liturgical living, transfiguration, august feast day
The Scripture Account
Jesus Is Transfigured
Matthew 17: 1-8
Six days later, Jesus took Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And in their presence he was transfigured; his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will make three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud cast a shadow over them. Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were greatly frightened. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Stand up, and do not be frightened.” And when they raised their eyes, they saw no one, but only Jesus.
What's Happening Here?
The Transfiguration is considered one of five major events in the life of Christ. The others being His Baptism, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension.
You can find the account of the Transfiguration in all three synoptic Gospels: Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9: 2-9, and Luke 9: 28-36. We can tell from the timing of this event that it must have happened during the Jewish Feast of Booths which is a week long holiday that takes place in the Fall.
During this time Our Lord, about one year before His passion, death, and resurrection, takes Sts. Peter, James, and John up to Mt. Tabor. And while there He reveals His glory to them; His face shone, His clothes were dazzling white, and rays poured over His body. Jesus reveals to them the fullness of who He is, He is the Son of God. Initially, they were pleased to have seen the radiance of Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here." We then hear Moses and Elijah speak of Jesus' suffering and death which is a foreshadowing of what is to come. And towards the end of this account we hear God's voice claiming Jesus as His beloved Son. The disciples are immediately struck with fear at the sound of this, but Jesus walks to them and with a simple touch commands them to stand.
Throughout this account we can see that Jesus is preparing them for what is to come. He is encouraging and strengthening them with these profound accounts so that their belief is reinforced and they can carry on with courage.
Why are Moses and Elijah There?
During the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John notice that Moses and Elijah are there as well and many can't help but wonder, why.
In short, their presence on either side of Jesus shows that Christ fulfills the Law, represented by Moses, and the prophets, represented by Elijah. In fact, many theologians will refer to Jesus as the New Moses, who brings the law to completion. There are many parallels that illicit this title such as the transfiguration taking place not long after the multiplication of loaves and fishes miracle. Moses too was able to feed the Israelites with Manna while he led them out of the wilderness. We can also call to mind the the account of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai, after seeing God Scripture tells us that his face was radiant and many images depict his hair being completely white.
The connection with Elijah is also intriguing, specifically in reference to the word and action of the exodus. During the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah speak about Jesus' departure. The Greek word that we see Luke use for departure is exodos, and how fitting is that connection with Moses who leads his people in an exodus to the promised land. And yet it is also appropriate in helping us understand why Elijah is there too. There are so many profound prophets that could have stood next to Jesus, yet we have Elijah. This is because he had an exodus of his own kind too, in that he didn't die, but was carried up body and soul into Heaven by flaming chariot. You can read more about this in the second book of Kings. And lastly, the prophecy of Malachi must be noted here which states that Elijah will be sent back to earth before "the great and terrible day of the Lord comes." Again, through Elijah's presence we see fulfillment of the prophets.
Fun Liturgical Fact
The Solemnity of the Transfiguration wasn't really celebrated in the Western church until the 11th century. Before then it was more commonly honored by the Eastern church, specifically the Syrian, Byzantine, and Coptic rites. This feast was officially integrated into the liturgical calendar in 1457 to commemorate the victory of over Islam in Belgrade. On July 22, 1456, Crusaders defeated the Turks at Belgrade. When news of the victory reached Rome on August 6th, Pope Callistus III placed the feast on the Roman calendar the following year.
Have Your Grapes Blessed
I encourage you to partake in this ancient tradition by having grapes blessed. This has lived on in the Church since the 4th century! In fact, we have the oldest prayer for the blessing of fruit from the Apostolic Constitution from the 4th century. There is a Prayer of Thanksgiving for new fruits from St. Hyppolytus from around 220AD. And from the 6th Ecumenical Council (680-681AD) we have Canon 28 which tells us that new wheat and grapes are to be blessed on this day.
Grapes are an obvious connection to the Eucharist in that they become the wine which in turn becomes Christ’s blood. Creation is transfigured into something new and brilliant. When we partake in the Eucharist we too are transfigured as we become what we have received, the body of Christ. Christ then transfigures the world. On this day, God reveals to us the splendor that we were made for, the restoration of all that we are through His own transfiguration.
If you don’t get to have your grapes blessed, then have a glass of wine, eat grapes, or make a meal with grapes.