us, who are sinners all, Thy light ever unending, through the prayers of the Theotokos.
Light-bestower, glory to Thee!

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking to Him. Then peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, and for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was yet still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say Elijah must come first?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.
-Matthew 17:1 – 13

From the Orthodox Study Bible:

The 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 Transfiguration of the Lord as a major feast day.

Several elements of the Transfiguration show that Christ is Messiah and God.

1. Because God is light (1Jn 1:5), the bright cloud, the shining of Jesus’ face like the sun, and the whiteness of His garment (Mt 17:2, 5) all demonstrate that Jesus is God. (In some icons this light is shown as beyond white, a blue-white, ineffable color, indicating its spiritual origin.)

2. The Father bears witness from heaven concerning His Son. He does not say, “This has become My beloved Son,” but “This is My beloved Son” (17:5), indicating that this divine glory is Christ’s by nature. From eternity past, infinitely before Jesus’ Baptism and Transfiguration, He is God’s Son, fully sharing the same essence of the Father: Jesus Christ is God of God.

3. The Transfiguration not only proclaims Christ’s divine sonship, but foreshadows His future glory when He as the Messiah will usher in the long-awaited Kingdom. The bright cloud recalls temple worship and the cloud that went before the Israelites in the wilderness, the visible sign of God being extraordinarily present. Peter sees this as a sign that the Kingdom has come. Knowing that the Feast of Tabernacles is the feast of the coming Kingdom, he asks to build booths (17:4), as was done at the feast, to serve as symbols of God’s dwelling among the just in the Kingdom.

4. Moses represents the law and all those who have died. Elijah represents the prophets and – since he did not experience death – all those who are alive in Christ. Their presence shows that the law and the prophets, the living and the dead, all bear witness to Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of the whole Old Testament.
The presence of Moses and Elijah also manifests the communion of the saints (Heb 12:1). Both men are immediately recognizable and talk with the Lord. The disciples are now able to understand Jesus’ words that “Elijah has come already” (17:12) referring to John the Baptist. Their eyes have been opened to the fact that Malachi’s prophecy (4:5, 6) refers to one coming “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Lk 1:17), rather than to Elijah himself.

5. Finally, the Holy Trinity is manifest here, for Christ is transfigured (Mt 17:2), the Father speaks from heaven testifying to Jesus’ divine sonship (17:5), and the Spirit is present in the form of dazzling light surrounding Christ’s person, overshadowing the whole mountain (17:5).

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