During the month of August, the Coptic Church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor. The Feast of the Transfiguration is considered one of the seven Minor Feasts of the Lord. The Transfiguration is mentioned in Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36.
It is stated in both St. Matthew’s and St. Mark’s Holy Gospels those six days after the Lord’s conversation with His disciples regarding the Cross-, He took St. Peter, St. James and St. John on a high mountain and was transfigured before them. St. Luke alludes to the same story but the length after the Lord’s conversation was eight days. Is there a contraindication in Holy Scripture? No, it is thought that St. Luke counted the day of His conversation about the Cross-and the day of the Transfiguration; and that St. Matthew and St. Mark did not count those two days. This explains why St. Luke used the phrase, “about eight days after,” while St. Matthew and St. Mark mentioned that it “was after six days.”
Is there a link between the event of the Transfiguration and the events of the day on which the Lord Jesus Christ announced His Cross to His Disciples? Yes, otherwise why would the Evangelists have linked the Transfiguration to the events of that day! The events of that day can be summarized in the following:
- The question of the Lord of Glory to His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” along with St. Peter’s declaration that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
- The discourse of the Lord of Glory to His disciples about the Cross and St. Peter’s rebuke to Him, then the Lord Christ’s rebuke to St. Peter due to his refusal of the issue of the Cross.
- The Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching regarding the need to carry the Cross-as a condition to following Him and to the salvation of the soul.4) The Lord Christ ended His conversation by declaring His Second Coming and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom.”
We can deduct from these events that the Lord Jesus, prior to talking to the disciples about His Cross and Passion, wanted to confirm their faith in Him as the Son of the Living God. This was necessary in order that they would not be shaken seeing Him upon the Holy Cross. This was the reason He rebuked St. Peter when He told him, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” And the Lord declared to them that the main condition of following Him was to carry the Cross. Then He again confirmed to them that He was the Son of the Living God who shall come in His Father’s Glory to reward each according to his works.
The Lord Jesus Christ concluded His conversation by saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom,” as a confirmation to them that He Himself is the Son of the Living God. The Transfiguration was a very powerful happening, which was needed to manifest His Divinity and His Glory to them after six days or on the eighth day.
The number “six” symbolizes the Cross-since the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified on the sixth day and in the sixth hour, while the number “eight” symbolizes the Holy Resurrection. On the eighth day of His entry into Jerusalem He rose from the dead. It also represents the Second Coming, since God created the world in six days; we are now in the seventh day, and the Second Coming will be the eighth day of Creation. With this in mind, the Transfiguration of the Lord of Glory is an announcement of His Crucifixion and of His Glory as God.
This is why we find that His conversation with Moses and Elijah, who appeared with Him was about “His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31), meaning His Cross which is His Kingdom, for the Lord has reigned over us through His Cross and His true throne is the Holy wood of the Cross as the Psalm says, “the Lord has reigned on a wood.” His face, which shone like the sun, and His clothes, which became as white as the light are declaration of the Glory of His Divinity. The voice of the Father, which came out saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” is a testimony to His Sonship to God the Father. We thus see in the Transfiguration a declaration to the Son’s Divinity, Glory, and Kingdom. And in this we realize that the Kingdom which the Lord of Glory meant when He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom,” is His reign on the Cross which He declared to us by His Transfiguration.
The Glory of the Son, which was manifested on the Mount of the Transfiguration, is our glory. “And the Glory which You gave Me I have given them” (John 17:22). This is why Moses and Elijah also “appeared in Glory” (Luke 9:31). But we cannot separate between the Son’s Glory and His Cross. This is why if we want to partake with Him in His Glory, we must carry the Cross everyday, that is, continuously, as the Lord of Glory said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own Glory, and in His Father’s and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:23-26). This is what the apostles recognized and declared to us, as St. Paul the apostle said, “If indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be Glorified together” (Romans 8:17).
The apparition of Moses and Elijah with the Lord Jesus Christ symbolizes the witness of the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) to Him; and that the life of chastity (Elijah) or the Communion of Holy Marriage (Moses), both make us worthy to receive Eternal Glory. Moses is the one emerging from the water, a symbol of Holy Baptism, and Elijah is the fiery prophet, a symbol of filling with the Holy Spirit. Moses further symbolizes humbleness and patience as the Holy Bible testifies of him (Numbers 12:3) and Elijah represents strength and courage in the truth. Moses symbolizes the life of service and Elijah the life of solitude and retreat.
We also notice that the Transfiguration occurred “as He prayed” on the mountain (Luke 9:29). We also receive this Glory if we rise above the world, its love and its lusts, far above on top of the high mountains, lifting up not just our eyes and hands but our hearts to God in a life of perpetual prayer saying: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help. My help comes from the Lord, who made Heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).
The Feast of the Transfiguration is a declaration of the Glory, which is prepared for us, and of the way to it. Therefore, my beloved, let us carry our cross, belittling the sufferings, knowing that “our light affliction,” which is but for a moment is working for us a far more exceeding and Eternal way of Glory (II Corinthians 4:17).
H.G. Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States