Orthodox, Catholic: Transfiguration of the Lord

Russian Orthodox icon of the Transfiguration from about the year 1500. This masterpiece survived 500 years of turbulence in Russia within a monastery in Yaroslavl (in northwest Russia). Today, the oldest sections of Yaroslavl are collectively considered a World Heritage Site. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.MONDAY, AUGUST 6: Matthew, Mark and Luke all describe this miraculous journey with Jesus to a mountaintop accompanied by his followers Peter, James and John. In a startling revelation of his divine nature, the group hears God’s voice identifying Jesus as “Son;” there is a blinding display of holy light; both Moses and Elijah appear to visit for a while with Jesus. This is the famous scene in which Peter asks Jesus if they should build some shelters and remain on the mountain top. Instead, Jesus reassures his followers, the scene ends and they go back down again. Thousands of sermons have been preached on this text, both emphasizing the great miracle and the revelation of Jesus’s divine nature—and also stressing that Jesus wants his followers active in the world, rather than locked away on remote mountain peaks.

Although some Protestant denominations place this feast in a different part of the year, the Transfiguration feast has been associated with August 6 for more than 1,000 years around the Christian world. Some Orthodox branches that still use ancient calendars to calculate feasts may celebrate the Transfiguration later, but the majority of Orthodox congregations will be celebrating this week. The Transfiguration is considered one of the 12 great feasts in the Orthodox calendar and has been a universal feast in the Roman Catholic church for more than 500 years.


Now that Showtime has confirmed there will be a third season of this potboiler (one critic describes it as “Sopranos meets Game of Thrones”), the following religious trivia may be intriguing to share with friends: In Western Christianity among Catholics, the Feast of the Transfiguration remains a fairly well-known religious event, each year, because of a Borgia pope. Better known as Pope Callixtus III, Alphonso Borgia was frail and elderly by the time he became pontiff. Nevertheless, he shaped history in a lot of ways. Not only did he elevate the Transfiguration to a universal feast for the church—but he also advanced the religious careers of two other infamous Borgias.

The first was his relatively obscure nephew Luis Julian de Milà, who Callixtus elevated to the college of cardinals. But the other nephew who he appointed as a cardinal was the world-famous Rodrigo de Borgia who later became Pope Alexander VI. We might say: And the rest is history … but Showtime seems intent on liberally rewriting that history as the epic saga unfolds.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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