4. august 2018
Icon Lord's Transfiguration on Mount Tabor
19th century, Russia, 44,3x37,8 cm
Feast: 6th August
A large, well-preserved, elaborate icon shows the event of the Lord's Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36). When the iconographer was portraying this mystery, he himself had to experience the ability to see the world through the eyes of faith, through the look enlightened by divine grace in spiritual contemplation.
By imaginary horizontal axis the icon is divided into two equal parts. In the upper half, a new perfect world is pictured, represented by the glorified Jesus Christ and the prophets Elijah and Moses, while in the lower part there is depicted our temporal earthly reality represented by Jesus' disciples Peter, James, and John.
In the centre of the upper part there is Jesus Christ, standing and blessing with both hands, wearing white clothing, his tunic white-tinged (delicate light-blue tone), and a coat with a touch of red (fine reddish or rather pinkish tone), these colours can symbolize Divine as well as human nature of Christ because even in his glory, he has kept the (glorified) human body. On the right shoulder there is a stripe on the tunic - the clavus, the symbol of Jesus' royal dignity, underlining the power of his blessing. The serious noble face of Christ, framed by long, dark, smooth, backward-combed hair and a short beard, is facing as if towards all mankind.
In the golden nimbus in the cross there are letters Ѿ Ο Ν, which means God's name (Ho Ón, I Am). Christ is surrounded by a circular aureole, with the outer ring painted in a dark-brown colour, then, bellow, the light-brown ring, and the inner part is formed by a deep orange-red circle, with a scallop edge that comes out of the figure of Christ. Evenly and densely in all directions fine golden rays radiate from the aureole, which represents the Sun, the source of light, the symbol of Christ (Christ, the light of the world). Next to the circular aureole on the right there are the letters IC and on the left XC, which are the initial and closing letters of Christ's name (IHCOC XPECTOC) (Exodus 3:14).
In the upper right corner there appears to be a window open to the heavens, where we can spot, on a white background, light-red and light-blue lines and hints of various buildings, including the temple, of the new Jerusalem. It is all partially faded, perhaps due to the influence of time. The background of the icon is in an orange-coloured shade. (Orange is created by mixing red and brown colour.) The red colour on the background of the icon means the triumph of eternal life, while the brown one is the colour of the earth and of everything temporary. Thus, the orange background colour can symbolize the victory of the eternal over the temporary.
On Christ's right we see the prophet Elijah, barefoot, clad in a blue-green chiton of dark shade, with a dark-purple himation, decorated with gilt. He is portrayed as an older man, has long, flecked with grey, slightly curled, back-combed hair and long beard. His serious face with pretty features is turned to the Lord. He is holding a scroll in his left hand and pointing at the Lord with his right hand. On Christ's left there is standing the prophet Moses (the Holy Prophet Moses), his face turned to the Lord. He is depicted as a middle-aged man, with a high forehead, short, curly, dark chestnut hair and short beard. He is dressed into a long dark-blue chiton on which he wears a bright-red himation decorated with gilt. In his hands he is holding the law tables. The gilding of the garments of both saints means they are already glorified. All three characters are standing on the so-called “hills“, which are of various shades of brown colour.
A massive beam of golden rays is shining from the figure of Christ, it is toned with bright red, branching into three beams of gore shape, each pointing to one of the three apostles depicted at the bottom of the icon, on the ground, on a mostly grassy terrain, dark green, sometimes interrupted by different shades of brown. These are the real as well as symbolic colours of the earthly world. The green colour here implies the Holy Spirit, which is everywhere and is brightening everything.
On the right, there is displayed the Apostle Peter on his knees, with his face turned towards the Lord. He is stretching his left hand to Him, in astonishment of the unexpected revelation he is witnessing. He has short, curly, grey hair and short curly beard. He is dressed in a dark-blue tunic (chiton) and a nut-brown coat (himation) decorated with gilt. The other two disciples of Jesus are just waking up, they had fallen asleep due to fatigue. In the centre there is the Apostle John, kneeling with his arms stretched and his head bent, he is depicted as a young man with a gentle face, without beard and with long dark brown, curly hair. His garment is a dark-green chiton and a dark-red himation decorated with gilt. On the left there is the lying figure of the Apostle James, with his face turned downward, and the look fixed onward. He has short curly chestnut hair and short beard, a red tunic decorated with gilt, and a dark blue-green himation. The apostles' gilding symbolizes that the reflection of the glory of Christ falls on them.
In the Orthodox tradition, the Day of the Lord's Transfiguration (6th August) is included among the 12 Great Feasts, which are of such importance that they fully force out (replace) the texts even for Sunday service. Transfiguration is the par excellence feast of Christ's divine glory, and similarly to Revelation being a celebration of light, and the same as Revelation, Transfiguration is the revelation of the Holy Trinity, though less clearly. On the top of the mount Tabor, as at baptism in the Jordan, the voice of the Father from the heavens testifies the divine Sonhood of Christ. Also, the Holy Spirit is present, this time not in the form of a dove, but in the form of a dazzling light surrounding the person of Christ, the whole mountain shrouded in it. This dazzling light is the light of the Spirit.
Transfiguration is therefore the feast of God's glory, more precisely the glory of Resurrection. The ascent to the Mount Tabor took place at the very critical point of Lord's service, just as he was setting off for his last trip to Jerusalem, which he knew would end with humiliation and death. In order to strengthen his apostles before the tests that would follow, he decided to reveal something of his eternal glory at this unique moment. He gave them courage and they all looked to the glory of the Resurrection behind the suffering on the Cross.
The Feast of Transfiguration is not just a reminder of an event that happened in Christ's life. It also contains an "eschatological" dimension, it is directed to the future - to the glory of the Kingdom of God, which all Christians expect to experience.
Everything was enlightened and touched by the glory of heaven, which came from Jesus: grass, mountains and their peaks, animals, birds and insects, and the disciples of Christ, Peter, James and John. What the apostles saw on the mountain was, according to the explanation given by the Church Fathers, a portent of the future world after the resurrection from the dead, the vision of the transformed world, which has achieved its ultimate perfection.
The Apostles, who saw the transfiguration of the Lord, gradually fulfilled this transformation throughout their lives. They transformed society. They transformed those whom they met and made great efforts to announce to them, "Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus transformed death into life, Jesus transformed the wanderers into pilgrims who know where from, where to, and why they are going."
So, anyone who stands in front of the icon of the Transfiguration with an open heart gets an impulse to be transformed from an "old" man to a "new" one.