“Lord, it is good for us to be here” (Matthew 17:4)
The feast of Holy Transfiguration falls near the end of the liturgical year. Only the Dormition of the Theotokos follows, to complete and close the cycle. Why now? The time of the event comes six days following the confession of St. Peter [Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2], or “about eight days” [Luke 9:28], although that doesn’t fix the date precisely. Nothing is arbitrary. It comes in the season of fruit harvest. The Orthodox Church greets the feast with the tradition of the blessing of fruit. Here is a natural expression of sacrifice to the Lord of His blessings of rain and sunshine which make it possible to reap a bountiful harvest. We who bring our fruit in plastic bags from the supermarket must use our imagination in order to be truly grateful for the harvest blessings. We have not the same appreciation as if we had brought our grapes and apples from our own vines and trees. It takes a farmer’s daily prayers to feel the reward of his petitions.
At another level, we all can comprehend spiritual fruit brought to fruition through the liturgical year now consummated at the completion. The year begins with the birth of the Holy Mother of God, the young virgin herself the glorious fruit of the promise to Abraham and his children to erase Adam’s rebellion and restore the glory of the people of Israel. Mary is the “beginning of our salvation” - the anticipation of a new covenant relationship and the anticipation of the Messiah, the Son of God who would be the fruit of her virgin womb.
The time is ripe to receive the divine light in Christ through the Holy Spirit for those in some ways capable of receiving it. Consider the filtration process: From the 5,000 who heard Him offer them the credentials of the blessed from the Sermon on the Mount; to the seventy selected to visit the villages of the Jews and announce His ministry among them [Luke 10:1]; further choosing twelve apostles; and from them but three blessed to experience His Transfiguration atop the mountain, that eternal moment beyond normal time when Moses and Elijah would be brought from the past to appear with the Son of God in a blinding illumination of the Kingdom of God, displaying eternity in a fraction of time. It was a joy that the three disciples did not want to end.
Is it any wonder that so many of our monastic communities have chosen this feast for their own patronal namesake? The revelation of a second Epiphany where all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are involved? Here, the highlight of spiritual progress offers a supernal incentive for all serious Christians to realize and fulfill the precious words of St. Paul: “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal…” [Philippians 3:13].
When the three offer to make three booths and remain in that sublime exalted state, Christ responds that they must descend from the mountain top and return to what was left behind. Such a rare treat was for them a mere aperitif of blessings, enough for them to experience once but never to be forgotten. [II Peter 1:16] He warned them also not to share the experience with anyone until after His resurrection. We can imagine them describing the indescribable to their fellow apostles and the women during those forty days following Christ’s appearance in the Upper Room that first day of His resurrection and until the Ascension. And what of us? We conclude each Divine Liturgy with the proclamation: “We have seen the true light!” Have we indeed! Has that been an experience, a proleptic proclamation, or something we just do not understand?