The Transfiguration Of Our Lord
Today the Church celebrates the holy transfiguration of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. Forty days before our Lord would be crucified - He vouchsafed three of His apostles to behold His heavenly glory on the summit of Mt Tabor. This manifestation of His Divine Light was both a blessing to strengthen them for the faith-shaking events that were to come – His arrest, His trial, and His crucifixion; and it also served as a beacon of hope – giving us a glimpse of the eternal glory which was the nature of Christ and the possible inheritance of those who would believe in Him.
The Transfiguration is one of the twelve great feasts of the Church Year and it has been celebrated by the Orthodox Church from the earliest times. Although the event celebrated in the Feast occurred in the month of February, forty days before the Crucifixion, the Feast was transferred to August because its full glory and joy could not be fittingly celebrated amid the sorrow and repentance of Great Lent. The sixth day of August was chosen as being forty days before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, when Christ’s Passion is again remembered.
What is the importance of the Transfiguration for the Church and for each one of us?
Let us begin by thinking about the people that appeared at the summit of Mt Tabor.
First of all, we have the three beloved disciples who were chosen by our Lord to witness this event – Apostles Peter, James, and John. Several Church writers have recognized in each of these three disciples their principle virtues: Apostle Peter representing faith, Apostle James representing righteousness, and Apostle John representing love. By what possible means might we hope to ascend the upward path of salvation with Christ our Lord? It is only by a life of vibrant faith, the struggle for righteousness, and sacrificial love that we may hope to witness the Light of Christ’s glory.
And then whom do we behold appearing with Christ? It is Moses and Elijah – two of the great figures of the Old Testament. And what is the significance of having Moses and Elijah standing to the right and left of Christ as He manifests His glory? Moses is the representative of the Law and Elijah is the representative of the Prophets. Both the Law and Prophets bear witness to Christ.
Christ spoke many times about how He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. And His entire life stands as a testament to the fulfillment of the prophecies of old, which foresaw and awaited His coming.
Christ had spoken about the Law and the Prophets in the following way… When asked what the greatest commandment in the law was, He responded: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ And then he said this significant thing… ‘On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’
The Law - represented by Moses; and the Prophets - represented by Elijah; are fulfilled by the perfection of Love – represented by Christ our Lord, Who is the Divine Manifestation of perfect love for God and all mankind.
If we have love, we will strive to fulfill the commandments of Christ. And if we have love, we will show compassion and mercy toward our brothers and sisters. To those who love God, all things work together for good and lead us toward the grace and light of Christ.
Atop Mt Tabor, we read that the radiance of the Grace and Light of Christ ‘shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light… and 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!”’
The disciples fell on their faces in awe and fear! It is interesting to think about what was happening here… Did Christ change such that He no longer hid the fullness of His glory? Or were the eyes of the disciples somehow opened to see that which was being manifested all along?
Apostle Paul speaks about our earthly life as ‘seeing through a glass darkly’. Our fallenness blinds us to the realities of the presence of God and of His great glory. And perhaps in this God is merciful… for if we were to have the scales removed from our eyes and beheld the presence and the glory of God, we too would be struck down in awe and fear.
Christ allowed His disciples to see this glimpse of His glory in order to encourage them in the face of coming struggles, to bolster their faith, and to offer them hope of that life which is to come. Let us behold the transfiguration of our Lord in this same spirit. May it encourage us in the face of struggles, may if bolster our faith in this faithless generation, and may it offer us hope in the glorious promises of our Lord for those who would live their life in faith, righteousness, and love.
May God bless you on this radiant feast of the Transfiguration!