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THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD
 The Gospel narrative on the Transfiguration
 The glory of the Transfiguration
 The significance of the Lord's Transfiguration
 The three Saviours
 Homily for the Transfiguration of Our Lord
 The Divine Light
 The Transfiguration of our Lord



The Transfiguration of Our Lord
The glory of the Transfiguration
"And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James and John, his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as light."
(Matt. 17:1-2)

The men whom Christ had said would not taste death until they should see the form and the foreshadowing of His Coming are these three Apostles, whom having taken with Him He brought to a mountain, and showed them in what manner He was to come on the last day: in the glory of His Divinity, and in the body of His Humanity.

He led them up to the mountain that He might also reveal to them Who this Son is, and Whose Son is He. For when He asked them: Whom do men say that the Son of man is? they said to Him: Some Elias, some other Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. And so He led them up into a high mountain, and showed them that He was not Elias, but the God of Elias; nor was He Jeremiah, but He that had sanctified Jeremiah in his mothers womb; nor one of the prophets, but the Lord of the prophets, and He that had sent them.

And He showed them also that He was the creator of heaven and earth, and the Lord of the living and the dead; for He spoke to the heavens, and they sent down Elias; He made a sign to the earth, and raised Moses to life again.


Mount Tabor - the site of the Lord's Transfiguration
Mount Tabor - the site of the Lord's Transfiguration.

He took the Apostles up into a high mountain apart, that He might also show them the glory of His Divinity, and that He might declare Himself the Redeemer of Israel, as He had been foretold by the Prophets, and so that they would not be scandalized in Him in the passion He had taken upon Himself and which for our sakes He was about to suffer in His human nature. For they knew Him as the son of Mary, and as a man sharing their daily life in the world. On the mountain He revealed to them that He was the Son of God, and Himself God.

He took them therefore up to the mountain that He might show them His Kingdom before they witnessed His suffering and death, and His glory became His ignominy; so that when He was made a prisoner and condemned by the Jews, they might understand that He was not crucified by them because of His own powerlessness, but because it had pleased Him of His goodness to suffer, for the salvation of the world.

He brought them up to the mountain that He might also show them, before His Resurrection, the glory of His Divinity, so that when He had risen from the dead they might then know that He had not received this glory as the reward of His labor, but that He had it from all eternity, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Church of Transfiguration on the very site of the wondrous event.
Church of Transfiguration
on the very site of the wondrous event.

The disciples upon the mountain beheld two suns: one, to which they were accustomed, shining in the sky; and Another, to which they were unaccustomed, which shone for them alone - the face of Jesus before them. And His garments appeared to them white as light: for the glory of His Divinity poured forth from His whole body, and all His members radiated light.

And there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with Him.

And this was the manner of their speech with Him: they gave thanks to Him that their own words had been fulfilled, and together with them the words of all the Prophets. They adored Him for the salvation He had wrought in the world for mankind, and because He had in truth fulfilled the mystery which they had themselves foretold. The Prophets therefore were filled with joy, and the Apostles likewise, in their ascent of the mountain. The Prophets rejoiced because they had seen His Humanity, which they had not known. And the Apostles rejoiced because they had seen the glory of His Divinity, which they had not known.

Father Seraphim Rose.

Our church icon of Transfiguration
Our church icon of Transfiguration
The Divine Light

There was a time when sunlight was not contained within an orb as within a vessel. Light was first-born, while the orb was made on the fourth day of Creation by the One Who made everything. He united the light with the orb and thus created a luminary which gives day to people and shines during the day. In the same manner the Divine light existed before it became contained in the body of Christ as in a vessel. This light is pre-eternal, while the adjunct obtained from us by the Son of God human flesh was created later, for our sake; having taken on Himself the fullness of Divinity, He the Son of man became a divinely creative and divinely radiant luminary. Christs face shone like the sun, while His garments became white as snow. The Evangelist Mark says: His raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. Thus, both the body of Christ and His garments shone with the same light, but unequally: His face became radiant as the sun, while His garments shone from contact with His body. He thus showed us the nature of that garment of glory, in which will be clothed those who will be with God in the eternal age, and also the nature of that garment of sinlessness, which Adam lost through his transgression and, seeing his own nakedness, was ashamed.

Saint Gregory Palamas

The Glory of the Lords Transfiguration.

We know from the holy Gospel that a great trembling, a great awe seized the holy Apostles on Mount Tabor when they were overshadowed by a cloud, and from this cloud they heard the voice which creation cannot hear without trembling, the voice of its Creator, the voice of God the Father, Who bore witness to His Son.

But it was not only awe the Apostles felt; in the Gospel narrative about the holiday we hear Apostle Peters words: Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.

These words issued from the depths of the Apostles heart, which was overcome with spiritual rapture and joy, and at this moment Apostle Peter did not even think of what would actually happen if they remained on the mountain; moreover, the Gospel points out that Peter did not know what he was saying, i.e. he did not fully realize the import of his words, but only expressed his spontaneous feelings and joy. It is that blessed feeling of Gods presence, which was attested to by the two whom the Lord had summoned - one from the netherworld and the other from the mysterious world beyond - the prophet and God-seer Moses and the prophet and God-seer Elias.

The Lord's Transfiguration
The Lords Transfiguration.

Do you remember how the prophet and God-seer Moses saw Him? The Lord conversed with him as with His friend, and said to him: I know you better than all the rest, you are closest of all to Me. And then Moses dared to ask: Show me Thy glory. And the Lord responded kindly to this request. He only pointed out to His faithful servant that man cannot stand face to face with the glory of God, cannot see the face of God and remain alive (because man would be so overcome with rapture, and joy, and awe, that his mortal being would crumble, would melt like wax in the presence of fire).

For this reason the Lord said: Thou canst not see My face; for there shall no man see Me, and live; but said the Lord, - there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock, and while My glory passeth by, I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with My hand when I pass by, and thou canst stand and look after Me (see the reflection of My glory) but thou shalt only see Me from behind, as I pass by.

And so it was: the Bible says that when Moses looked after the departing Lord, his face afterwards always shone like the sun, so that it was impossible to look at him, and when he was among people, he always covered his face and took off the cover only when he prayed to God or was alone. Moreover, according to the Holy Fathers, the One Who appeared to Moses there on the mountain, the One at Whose back he had looked, was the Lord God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity the Son of God. Thus Moses saw Him, and later he was honored to see Him face to face on Mount Tabor, where Moses himself appeared in glory.

And the prophet and God-seer Elias was worthy to feel the blessed presence of God. He had achieved a great feat: he had led Israel to the true faith, but the evil Queen Jezebel hated him and began threatening him with death. Then Elias became frightened and fled. But it would be wrong to think that he fled because he feared for himself personally and was afraid of death.

When Elias fled into the desert, it was for death that he asked the Lord, - consequently, he did not fear death, but he was afraid that if Jezebel seized him and executed him, it would seem that his work did not end well; the impression would be created that he had committed some crime for which he was justly punished.

And in order for those whom he had brought to God not to be left with such an impression, - Elias hid from the wrath of the evil queen. But there in the desert the angel told him to come out in the morning from the cave in which he was hiding and to stand at its entrance.

Elias is in the cave. He hears the stormy elements pass by: a great and strong wind, a mighty earthquake, a searing fire but the Lord was not there, says the Bible succinctly. And when after all that wafted a thin voice of coolness, a quiet, peaceful and refreshing breeze it was there that Elias sensed the mysterious presence of God and there was the Lord Thus he, too, was worthy to stand before His creator and converse with Him; and now, on Mount Tabor, he, together with Moses, stood face to face before the transfigured Lord.

For creation in general, and especially for man, there can be no greater bliss than to be worthy to stand directly before the face of God, - to the degree to which he can stand it without having his mortal essence fall apart.

Therefore the Church sings on the feast of the Transfiguration that the Lord showed His glory to the disciples in so far as they were able to bear it. Not all of His awesome and unbearable glory, before which even the angels tremble and are unable to gaze upon, but only a part of His glory, as much as the prophets and the apostles were able to bear.

But the first-created people in paradise possessed this bliss: the Lord appeared to them like a Father, talked with them in paradise as with His children. And only then did they understand what they had had and what they had lost, - just as the Russian saying laments: We do not treasure what we have, but we weep upon losing it

But remember that the Lord calls each one of us to eternal life. There, when the human soul passes into the region of eternity, it will earn this bliss as much as it merits it, for eternal bliss, the bliss of the Heavenly Kingdom, will consist of man being always with God and in Gods realm. And this naturally reminds us, as it should always remind us, of our sins and our imperfection.

Nothing impure or foul will enter the Kingdom of God, and for this reason each one of us has to cleanse himself of all impurity of body and soul here on earth, as the Holy Scriptures tell us, else we will not see the glory of God and our souls will remain in eternal darkness and alienation from God, from which may the Lord deliver us, sinners. Each one of us is greatly sinful, but still we hope that by His mercy the Lord will not deprive us of His Heavenly Kingdom.

Metropolitan Filaret (Voznesensky)
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