Although the events of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9) fit so well into Orthodox incarnational theology and salvation as theosis, the Feast of the Transfiguration became universally celebrated throughout the Orthodox world relatively late in history. It was celebrated in certain parts of Orthodoxy, but the fact that it ended up in the middle of the Dormition Fast is one sign that it became popular universally later than other feasts and fasts of the Church.
Be that as it may, the Feast of the Transfiguration does fit nicely into Orthodox theology, bringing together so many elements from the story of creation, the fall and salvation in Christ. The festal Apostikha hymns especially reveal how the feast reveals the theology of salvation. First we note in the hymns the claim that it is the pre-incarnate Christ who speaks to both Moses and Elijah. There is an assumption in Orthodoxy that all of the anthropomorphic encounters with God in the Old Testament are encounters with the pre-Incarnate Christ.
HE WHO ONCE SPOKE THROUGH SYMBOLS TO MOSES ON MOUNT SINAI SAYING: I AM HE WHO IS! WAS TRANSFIGURED TODAY UPON MOUNT TABOR BEFORE THE DISCIPLES.
IN HIS OWN PERSON HE SHOWED THEM THE NATURE OF MANKIND ARRAYED IN THE ORIGINAL BEAUTY OF THE IMAGE.
Humans are said in Genesis 1 to be created in God’s image and likeness. It is assumed in Orthodoxy that it is Christ, the real image of God the Father, in whose image we are made. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, reveals the original beauty of the image of God in us. At the transfiguration the three disciples’ eyes were open, and suddenly they saw the image of God in us, but now in all its glory. Adam and Eve were gloriously created in God’s image and likeness and glorious arrayed in garments provided them by God.
YOU WERE TRANSFIGURED, O CHRIST, AND MADE ADAM’S DARKENED IMAGE TO SHINE AGAIN AS LIGHTNING,
TRANSFORMING IT INTO THE GLORY AND SPLENDOR OF YOUR OWN DIVINITY. THEREFORE WE CRY ALOUD TO YOU:
LORD AND CREATOR OF ALL THINGS, GLORY TO YOU!
The image of God in Adam and Eve was glorious – like lightening, and that is what the three apostles saw. They saw how a human is in God’s glorious image, how humanity is supposed to reveal divinity. This doesn’t denigrate God, but is revealed in a lightening flash where humanity is as bright as the sun.
LORD, TODAY ON MOUNT TABOR, YOU HAVE REVEALED THE GLORY OF YOUR DIVINE IMAGE TO YOUR CHOSEN DISCIPLES, PETER, JAMES AND JOHN. FOR THEY LOOKED UPON YOUR GARMENTS THAT GLEAMED AS THE LIGHT, AND AT YOUR FACE THAT SHONE MORE THAN THE SUN!
Christ’s garments shown with this divine light – brighter than the sun. This revelation comes not in the darkness of the night but at mid-day, the sun is shining brightly. Yet the divine light in Christ shines even more brightly. Christ’s very garments are shining with this divine light, just as Adam and Eve’s did in the Garden of Delight. Christ is showing to the disciples not only what humanity was like in the beginning, in Paradise, but what creation itself was like.
UNABLE TO ENDURE THE VISION OF YOUR BRIGHTNESS WHICH NONE CAN BEAR, THEY FELL TO THE EARTH, POWERLESS TO LIFT UP THEIR GAZE, FOR THEY HEARD A VOICE THAT SPOKE FROM ABOVE: THIS IS MY BELOVED SON
WHO HAS COME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE MANKIND!
The apostles saw what Adam and Eve had lost through sin and being expelled from Eden. The saw even the importance of the original garments worn by the first humans and restored by Christ. They saw what the physical creation was capable and what it was meant to be. They saw the material world once again in communion with divinity as it was intended by God to be. In Christ, at the Transfiguration, they saw the spiritual world and the physical world reunited, and the material world fulfilling all God created it to be.