The Feast of Transfiguration

The icon that now hangs on our sanctuary cross is a symbolic representation of The Transfiguration. Our church is named for this event described in the three synoptic Gospels, that tell us that Jesus took three apostles (James, Peter, and John “the beloved”) and led them up a high mountain.  There, he was transfigured into blinding light. Both his face and clothing changed before their eyes.  Matthew, in his Gospel says, “His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became dazzling white.” Mark comments that his clothes were “such that no one on earth could bleach them”.

The Latin word for transfiguration is transfiguratio, “to be changed to another form.” The Transfiguration, therefore, is a revelation of Christ’s true and divine nature, which manifests the Trinity. It also confirms the continuity between the Old and the New Testaments by showing Jesus with the Old Testament patriarchs, Moses and Elijah. Then, while they were with Jesus, a voice came out of a cloud and said: “This is my Son, the beloved.”

The icon depicts a stylized mountain landscape, with Jesus standing on a central peak, His arms raised in prayer. Moses and Elijah stand on either side on lesser peaks. Jesus is clothed in a white and gold robe that appears to have dazzling light coming from within it.  This light is the central feature of this icon and is known as the uncreated light of God.  It is a supernatural light with transforming power that has its source in God’s own being. Furthermore, He is surrounded by a gold and red boat-shaped image known as a “mandorla”—the ancient symbol of the Creator God. At Jesus’ feet is a round medallion showing an agnus dei—the Lamb of God, which is the phrase that John the Baptist used to identify Jesus when our Lord appeared for His Baptism. Moses carries the tablets representative of the Law, and Elijah wears the “cloak of prophesy” that he passed on to Elisha before ascending to Heaven in the chariot of fire.

Thus James, Peter, and John, who witnessed the Transfiguration, experienced the Trinity: they heard the voice of the Father, they saw the Son, and the Holy Spirit enveloped them in the brilliance of the uncreated light.  They also witnessed Moses and Elijah, who represented the “Law and Prophets”, and who confirmed that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophesies.  Thus, the God they had served so faithfully for so long, without actually seeing, could now be seen and spoken to face to face. Here, in the blinding light on the mountain of the Transfiguration, the prophets and the disciples were able to witness God’s personified radiance directly.  Hallelulia!      

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