Feast of the Transfiguration: Western, Eastern Christians recall ‘greatest miracle’

Painting of men in white light, others looking on while shielding eyes

A painted rendering of the Transfiguration by Carl Bloch. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, AUGUST 6: An event shrouded in mystery and revered by St. Thomas Aquinas as “the greatest miracle” is recalled by both Eastern and Western Christians today, on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. (Note: Catholic and most Orthodox churches mark this feast on August 6, though many American Protestant congregations, among them United Methodist and some Lutheran churches, celebrated Jesus’s transfiguration much earlier this year as part of their Epiphany season.)

Three Gospels tell of Jesus taking three disciples—Peter, James and John—along with him on an ascent of a mountain. Once at their destination, the prophets Elijah and Moses appear. A voice in the clouds says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The disciples fall to their knees in wonder.

While heading back down the mountain, the Bible describes Jesus as telling his disciples not to speak of what they had seen until he has risen from the dead. The disciples—confused by the words, “risen from the dead”—discuss the meaning of this puzzling experience.

Theologians have argued for centuries about the metaphysics of the transfiguration—whether his garments became white and his face shone like the sun, or perhaps the apostles’ senses were transfigured so that they could perceive the true glory of God. Nonetheless, Christian churches agree that the transfiguration took place on Mount Tabor. The mountain represents the meeting point of human and God; of earth and heaven.

For an Orthodox perspective on the holiday, learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

For a Western perspective, visit the Global Catholic Network.

Transfiguration Sunday: Anticipate Lent on feast for Christ’s transformation

Painting of Jesus on mountain with clouds above head containing three holy figures, three figures bowing and exalting from rock below

Transfiguration of Christ, by Gerard David (circa 1450/1460–1523). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 15: As the Lenten season draws near, Christians make the transition from Epiphany to enter the Lenten season of repentance and solemnity—starting with the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Though Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics observe Transfiguration Sunday in August, several Christian denominations observe the last Sunday in the Epiphany season for this event. With Ash Wednesday approaching in a few days, the Transfiguration initiates a turn of events in the ministry of Jesus.

How does Bach’s music exquisitely illustrate the events of Transfiguration Sunday? Read the musings of a Lutheran musician, at Notes from the Bench.

Want to dive even deeper into sacred time? Another name for this special Sunday is Quinquagesima.  The Latin term refers to 50 days before Easter, based on a traditional Christian method of counting the days. Wikipedia explains more about that tongue-twister of a term.

Mark’s version of the story of the Transfiguration details Jesus as having trekked to a mountaintop with three of his disciples: Peter, James and John. Once atop the mountain, Jesus begins to transform, with his clothes turning the brightest white. (Wikipedia has details.) Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, and from a dark cloud comes the voice of God: “This is my son, the beloved; listen to him!” Shaken, the disciples make their way back down the mountain with Jesus, who orders his three companions not to speak of the events they have seen.

By the 9th century, forms of the Feast of the Transfiguration were present in the Christian Church.