The Gospels record Jesus Christ performing many miracles or signs of God’s kingdom, why do some of these miraculous signs become “Feast Days” in the Church? For example, the Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1-9) is certainly a unique event at least according to the Gospels and it attains the status of one of the Twelve Major Feasts of the Orthodox calendar year.
First, I would want to note that the miracles of Jesus are presented in the Gospel as signs that Jesus Himself is associated with the Old Testament prophecies and promises of God – specifically that Jesus is fulfilling these promises and prophecies. The miracles are thus pointing to the greater reality – the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately for many, they are not much interested in the Kingdom of God, they simply are desirous of a miracle in their lives that would make their life better in some fashion; they in fact want God to be their servant and do their will. This cheapens the miracles of Christ, and causes us to lose sight of their true significance: that this world is a fallen world and not the world of paradise, and that there is the Kingdom of God, but it really represents a world not yet completely accessible to us. Some want Jesus to be a miracle worker because they want miracles in their lives, and they are not at all interested in the fact that the miracles, like the Scriptures which report them, have a greater meaning – open a door to that Kingdom of God which due to sin is hidden from our eyes in this world. The miracles as marvelous and wondrous as they are, are not what we are to be seeking, rather we are to seek the meaning behind them – the power of God and the coming Kingdom of which the miracles are but signs and heralds. Jesus Himself criticizes the people for looking at the miracles to satisfy themselves in this world without understanding the greater hope to which they point and of which they are a pronouncement (John 6:26).
As the Christians through history meditated on the signs and miracles of Jesus and thought about what the miracle reveals about Jesus or to what the sign actually points, they came to value the signs and miracles not as a magic they could summon into their lives, but as a revelation of God and a glimpse into heaven. It was these theological reflections that will cause some of Christ’s miracles to become celebrated as Feasts of the Kingdom. Such is the case of the Transfiguration.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate/think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
We are to fill our minds with the good, with the revelation of God. Meditating on the miracles and signs of Christ truly leads us to seeing into heaven. Icons of Christ do the same thing.
The early Christians wanted to make sure future generations remained rooted in the basic truths of Christianity. It is possible through mediation on an event to drift off into all types of conclusions, not all equally valuable or valid. The feast days are established to bring us out of speculative meditation back to the facts that we know about Jesus and God’s revelation. (Many sectarians build their religion upon one or two bible passages which they feel only they interpret correctly. They tend to ignore the bible as a whole in order to uphold their newly found truth. This is the basis for what is called heresy – distorting the truth). The Feast Days always point to and connect us to the Kingdom of God and thus are viewed in the context of God and Heaven, rather than becoming isolated events which are used to prove a doctrine.
Feast Days call us and our minds back to certain specific events to remember them and to meditate upon them. What do they reveal to us? about God? about Jesus? We are entering into an experience of and relationship with our God as He has chosen to reveal Himself to us. The Church wants us to celebrate certain events to help us rejoice in God and in God’s plan of salvation. Our rejoicing, our thanksgiving is manifested in our worship. God does want us to worship Him, to direct and realign our lives toward Him.
In saying that we are to fill our minds with thoughts about things good, lovely, pure, true, noble, admirable and virtuous, does that mean that we are to ignore or be blind to the pain of the world, the distorted lives caused by sin, injustice, hatred, poverty? NO. Feast Days in fact remind us that this world is a fallen world and that the Kingdom of God is breaking into this world to transform it. Meanwhile we are to be the ones to love those suffering in this fallen world and to bring them the hope and the good news about God’s Kingdom and life in the world to come. War, poverty, abortion, child abuse belong to this fallen world, not to the paradise God originally created for humans and not to the Kingdom which is the final meaning and goal of all humanity. Miracles in this world, however comforting and sought after, still have limited value because they are meaningful and valuable only during this lifetime and in this world. But when we understand their eternal value, we realize they are revealing to us the coming Kingdom of God. Thus they are signs of eternal hope and life.
See also my blog: Tablets of Stone: Do not Petrify the Word of God