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The Summer Theophany

Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Main coming in His kingdom (Mt 16:28).
 
Again, Christ said: Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power (Mk 9:1-2). 
 
In Luke 9:27: But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God.
 
Each of the Gospels, except for John, have the narrative of the Transfiguration of Christ. The aforementioned verses precede the Transfiguration narrative of their corresponding Gospel.
 
Tradition has it that forty days before His Crucifixion, the Lord travelled with three of His Apostles up Mount Tabor to pray. Suddenly, Christ transfigured, revealing His divinity to them. The Holy Trinity was also revealed to them as well. A cloud appeared above them with a voice coming from it: This is My beloved Son. Hear Him (Lk 9:35)! This was the voice of the Father. The Holy Trinity manifested as a bright light surrounding Jesus. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light (Mk 17:2).
 
The light that emanated from Christ is uncreated and so bright that the Apostles were startled and looked away. The mystery, which was hidden before all ages, was revealed in latter days by Your terrific Transfiguration, to Peter, John and James. They could not bear the shining ray of Your face nor the radiance of Your garments, so they fell on their faces, weighed down to the ground. In a state of ecstasy, they marveled as they watched Moses and Elias speaking with You about what was going to happen to You (from a Sticheron of Festal Vespers).
 
The Transfiguration of Christ which is celebrated August 6th, is known as the Summer Theophany because it parallels the Feast of Epiphany or Theophany that is celebrated January 6th during Winter. Just as these two seasons (Summer and Winter) mirror each other, so do these two Feasts.
 
On the Feast of Epiphany, Christ is baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the likeness of a dove. The voice of the Father is also heard: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Mt 3:17). 
 
The word theophany or epiphany (Θεοφάνεια) means revelation or manifestation.  Specifically, it is translated as revelation of God. We hear this chanted at every Matins service: God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us, blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord.
 
At both theophanies, Christ in His humanity displays observance to His Jewish faith. At His Baptism, He submits to being baptized by John the Baptist. Of course, Jesus did not need baptism to be cleansed of His sins, for He is the One without sin. Yet, he does so as an expression of humility and who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Phil 2:6-8).
 
At His Transfiguration, Peter said to Christ: Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah (Mk 9:5). This was suggestive that either the Apostles and Jesus were in the midst of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) or that Sukkot had just passed. Furthermore, Peter knew that the Feast of Tabernacles is the Feast of the coming of the Kingdom of God. The booths or tabernacles symbolize the clouds of glory, protection, the divine presence and love. 
 
A cloud is a sign of a theophany, underscoring the presence of God the Father. Now it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and God talked to Moses (Ex 33:9). 
 
The Jewish Feast of Sukkot also known as the Feast of Tabernacles begins five days after Yom Kippur, lasting seven days in Israel and eight days in the diaspora. In this week-long Feast, the Jews live and eat in a sukkah which is a tent-like outdoor structure.
 
Sukkot is a biblical feast, mentioned in the Book of Leviticus, one of the five books of the Pentateuch. For it says in Leviticus 23:42-43: you shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. 
 
The Feast commemorates the forty-year period when the Jews wandered in the wilderness after the Exodus. They were living in temporary shelters or tabernacles during this period before they entered the Promised Land. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the ripe fruit of a tree, leaves of palm trees, the branches of leafy trees, and the pure willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. (Lev 23:40) During Sukkot the Jews celebrate the gathering of the harvest. 
 
Although Sukkot starts on the 15th of the Jewish month of Tishrei which falls in either September or October, the Transfiguration of Christ is celebrated on August 6th because it is forty days before the Feast of the Elevation of the Life-Giving Cross (September 14th). Thus, the Cross is a symbol of His Crucifixion. 
 
Matthew and Mark both say after six days, while Luke says eight days after. Both these numbers have significance. The number six because there was six days of creation and there were six physically present on Mount Tabor: Jesus, Peter, James, John, Elijah and Moses. The number eight, on the other hand, because there were six visibly present but two were invisibly present: the Father and the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Jewish Feasts are typically eight days long and the number eight has an eschatological dimension, pointing toward the age to come in the Kingdom of Heaven.
 
Moses and Elijah suddenly appear and have a dialog with Jesus. They discuss His Crucifixion and Resurrection. He who of old conversed with Moses on Mount Sinai through symbols, saying, "I am that I am, the One who is," was transfigured on Mount Tabor today for His Disciples to see. And since He had assumed human nature in himself, He showed them the original beauty of the image. He presented Moses and Elias as witnesses of this grace, and He let them share in the great joy, prefiguring what would follow through the Cross, namely the glorious and saving Resurrection (Festal Aposticha). 
 
Elijah represents the living since he was taken up to Heaven in a chariot and has yet to experience his earthly death. He also represents the Prophets. Moses, on the other hand, represents the dead, since after he died, his body was never found. Moreover, he represents the Law. It is indeed the Law and the Prophets which foretold of the coming of the Messiah. Hence, Christ is Lord of both the living and the dead.
 
Let us remember what Christ said to Cleopas and Luke on the Road to Emmaus after His Resurrection: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Lk 24:25-27).
 
Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Although there are two Testaments, Old and New, it is rather the New is the fulfillment of the Old, in Christ. On this Feast it is also custom to bless grapes, symbolizing the harvest.
 
You were transfigured upon the mountain, O Christ our God, showing to Your disciples Your glory as much as they could bear. Do also in us, sinners though we may be, shine Your everlasting light, by the intercessions of the Theotokos, O Giver of light. Glory to You (Festal Apolytikion). 
 
Blessed Feast to All!
 

-John Athanasatos 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.

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