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Feast of Transfiguration
By Rev. Fr. K. K. John

Feast of Transfiguration, more apt rendering would be transformation instead of transfiguration, is observed on August 6 as very important feast of our Lord. On this solemn occasion the disciples saw original glory of Jesus Christ. The Gospel reading is from Luke 9:28-26. Same incident is described in Mathew 17:1-8 and Mark 9:2-8. Jesus took Peter, John and James to a mountain to pray. As he prayed, appearance of his face was altered. His robe became white and glistening. Mathew’s delineation is more picturesque and flamboyant. “His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light,” 17:1. A cloud appeared. Moses and Elijah appeared and talked about the death of Jesus in Jerusalem. Then it seemed that the men would depart. Peter felt it better to be there and suggested to make three tabernacles for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. While thus saying, Moses and Elijah disappeared in the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, “This is my beloved son, hear him” and Jesus was found alone. Mathew and Mark add that Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone what they saw until resurrection from the dead.

Feast of tabernacle was one of the most important Jewish festivals. They lived in booths made of tree branches and leaves for seven days beginning from 15th day of 7th month to remind them that their forefathers were wanderers in the wilderness dwelling in booths, Lv 23:39-43. Peter suggested making three booths evidently because Transfiguration of Jesus Christ occurred during this feast. It was an occasion of harvest and rejoicing. We also call it, Koodaraperunal.

Apostle Peter solemnly affirms that transfiguration took place on a mountain, 2 Pe 1:18. Traditional belief is that transfiguration took place on Mount Tabor. Some scholars discredit it and yet others suggest mount Hermon. I do not intent to go into its dispute. Too many valleys and hills add splendor to Jerusalem, mount of temptation, Luke 4:5, Mount of beatitudes, Mt 5:1, mount of transfiguration, Mt 17:1, etc. Ancient religions ascribed great significance to mountains, as they believed God dwelt on mountains. Ancient Hindu temples such as Madhurai Meenakshi temple, Sri Venkateswara temple, etc are situated on mountaintops for this reason. It is a place of influence, fertility, refuge, hope and revelation. It symbolizes Creator’s Might and Majesty. God showed His glory to Moses and gave commandments on Mount Sinai, Ex 19:1-25. It is a place of consolation. David looked up to the mountain, for help, Psalm 121:1.

Why John failed to mention this incident in his gospel? John considered, according to certain scholars, whole ministry of Jesus was manifestation of divine glory. “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son,” 3:16, “Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” 1:14, “You may believe that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God,” 20:31, etc point to this aspect. Peter, John and James (the less) witnessed the glory of Christ. Why Jesus did not take other disciples for this spectacular event? They were inner circle disciples. Jesus did not consider all apostles equally close for all matters though undoubtedly they were equal as apostles. Peter was given new name and John was ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ Recognizing this difference early Christians considered Peter, John and James, half-brother of Jesus, as pillars of the Church, Gal 2:9.

Cloud represents the presence of God. Cloud stood guard as Israelites passed the desert, Ex 13:21. God appeared in cloud on Mount Sinai to give statutes to Israel, Ex 19:18. Cloud stood above the mercy seat, Lv 16:2. Cloud appeared while Jesus ascended heaven, Acts 1:9. Jesus Christ, it is assured, will come again in the cloud, Rev 1:7.

It is a paradox that we call this incident transfiguration. Though we call it transfiguration as if Jesus was shone in glory for that time the actual fact is, as Apostle John rightly beheld, Jesus Christ was manifested in His natural glory for that time for, during his earthly stay he concealed His actual glory in order to willfully identify with humanity and execute the whole plan of redemption without blemish. According to Paul He humbled himself unto death on the Cross.

Moses and Elijah was found with Jesus, says synoptic gospels. How they recognized Moses who lived 1300 years ago and died. No one ever knew his sepulture, Deut 34:6 and Elijah who lived 700 years ago and was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire without tasting natural death, which Elisha bears witness, 2K 2:11-12. Each of them would have entreated Jesus uttering their names and Jesus in turn would have addressed them by proper names or quite possibly God the Father might have revealed to them even as He revealed to Peter that Jesus was Messiah, Mat 16:17. Whatever it might be, their presence signify an important aspect. Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the great prophet stand here representing two important category of people namely, the departed and the living. Their presence symbolizes that both Law and prophets culminate in Christ or Christ is the fulfillment of Law and prophets. They were discussing very crucial matter, that is, the crucifixion that Jesus was going to face in Jerusalem. Moses’ presence confirms that departed faithful are alive, agile and are capable not only to know but also to partake in the events that affect the believers. Malachi the last prophet after exhorting to remember statutes that were given through Moses says He will send messenger Elijah, pointing to a joint venture which is fulfilled in the joint appearance of Moses and Elijah before Jesus, Mal 4:5-6. At any rate no one is more prominent than Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament to be witnesses to Christ. There are certain semblances too, that Moses on mount Sinai, Ex 24:15 and Elijah on mount Horeb saw the glory of God, 1K19: 8. They were ceding and witnessing the passing of authority to Jesus. Two men in shinning garments stood near the empty tomb. They might be, angels as generally believed, but most probably Moses and Elijah, Luke 24:4. Two men appeared when Jesus ascended to heaven and instilled hope in the disciples about second coming, Acts 1:10. “I will give power to my two witnesses,” Rev 13:3. The two mentioned here might be Moses and Elijah.

Next aspect to ponder is the voice that was heard in from the cloud, “This is my beloved son, hear him.” Jesus is not simply a prophet or messenger but the Son. So He claimed many times and especially through the parable of the man who went away entrusting the vineyard to his laborers, who sent messengers to get the fruit. The laborers beat and sent them empty handed. The owner sent servants again but they tortured and sent them empty handed. Finally, the owner sent his beloved son and they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him, Luke 20:9-17. Trinity manifested here though the presence of Holy Spirit is not mentioned as in the case of baptism. But certainly it was the moment of glorification of Christ similar only to His baptism.

Peter’s instant suggestion was surely born out of selfless contentions but it points to the fact that he had no idea as to what was going on or what he was talking about. Like any other patriotic Israelite Peter too had looked forward to the deliverance of Israel and reposed high hopes in his master’s might that he would surely deliver the nation of Israel from the foreign-Roman yoke. So he was rather thrilled about his master’s glorification and found it best means to forget the miseries of daily life. Moreover, Peter had never before experienced such a sublime moment of elation and honestly wished not to loose that ecstatic moment. He had least perceived the danger of apostasy had his wish granted. Our Church is often ridiculed for apostasy, there is at least some truth in the allegation, one cannot ignore, that we are more than contented with our ancient history and tradition often forgetting to move forward for the propagation of the word of God which, as it ought to be, our basic concern as Christians.

Transfiguration of Jesus took place when he was praying. Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced the birth of Savior when she was praying. John received revelation while he was praying. Prayer is the best medium to communicate with God and to receive revelation from God. Prayer transforms the inner man and that change is evidenced in his outward expressions. No wonder, illustrious Church fathers were great prayer-warriors who still shine and guide us to perfection. Hallow found in the paintings of saints, though a sheer artistic imagination, imparts a strong message that we can also be transformed in the likeness of God. Moses’ face shone, when came down from Mount Sinai, Ex 34:35. “Those who are wise shall shine like brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever,” Dan 12:3 Apostles firmly believed, that believers who bestowed their hopes in Christ and lived in and for Him would also be transformed to conform to His divinity, 2Cor 3:18.

Its eschatological ramification is worth meditating that the entire universe/creation shall undergo transformation at His second coming. The Church is entering into the seventh cycle of the year, that is, Transfiguration to Koodos Eetho. During this period emphasis is given to Second Advent of Lord Jesus Christ and eternal life of the faithful.

Source: IOIF-8/6/03

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