August 6 Feast of the Day – The Transfiguration

On this day in 1962, Jamaica became independent from the United Kingdom, giving the island’s bobsledders no team to train with for over twenty years.

Kölner Gospel IllustrationThe Transfiguration is the name given to the incident in the life of our Lord, recorded in all three Synoptics and recalled by St. Peter in his second epistle, in which he (Jesus) took Peter and James-and-John (Sons of Thunder™) (the only apostles with superhero titles) upon a mountain where he was transfigured (changed) before them, shining with a blinding light. In the Orthodox Church this light is called “uncreated” and identified as one of God’s Energies; the Catholic Encyclopedia (and if they don’t know who does?) gives the Western interpretation as “an interior shining of His Divinity.”

Suddenly (actually “suddenly” is not specified, they could have faded in like in the Transporter Room on Star Trek for all we know) Moses and Elijah appeared with him, causing Peter to burble, “Lord, this rocks. Let’s make booths for all three of you.” (Strangely, the account in 2 Peter fails to mention this detail.) The word “booths” has been taken to place the incident during the Jewish festival of Sukkoth (“Booths”) (cf. Leviticus 23:39–43) during which families dwell (nowadays some just eat) outdoors in, well, booths.

Transfiguration Icon DetailA voice then boomed from heaven, “This is my son. Shut up and listen to him.” (The “shut up” part is only implied, but very loudly.) The disciples were scared, um, witless. (Mark, by tradition a companion of Peter, gives this as an excuse for his “booths” remark.) The disciples fell upon their faces (many Orthodox icons show them losing their sandals in disarray), but were comforted by Christ: “Don’t be scared. But this is all strictly under wraps until after the Resurrection, K?” When they looked again, Moses and Elijah had been transported back off the planet surface.

Church Fathers, theologians, doctors, historians, iconographers, and (to a lesser extent) janitors have been fascinated with the Transfiguration from the very beginning. Iranaeus (ca. 130 – 202) was fascinated by it, and Thomas Aquinas called it the “greatest miracle.” Bob, seventh-century janitor at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai, is someone I made up just now.

Georgian Gospel CoverMoses and Elijah have been taken (by, inter alia, Origen and Martin Luther) to represent the Law and the Prophets, and thus the Old Testament as a whole (cf. e.g. Matt 22:40, Luke 16:16, et al.) (like the Latin?). Tradition identifies the location as Mount Tabor in present-day Israel (32°41′13.61″N 35°23′25.38″E). The top of the mountain is shared by a Franciscan monastery complex, including a hulkin’ basilica (completed in 1924), and an Orthodox Church built by the Romanians (completed in 1845 or 1862), which may incorporate bits of the twelfth-century Crusader church.

The Feast of the Transfiguration is mentioned as early as the IX century, is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of Orthodoxy, and was made a Universal Feast of the Church in the West by Pope Callixtus III to commemorate the Siege of Belgrade in 1456. In 2002, Pope John Paul II named August 6 one of the five Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary (which gave Transfiguration-lovers everywhere a warm glow). At one time it was celebrated during Great Lent (the pericope of the Transfiguration is (still) read on the Second Sunday of Lent on the Roman calendar). In the Orthodox calendar, the feast falls during the Dormition Fast (August 1–14), but the fast is relaxed to allow fish, wine, and oil (misplaced commas in that phrase have sometimes led to queries as to what exactly “fish wine” is – grammar matters, children). It is the occasion of the “blessing of the grapes” (or apples in non-grape growing regions) (what they bless in places where neither apples nor grapes grow, my sources do not divulge). The Germans, Martin Luther notwithstanding, abandoned the feast after the Reformation, although many other Protestant traditions still celebrate it, some in Lent, some just before Lent, and some on August 6. Which, if you think about it (with all due respect) (or without it), is the sort of variety you’d expect in Protestantdom.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

August 6 (Wikipedia)
Jamaica national bobsled team (Wikipedia)
The Transfiguration of Jesus (Wikipedia) – Main Source
The Bible (There are many great Bible resources online; my favorite is Bible Gateway).
Feast of the Transfiguration (Orthodox Wiki)
Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ (GOARCH)
Transfiguration (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Transfiguration (Orthodox Wiki)
Sukkot (Wikipedia)
Mount Tabor (Wikipedia)
Church of the Transfiguration (Wikipedia)
Gospel Book cover (Georgian) is from the OCA (copyright unknown)
Gospel Book illustration by the Master of Cologne (XI century) is from Wikimedia (public domain)
Icon detail is from GOARCH (copyright unknown)