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Holy Transfiguration 2012

August 6, 2012

On Sunday, August 5, 2012, on the Eve of the Feast of Holy Transfiguration, we celebrated Vespers and the Blessing of Fruit. The blessing of fruit is a pious custom which finds its roots in the desire of the faithful to bless the first-fruits of the harvest, which become ready around the time of the feast. There is a poetic connection between the harvest and the Feast, as we see the tilled earth transfigured in the beauty of the fruit which comes forth from it, just as we see the beautiful fruit of our spiritual labors emerge in our lives. Below is an article written by Fr. John about the feast, from the most recent edition of The Cupola.

Once celebrated during the course of Great Lent, the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is related to the Jewish Feast of Booths (Sukkot). The celebration of Sukkot is itself described in the Old Testament book of Leviticus (Lev 23:39): “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord seven days… you shall dwell in booths for seven days… that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.”

Thus, the Feast of Booths was an agricultural, harvest festival, and the booths were temporary dwellings, set up in the fields to accommodate the harvest workers. By their design, such shelters were neither permanent nor adequate for survival. They illustrated the fact that human existence is precarious. In being brought out of slavery, the Israelites were dependent on God for their food, for their shelter, for their well-being. In time, the celebration of the Feast of Transfiguration was moved to August 6, at the time of the grape harvest. The connection with the earlier feast was not forgotten, however. The three disciples, Peter, James and John, beheld a vision of brilliant light issuing forth from Christ, who stood on Mt. Tabor. Peter, making reference to these temporary dwellings, hastily suggests that they erect three booths, for Our Lord, and for Moses and Elijah, who were also present.

The fullness of the moment, however, is revealed by the manifestation of the Trinity, through the voice of the Father, the glorified image of the Son, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the cloud. Here we see a close parallel with the Feast of Theophany, when Christ is baptized by St. John in the Jordan. On both occasions a voice is heard from the heavens, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased…”

Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, and the living and the dead (Elijah never died but was taken up into heaven on a chariot, whereas Moses suffered an earthly death), stand on either side of Our Lord. Thus, Christ’s transfiguration takes place
at the center of history, between Heaven and Earth, with all of creation bearing witness. The Transfiguration is telling us something of cosmic and eternal importance, something about life itself. Yet the disciples are immediately forbidden to speak about this event, until after the Resurrection. Why?

The blinding vision of light reminds us of other “theophanies” in Scripture, such as when Zechariah is rendered speechless at the appearance of the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:20), or when St. Paul became mute, following a very similar vision of light (Acts 22: 6-11).
Beholding the Glory of God, human discourse and analysis seem strange and inappropriate, whereas silence, wonder and awe seem right.
Moreover, the true significance of the event would be hidden from the disciples until after the Resurrection. Until then, they would be unable to appreciate what they had seen, or understand how it applied to themselves.

In view of the Resurrection, it became clear that the entire creation, with mankind at its center, was destined to share a measure of this grace – the uncreated energy of God, as described by St. Gregory Palamas – that was visible to the disciples. The Transfiguration reveals to us the Divinity of Christ, but also the vocation of mankind, who having been made in the image and
likeness of God, is restored to the fullness of grace in the Resurrection of Our Lord.

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