August 6 marks the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This feast commemorates Christ’s manifestation of his Divine Glory to the Apostles Peter, James, and John.
History of the Feast
Although accounts differ, the Feast of the Transfiguration was traditionally ascribed to St. Gregory the Illuminator, the apostle and patron saint of Armenian Christians. It was thought that St. Gregory established this feast in place of an older pagan festival and for the Armenians, including the Armenian Catholic Church, it is one of the five great festivals of the liturgical year. It was quickly adopted by other Eastern Christian communions, including the Greek-Byzantine and Syriac churches. Greek Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, for instance, regard the Transfiguration as one of the 12 Great Feasts of the year.
The Latin Church, on the other hand, accept this feast slowly, celebrating it on different days depending on local custom. In 1456, however, Pope Callixtus III extended the Feast of the Transfiguration to the Universal Church in honor of a crucial defeat of the Muslim Turks at Belgrade that same year. Callixtus is said to have composed the Latin office for the Transfiguration and it is celebrated as a Class II Feast by Catholics who use the traditional Roman Rite.
St. John Chrysostom on the Transfiguration
In the Third Nocturn for Matins in the Latin office for the Feast of the Transfiguration, the following words of St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, are recited:
“Since the Lord had spoken much concerning dangers, much concerning His Own sufferings, much concerning death, and the killing of His disciples, and had laid upon them many hard and grievous things, and since all these were in this present life, and already hanging over them, whereas the good things were matter for hope and waiting as, for example, that whosoever should lose his life for His sake should find it, for that the Son of Man should come in the glory of His Father, and reward every man according to his works.Therefore, to assure them by their own eyes, and show them what the glory is wherein He will come, He manifested and unveiled it to them, as far as in this life they were able to grasp it, lest they and especially Peter should grieve over their own deaths, or the death of their Lord.
Behold what He doth, when He treateth of heaven and hell. Where He saith Whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. And again He shall reward every man according to his works in these words He pointeth at heaven and hell. But although He speaketh concerning both, He giveth a glimpse of heaven only and not of hell. To see hell would have profited the brutish and stupid, but His disciples were upright and clear-sighted, and therefore for them it was enough to be strengthened by the better things. This was what suited Him the best. Yet He left not the other altogether undone. Sometimes He set the horrors of hell, as it were, before the eyes, as for instance in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and that of him who was fain to wring the hundred pence from his fellow-servant.
But mark well Matthew’s good will, in not concealing the names of those who were preferred. John also likewise often recordeth the special praises of Peter with great truthfulness and care. For in this companionship of the Apostles, there was no envy, nor did vainglory find place. It was therefore the leaders of the Apostles whom Christ took apart from the others. And wherefore did he take these only? Because there were evidently superior to the rest. And why did he not do this straightway, and not until after six days? Evidently to spare the natural feelings of the other disciples; and for the same reason Christ did not for six days announce who were to go up.”