A blessed feast of the Transfiguration of Christ to everyone! Χρόνια πολλά και καλό Παράδεισο! Today’s feast is considered one of the 12 major feasts of the Church. It is a feast of the Lord, μια Δεσποτική εορτή. The Transfiguration occurred 40 days before the Crucifixion of Christ, but it is such a joyous feast that we do not celebrate it during Great Lent. The Church, in Her wisdom, therefore placed this feast instead on August 6, exactly 40 days before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14 (Η Ὑψωσις του Τιμίου Σταυρού) when we also remember Christ’s Crucifixion. Because of the joy of the Transfiguration, the fasting today is not as strict and fish therefore is traditionally eaten. In our churches today, we also have special prayers that are read for the blessing of grapes. In the Slavic Orthodox churches, other kinds of fruit, including apples, are also blessed. With the blessing of the grapes and other fruit, we offer to God things He has given us, in gratitude. The blessing itself also points to the reality of all of creation sharing in this victory of transfiguration and change that Christ brings about through His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension and by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.
The Transfiguration of Christ reveals to us the heights God wants to bring us human beings. The glory with which Christ shone forth is the destiny of all the Saints and all those united with the Lord. We are callled to be Saints, to experience a very real union with Him in which we do not lose our human essence and personality, but in which we become more and more godlike, just like iron in a fire does not stop from being iron. We can experience God in a very real, personal way, even now in this life.
The Christian life is not a one-day event or something for only several hours. The Christian life encompasses every facet of our lives, every moment, every hour, every day. The Church, again in Her wisdom, continues to celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration until August 13. The reason for this is to give us more time to reflect and pray upon the great meanings that the Transfiguration of Christ presents for our lives. It is no coincidence that this all occurs during the Dormition Fast. While the fasting is relaxed today, we are assisted by fasting and prayer, and most especially the prayers of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos (Mother of God), to grow closer to the Lord and achieve this union with Him. Even the apolytikion, the dismissal hymn of the feast, serves as a reminder of the necessity of turning to the Panagia in our journey to Christ.
“You were transfigured on the Mount, Christ God revealing Your glory to Your disciples, insofar as they could comprehend. Illuminate us sinners also with Your everlasting light, through the intercessions of the Theotokos. Giver of light, glory to You.”
“Μετεμορθώθης εν τώ όρει Χριστέ ο Θεός, δείξας τοίς Μαθηταίς σου τήν δόξαν σου, καθώς ήδυναντο, Λάμψον καί ημίν τοίς αμαρτωλοίς, τό φώς σου τό αϊδιον, πρεσβείαις τής Θεοτόκου, φωτοδότα δόξα σοι.”
(The text of the Apolytikion in Greek and English is provided by the Greek Orthodox Archdioces of America on www.goarch.org)
The Russian Saint Seraphim of Sarov, who experienced the uncreated light of the Transfiguration, tells us that fasting, prayer, and all these practices of the Church help us to acquire the Holy Spirit, which is the goal of our lives. This is so important to remember because this applies to everyone – regardless of whether we are members of the clergy, monastics, simple pappoudes and yiayiades, cooks at a diner, or the CEOs of a big comapany.
I close with sharing with you the Gospel reading from the Liturgy for today’s Feast in Greek and English, along with a little insight from Saint Nikolai Velimirovich, a 20th century Serbian Saint who actually lived in America and was canonized recently by the Serbian Church.
Matthew 17:1-9 (New King James Version)
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 with 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, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was 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.”
Καὶ μεθ’ ἡμέρας ἓξ παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν κατ’ ἰδίαν· καὶ μετεμορφώθη ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν, καὶ ἔλαμψε τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ὡς ὁ ἥλιος, τὰ δὲ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο λευκὰ ὡς τὸ φῶς. καὶ ἰδοὺ ὤφθησαν αὐτοῖς Μωϋσῆς καὶ Ἠλίας μετ’ αὐτοῦ συλλαλοῦντες. ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Πέτρος εἶπε τῷ Ἰησοῦ· Κύριε, καλόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς ὧδε εἶναι· εἰ θέλεις, ποιήσωμεν ὧδε τρεῖς σκηνάς, σοὶ μίαν καὶ Μωσεῖ μίαν καὶ μίαν Ἠλίᾳ. ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος ἰδοὺ νεφέλη φωτεινὴ ἐπεσκίασεν αὐτούς, καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνὴ ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης λέγουσα· Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα· αὐτοῦ ἀκούετε· καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ μαθηταὶ ἔπεσαν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον αὐτῶν καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν σφόδρα. καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἥψατο αὐτῶν καὶ εἶπεν· Ἐγέρθητε καὶ μὴ φοβεῖσθε. ἐπάραντες δὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτῶν οὐδένα εἶδον εἰ μὴ τὸν Ἰησοῦν μόνον. καὶ καταβαινόντων αὐτῶν ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄρους ἐνετείλατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων· Μηδενὶ εἴπητε τὸ ὅραμα ἕως οὗ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῇ.
(The Greek text for the New Testament is provided by ww.myriobiblos.gr, the Online Library of the Church of Greece)
Saint Nikolai’s Commentary, from The Prologue From Ohrid, courtesy of the Serbian Orthodox Church Diocese of Western America, which can be found at www.westsrbdio.org/prolog/my.html
“Why did the Lord take only three disciples on Tabor and not all? Because Judas was not worthy to behold the divine glory of the Teacher, Whom he will betray and the Lord did not want to leave him [Judas] alone at the foot of the mountain so that the betrayer would not, by that, justify his betrayal. Why was our Lord transfigured on a mountain and not in a valley? So as to teach us two virtues: love of labor and godly-thoughts. For, climbing to the heights required labor and height represents the heights of our thoughts, i.e., godly-thoughts. Why was our Lord transfigured at night? Because, the night rather than the day is more suitable for prayer and godly-thoughts and because the night, by its darkness, conceals all the beauty of the earth and reveals the beauty of the starry heavens. Why did Moses and Elijah appear? In order to destroy the error of the Jews, as though Christ is one of the prophets; Elijah or Jeremiah or some other that is why He appears as a King above the prophets and that is why Moses and Elijah appear as His servants. Until then, our Lord manifested His divine power many times to the disciples but, on Mt. Tabor, He manifested His divine nature. This vision of His Divinity and the hearing of the heavenly witness about Him as the Son of God, should serve the disciples in the days of the Lord’s passion, in strengthening of an unwavering faith in Him and His final victory.”