Posted by: Fr Chris | August 4, 2019

Transfiguration with Jesus


This is one of the twelve major feast days on our Byzantine Catholic calendar. Only in 1966, by imitating the American Roman Catholic Church which was dropping feast days rapidly, did our  Church suddenly break the various holy days down into new and artificial categories: obligatory, solemn, and simple. Transfiguration was made into a “solemn” despite it being one of the twelve major feast days show on the second row of the iconostas, despite the special ceremonies of blessing fruits and especially grapes, despite the obvious importance of it being an event in which the divine nature of Jesus is revealed in a magnificent way to the three apostles, despite the presence of the two great prophets of Israel, Moses and Elijah, who confirm for those three Jewish apostles just Who Jesus Christ is.

He is more than the Messiah, and the promised one of the ages. He is God Incarnate, the unique God-Man.  Jesus was physically perfect because He is the New Adam. He shows us exactly what we are to become. Call to mind the image of the Man on the Shroud of Turin. Jewish men at the time averaged five foot, five inches. or one meter, 65 centimeters. This Man is five foot, eleven inches, or one meter and 80 centimeters. He towered above the crowds, which certainly helped with events like the Sermon on the Mount, so that everyone could hear Him. The body of that Man is physically perfect, weight in proportion to the body, firmly muscled from years of labor as a carpenter and walking throughout Palestine for three years of preaching.

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This is a celebration of Theology of the Body in a very real way, as is the next holy day, the Dormition of Our Lady. In this feast, Jesus allows the three to glimpse part of His glory, the glory that God told Moses no one could see and live. In the icons, only Peter looks up, since he is the leader of the apostolic college, and even he holds his hands in front of his face. The apostles see at least part of the fullness of the Godhead that lives inside Jesus’ body – what we hear on Easter Sunday in the Byzantine Rite from the Prologue of John: The Word became flesh. God’s magnificent glory lives still today in the body of the Risen Christ – this is a glimpse of what the apostles and we ourselves have to look forward to after our deaths – we are made to share this glory ourselves in our humble bodies! Christ will change our humble body to conform to His glorified body, says Saint Paul in the letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verse 21.

For us, it begins here – theosis, divinization, is a key doctrine of both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. It is open to every Christian, to be transformed by grace during our life here on earth. Some saints, especially Seraphim of Sarov, were transfigured not only in their souls but in their bodies here on earth, because they opened themselves up to God’s living, piercing grace. To receive God’s grace is to partake of His divine energies, from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we open our souls to grace, when we step aside and let God inside of us, that is what comes to us.

To go back to the Shroud – the Man on that Shroud has 370 scourge wounds that are visible, and scientists estimate that He was whipped 600 separate times. So indeed, the visions of mystics of a bloody and violent Passion are quite accurate, as is that horrific scene in the film Passion of the Christ. But here is the key for this feast day: the Man’s face is serene, peaceful, at rest, despite those wounds, the nerve damage, a dislocated shoulder, thirst, and having suffered torture and psychological abuse. He is completely at peace. That is what divine grace brings us: the transforming energies of God that conquer the physical, emotional, and spiritual pains that we each suffer from. To receive His grace, to experience theosis, be it a moment or for years, is to filled with that abiding peace. The first thing Jesus says in the Upper Room after His resurrection is —- Peace.


This is also a harvest feast – people bring the first fruits of the year to church to be blessed. This continues the ancient Jewish practice in which first-fruits were given to God. We know that this feast was observed in the early 400s, and that blessing of fruits goes back as far as 200 AD, in terms of written prayers, and therefore even earlier than that. Pears, apples, almonds, peaches, figs, berries – all kinds of fruit were brought to church, as we still do today. The prayer specifies that these fruits are blessed so as to bring healing to the sick, protection against the actions of Satan, and to strengthen us.

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In particular grapes are brought, as they produce the wine that becomes the Blood of Christ in the chalice at Holy Communion. This event on Mount Tabor took place shortly before Christ’s Passion, and therefore before the Last Supper in which  Christ would give His Blood. The sharing of the Transfiguration was meant to strengthen Peter, James and John. Unfortunately they would forget this, just as we can forget all about God’s redeeming grace being close at hand when we are tempted to sin. Having blessed fruit in the house is a physical reminder of God’s mercy to us – He sanctifies these by His Holy Spirit, so as to lead us to heaven.

We are made so as to live with God – not just in heaven, but here. Ask Our Lord at Holy Communion for strength to want to live with Him, and not sin, and for the wisdom to do so, both for our own salvation, and to live so as to bring other souls to Christ’s loving embrace.

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