Feast of the Transfiguration

On August 6/19 of each year Orthodox Christians celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. The significance of this Feast became ever more obvious in Orthodox history as the idea of salvation as theosis became the predominant understanding in the Church. The monastic hesychasts especially after the 14th Century placed a lot of emphasis on this Feast in their own spirituality.

Orthodox author Jim Forest writes:
“The icon of the Transfiguration is not only about something that once happened on top of Mount Tabor or even about the identity of Christ. It also concerns human destiny, our resurrection and eventual participation in the wholeness of Christ. We will be able to see each other as being made in the image and likeness of God. We too will be transfigured. Through Christ we become one with God. The Greek word is theosis; in English, deification. ‘God’s incarnation opens the way to man’s deification,’ explains Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia. ‘To be deified is, more specifically, to be “christified”: the divine likeness that we are called to attain is the likeness of Christ. We are intended, said Saint Peter, “to become sharers in the divine nature.’” ( Praying With Icons, pp 102-103)

For the Orthodox Church the Transfiguration of Christ is more than a distinct event. It is more than a celebration of a past happening. The transfiguration premeates the worship and spirituality of the Church. For example, it is indispensable for understanding the place and the importance of the prayer of Jesus in the spiritual life of Orthodox Christians. This prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”

As Jesus was praying on the mountain, according to the evangelist Luke, “the appearance of his contenance was altered and his raiment became dazzling white” (9:28-29); so also the transfiguring effect of this prayer has been attested in the life of the saints. The experience of the divine light of the Transfiguration has been made possible through the Jesus prayer for others. Saint John of Kronstadt, who constantly used the Jesus Prayer, wrote that “as long as we are praying diligently we are at peace and there is light in our souls, because then we are with God.”

The mystics of the Orthodox tradition spoke of finding the “Taborite light” within themselves. This prayer, for which a particular posture and controlled breathing are suggested by spiritual teachers, has been inseparably bound with sacramental mysticism. Those participating experienced an intensified interest in the sacramental life, which excluded an individualistic, subjective piety. Thus the spirituality inspired by the Transfiguration is both personal and corporate. The worshipper is constantly reminded of the presence of Jesus with himself by repetition of his name, but his presence is fully realized only in the sacraments of the Church.

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