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The Holy Transfiguration of the Lord by V. Potapov

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On August 6/19, the Church celebrates the Transfiguration of Our Lord.  Although all believers in Jesus Christ undoubtedly celebrated this Feast in the early Church, today Western Christians, Roman Catholics and Protestants, little mark this Feast.

As told to us by the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Christ was on his way to Jerusalem, where judgment and death awaited him.  He stopped at the foot of Mt. Tabor.   With only three of His disciples, Peter, James and John, He ascended to the summit.  There, He allowed them to witness His Divine Glory:  His face shone with a light which his disciples could not bear to watch, and His vestments became white as snow. The disciples saw the Savior conversing with two Old Testament Prophets, Moses and Elias, who stood beside Him

In rapt admiration of the marvelous vision, and not wanting it to end, the Apostle Peter proposed to Jesus Christ that three tabernacles be constructed – for Him, for Moses, and for Elias.  While Peter was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from it the voice of God the Father sounded, bearing witness to Jesus as His beloved Son, and calling upon the disciples to heed Him.  After the vision had ended, and while the Savior and his three disciples were beginning their descent, He ordered them to tell no one of what they had seen until the Son of Man (as He often referred to Himself) should be risen from the dead.

Christ came into the world in order to save it from the power of sin and death, and He did so not through His All-mighty Power, but through  His merciful and healing love. He revealed Himself first as one of the prophets of Israel, and only gradually revealed Himself to His disciples as the Messiah and Savior of all mankind and all creation.  Seeing before Him suffering, troubled mankind, Christ healed the sick, fed the hungry, and even resurrected the dead.  However, He invariably wanted these miracles kept secret, so that people would come to believe in the truth of His teaching, to believe in Him as the Son of God, and not simply submit themselves to Him as one who worked miracles and  had overcome ordinary human law.

However, the Savior knew that it was very difficult even for His disciples, witnesses to the His miracles and constant hearers of His Good News, to comprehend the mystery of Divine Incarnation, to see in Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God who had become the Son of Man.  It would be even more difficult to comprehend the voluntary nature of the Savior’s coming death.   Only later did the disciples come to understand that Christ, who was perfect life, voluntarily descended into the embrace of death in order to rend and destroy death from within.  It was to help His disciples greet the awful hour of His crucifixion and death on the Cross, that Christ revealed to His chosen ones the sight of His Divinity on Mt. Tabor.

The liturgical texts of the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord are a pinnacle among the Orthodox Church’s compositions.  They relate to us that before the eyes of His disciples, Christ bared a “little ray of dawn” of His Divinity – He revealed to them only as much of His Divine Glory as their eyes were capable of perceiving.  The fullness of Christ’s victorious Glory will be revealed to us only beyond the borders of this world, in the fullness of the Kingdom of God, the path toward which Christ reveals to us who believe on Him as Our God and Savior.

The Gospel text which immediately follows the account of Christ’s Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor tells us of how difficult is the path to the Kingdom of God.    While Christ and the three disciples were yet on the mountain summit, a dumb youth who suffered from epilepsy was brought to the disciples of Christ who had remained at the foot of the mountain.  The sick boy’s father told Christ that he had asked His disciples to heal his son, but they had been unable to do so.   In response, Christ spoke what could appear to be harsh  words:  He called those around Him a “faithless generation” and added  “How long shall I be with you?”  “How long shall I suffer you?”  But in response to the assertion by the father of the sick child that he believed in the healing power of Christ, the child received healing.

Here we see a dramatic juxtaposition: Christ had just shown His disciples on the summit of Mt. Tabor the image of the victorious Kingdom of Heaven; meanwhile the foot of the mountain was shrouded in darkness and the devil accomplishes his gloomy rule over the world and its works.  Christ pushed back this enemy, forcing him to yield.  This duel will continue until the marvelous day when Christ’s cosmic victory over the devil, the victory of light over darkness, is accomplished, the day when man together with all creation will possess that fullness of incorruption and eternal life,  granted to them by God in the beginning.

All of the glad tidings of the Church, and all of its prayers, have been part of the ongoing duel between God and Satan.   Ultimately, we have been praying for only one thing: that from the heights of the mountain of Transfiguration, Christ might extend to us the Hand of Salvation, that His eternal light might bring light into our darkness.

Archpriest Victor Potapov, 2001



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