Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Holy Transfiguration of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ

Christ ascending Mount Tabor with Peter, James and John; fresco from Decani Monastery (taken from:
"Our Lord had spoken to His disciples many times not only concerning His Passion, Cross, and Death, but also concerning the coming persecutions and afflictions that they themselves would endure. Since all these evils were near at hand, but the enjoyment of good things which they hoped to receive in their stead was yet to come, our Savior desired to give them full assurance, evidently and openly, concerning that glory which is prepared for those who endure to the end. Therefore, fulfilling that which He had promised shortly before, that "there be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His Kingdom" (Matt. 16:28), He took His three foremost disciples and ascended Mount Tabor, where He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as the light. Suddenly, together with this dread and marvelous effulgence of light, there appeared those pinnacles of the Prophets, Moses and Elias, who spoke with the Lord Jesus concerning His saving Passion which was about to take place. Standing before Him as reverent servants, they showed that He is the Lord of both the living and the dead, for Moses came forth from Hades, having died many centuries before, and Elias, as it were from heaven, whither he had been taken up while yet alive. After a little while a radiant cloud overshadowed them and out of the cloud they heard that same voice which had been heard at the Jordan at the Baptism of Christ, testifying to the Divinity of Jesus and saying: "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased; hear ye Him" (Matt. 17: 5).

Detail of mosaic from Daphne Monastery showing Christ transfigured on Mount Tabor (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
Such are the marvels, truly worthy of God, celebrated in this present feast, which is an image and prefiguring of the future state of the righteous, whose splendor the Lord spoke of, saying: "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun" (Matt. 13:43). It is because of this that the Kontakion of this Feast is said daily (when there is not a great feast) in the Service of the Typica in perpetual commemoration of the glory that will be the lot of the Saints. According to tradition, the Lord's Transfiguration came to pass forty days before His Crucifixion; this is why the Transfiguration is celebrated forty days before the Exaltation of the Cross."
(taken from:

Detail of fresco from Decani Monastery showing Christ transfigured (taken from:
From the Prologue of St. Nikolai, from August 6th:
"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."
Christ descending Mount Tabor with Peter, James and John; from Decani Monastery (taken from:
"Why did our Lord not manifest His divine glory on Tabor before all the disciples instead of before three of them? First, because He Himself gave the Law through the mouth of Moses: "At the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established" (Deuteronomy 19:15). Therefore, three witnesses are sufficient. These three witnesses represent three main virtues: Peter Faith, for he was the first to confess his faith in Christ as the Son of God; James Hope, for, with faith in the promise of Christ, he was the first who laid down his life for the Lord, being the first to be slain by the Jews; John Love, for he reclined on the bosom of the Lord and remained beneath the Cross of the Lord until the end. God is not called the God of many but rather the God of the chosen. "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" (Exodus 3:6). God often valued a faithful man more than an entire nation. Thus, on many occasions, He wanted to destroy the entire Jewish nation, but because of the prayers of righteous Moses, spared that nation to live. God listened more to the faithful Prophet Elijah than to the entire unbelieving kingdom of Ahab. Because of the prayers of one man, God towns and people. Thus, the sinful town of Ustiug was to be destroyed by fire and hail had it not been saved by the prayers of the one and only righteous man in it, St. Procopius, the "fool for Christ" (July 8)."

Detail of fresco showing Christ transfigured (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
For St. Gregory Palamas's "Discourse on the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ", see:
The great feast of Christ's transfiguration is celebrated joyously in monasteries and churches throughout the world. The Athonite monasteries of Koutloumousiou and Pantocratoros celebrate their feast days, along with the church on the peak of Mount Athos.
Finally, it should be said that an incredible miracle occurs every year when the Orthodox celebrate Christ's transfiguration at the church on Mount Tabor. The following is an account by Archbishop Seraphim of Canada:
"Some of you will remember Archbishop Nikolai of the Patriarchal Jurisdiction who was bishop in this area a long time ago. When I was visiting him one time, he told me how it was when he was an archimandrite in the Middle East a very long time ago. In those days, he always had to go to Mount Tabor to serve the Liturgy on this feast-day. Always on the feast of the Transfiguration (and I didn’t realise it, but I learned this year that it happens on both old and new calendars), at night-time, at the time of the vigil...there are clouds already gathering around the top of Mount Tabor. (At this time of year in Palestine there are no clouds at all – just sun, sun, sun.) The people go into the church on the top of Mount Tabor, and they are praying in the middle of the night. During this time, this cloud, which is not exactly like ordinary clouds (they say it has a different quality of some sort), comes down on top of the mountain. Archbishop Nikolai says that instead of bringing all their fruit into the church, the people leave it outside. The cloud comes down, and when they come out of the church in the early morning, everything is all wet. The people understand that God, Himself, has blessed their fruit. This happens every year. I heard from somebody who just came back from there who was there on August sixth on the new calendar, and it happened then, too. It is happening on both feasts. The LORD doesn’t care too much about the calendar; He cares about us, and reassuring us with His love..."

Icon of the Holy Transfiguration of Christ (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
Apolytikion in the Grave Tone
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.
Kontakion in the Grave Tone
You were transfigured upon the mount, O Christ our God, and Your disciples, in so far as they could bear, beheld Your glory. Thus, when they see You crucified, they may understand Your voluntary passion, and proclaim to the world that You are truly the effulgence of the Father.
Awake you dull thoughts, be not always groveling and bending my soul towards the earth; arise and go up to the height of divine ascent. Let us run to join Peter and Zebedee╩╣s sons, and with them go directly to Mount Tabor; that with them we may see the glory of our God, and may also hear the voice that they heard from heaven; and they proclaimed the Father’s radiance.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

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