Title: The Feast of the Transfiguration
Subject: The Feast of the Transfiguration. This lesson studies the scripture, iconography, and traditions surrounding this feast.
Age: 13 + years
Liturgical Time: August 6
Note: This is the sixth class in the Twelve Great Feast series.
Doctrinal Content: We celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6, in the fasting period of the Dormition of the Theotokos.
Direct Aim: The direct aim is to become more familiar with the Feast of the Transfiguration through discussing history, iconography, and traditions.
Indirect Aim: Through studying the Feast of the Transfiguration, we can become more familiar with the scripture passages of this feast, the Prophets Moses and Elijah and their relationship to the Law of God. Other Themes of this Feast include mountains and the Divine Son.
Materials for the Lesson Plan
Note taking is recommended for students.
Icon of the Feast of the Transfiguration
- Exodus 24.12-18
- Exodus 33.11-23, 34.4-6, 8
- 3 Kings (Septuagint) 19.3-16
- Luke 9.28-36
- 2nd Epistle of Peter, 1.10-19
- Matthew 17.1-9
Begin the lesson with prayer and a welcome of the students.
The Feast of the Transfiguration, or Metamorphosis, takes place on August 6, in the middle of the fast for the Dormition of Mary. The origin of this feast is most likely in the Armenian Orthodox Church, and then quickly spread to the Greek lands. This feast did not gain general acceptance in the West until the 15th century. Like other feasts, it was set on a pagan ‘nature feast.'
Themes of the Feast
Comparisons are made once again with the great figure of the Old Testaments, Moses. These comparisons are made on many levels. Plainly in this feast we reflect upon the idea that Christ is a new Moses. The following is a breakdown of the fulfillment of the Old Testament archetype:
- He is sent to deliver God's people from bondage.
- He spends 40 days in the wilderness in preparation to reveal God's revelation and to do battle with the forces of evil.
- He delivers the law of God to them.
- He mediates between God and man.
- He delivers the people to the promised-land.
- He dies outside the "gates" of the promised-land.
In fact the readings that prepare us for the feast at the Vespers begin with the account from Exodus 24.12-18, in which Moses is on Mount Sinai, in other words the theme of comparing Christ to Moses begins immediately. We also must keep in mind the account of Christ on Mount Tabor, as Moses is one of those who appears on the mountain with Jesus Christ.
A second theme is that of the mountain as a place for revelation. God reveals Himself to Moses on the Mountain of Sinai. He reveals not just His law but His name, His identity, and to some degree He reveals His plan for man. Through the law, God gives the commandments that point to an authentic life, a righteous life. God also reveals His divine glory. In the Old Testament the Israelites experienced this as a physical reality, "A cloud covered the mountain...[and] The glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mountain." This happens also on Mount Tabor, the location of the Transfiguration of Christ. Again the archetype and the precursor is fulfilled, made complete, or superseded in Christ:
- God reveals Himself in the flesh.
- God reveals His plan in a Person, a living law, His only begotten Son.
- God displays His glory in reality, physically through Christ.
We also have within this feast the comparison of Jesus to the Old Testament figure of Elijah. Again, Elijah is a type of Christ. This prophet of the Old Testament displayed the mighty presence and power of God through his life and deeds. The connection and memory of Israel to Elijah is great, and it is within the life of Christ that we see the wonder of Elijah again. The Gospels tell of the miracles of Christ, his raising of the dead, feeding of the hungry, cleansing of the lepers, giving sight to the blind, signs of the Messiah first and foremost, but also are reminders of that great figure Elijah. This comparison fits in with the feast because it is Elijah along with Moses who stood upon the mountain of Tabor to speak with Christ. Elijah was a prophet familiar with the mountains, the desert, and of ascetical practice in opposition to the world which is seen as corrupt. He was a champion of the people, calling the rulers of Israel Events of his life should also be kept in mind on this feast. to task.
Law and Prophecy
We must consider in this feast the theme of the law and the prophets. Much can be said of these two ideas. The law is something dear and precious to every lover of God, and we know that Christ in His own words did not come to destroy, but rather to fulfill, the Law and the Prophets. The two Saints of the Church, Moses and Elijah, are in many ways examples of and reminders of all that is the law and all that is the prophets. So their appearance at Christ's Transfiguration is a reminder of their place in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Moreover, they are a reminder that the law and the prophets are meant to do one thing: bring us to Christ.
What is the law? For us we must remember that the law of God is good and holy. It is a way to bring about righteousness. The Prophets work alongside the law and call us back to it. On a side note, it may help us greatly to remember that the Prophets should be honored not only because they could see into the future per se, but because they could see and diagnose the divergence of God's people from the Way. This voice, this critique if you will, is prophecy!
A last word on Moses and Elijah; we know from our reading of the Old Testament that Moses died but Elijah did not. Moses therefore represents not only the law as we have mentioned but all those who have died, while Elijah represents the prophets but also those who are alive in Christ. For God is the God of the living and the dead, and both witness to Jesus as the Messiah. In a special way then, Moses and Elijah show us the communion of all the saints, Hebrew 12.1. Both are recognized by those witnessing the event, both speak with the Lord, and Jesus consults not with the living but the dead.
The Divine Son
Finally for the Church, the Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior is a Theophany; God is revealed and He is Jesus Christ. Remember that for the Disciples the understanding of Jesus Christ as God, the same God as the One who uttered I AM to Moses was not clear. Yet in this act Christ displays His uncreated and divine energy. We also learn that Christ is light as God is light; that the Father bears witness like at the baptism that Jesus is His beloved Son. This is a foreshadowing of Christ's future glory and the permanence of the coming Kingdom, while at the same time a witness of God extraordinarily present in this event (Light, Transformed Humanity).
Show and discuss the icon of the Feast of the Transfiguration, pointing out Moses and Elijah.
- Exodus 24.12-18; Moses on Mount Sinai
- Exodus 33.11-23, 34.4-6, 8; READ the passage and make comparisons to the spiritual life.
- 3 Kings (Septuagint) 19.3-16: This passage shares two episodes from Elijah's life. First he took refuge on Mount Horeb for 40 days, where he is brought bread and water by an angel. Secondly, the revelation of the Divine Presence was not in fire, wind, or earthquake, but in the "still small voice." This should help us to orient ourselves against the emotional and grand displays of religious piety and the mad scramble we may have witnessed for gifts of the Spirit.
- Luke 9.28-36 is the account of the Transfiguration.
- 2 Peter, 1.10-19; Peter, being a witness of the event, speaks of it in this letter. It is an event that shines in his memory and in his words, "So we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and morning stars rises in your hearts." (2 Peter 1.19) There is the sense here that our understanding may be shrouded or incomplete.
- Matthew 17.1-9 is the account of the Transfiguration. Some points of reflection on the Gospel passage*:
- The closest circle goes with Jesus up the mountain. So it is for those who have followed the Lord long and faithfully that the privilege is given to behold and contemplate the joy of His Transfiguration.
- The vision takes place on a high mountain. The hard path of ascetical life leads to a Transfiguration.
- Jesus is transfigured. His face shines like the sun and his garments become white as light. Can we behold this light?
- Jesus' transfiguration involves His very Body. Creation participates in the Transfiguration and we are called to do so as well.
- Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus about His coming departure, His coming passion. The Transfiguration can not be separated from the cross, the mystery of suffering.
- Peter wants to stay, but he can not: the spiritual life can not remain in the first blush of communion and love. It must move down into the day to day, the plain, and do the tedious, everyday work of spiritual life. Constant peace belongs to the next life.
- They see Jesus only. Of course we can interpret this text in many ways. What does it mean to see Jesus only?
Traditions involved with this feast include blessing of grapes or other fruits of harvest.
Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas
*The Year of Grace of the Lord, p. 240-241
Click the link to return to the Great Feasts page.
Click on the title below to obtain each lesson currently available within the series.