Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration

6 Aug

Fresco of the Transfiguration at the Serbian Orthodox Monastery of Dečani in Kosovo. (click)

The Transfiguration – “today” all the title tracks of the Church’s feast days start with: today, here, the eternal now – is the moment when Christ revealed his divinity to John and Peter (yikes, I think, John and Peter…) on Mount Thabor, Moses and Elijah at his side.  It’s a holiday that the Catholic West has largely ignored, probably because it’s too metaphysical and abstract and there are no Virgins or blood or cute babies involved, so it was of limited uses for the Counter-Reformation propaganda machine.

This isn’t like the Epiphany, which commemorates the moment Christ the Man and the Father and the Holy Spirit were all revealed at once, a holiday that the Catholic Church has also dumbed-down to the completely irrelevant “Three Kings Day,” because there they can cast a cute baby: though what the cute baby was doing freezing in a cave twelve days old waiting for the Kings to bring him gifts, when scripture says he had been taken away to Egypt way before, and why the Epiphany happens when He’s thirty and not a baby, is something that the Catholic Church, like much else, has never thought it needed to explain to its followers…  Just the cheap marketing of Franciscan love for the Child — which is the distant root of the cheap marketing of Christmas.

The Transfiguration, the Metamorphosis, is Christ as God, a revelation of Divinity, a page straight out of the song book of any Indo-European or Semitic paganism, an Avatar or Incarnation — man, even animal – allowing a human to see the blinding glory of its Godhead.  In this version John and Peter are just knocked to the ground, not incinerated, or impregnated or stricken with fatal love.  But it’s clearly the same idea, and found its seed, like so much else, in the Semitic Christianity of the Near East.

In parts of rural Greece, it’s the day when the season’s first grapes are – or were — brought to church and blessed and distributed as prasad* to the congregation.  I was moved to find this tradition oddly observed in most Greek parishes in Istanbul, by the most profoundly urban Greeks of all Greeks, with grapes from the manave.**  I remember wondering what it was they needed to remember by doing this.  I remember being given a handful at the Taxiarches in Arnavutkoy, munching on them as I strolled back to class in Bebek, saving a few for my best friend there.

This is the interior of the church of the Taxiarches (the Archangels, Michael and Gabriel) in Arnavutkoy.  I went there a lot because it was the largest functioning church near Bogazici U, or at least the one that I knew wouldn’t be depressingly empty.  The only church of the Transfiguration I know of in Istanbul is on Buyuk Ada (Prinkipo) and I couldn’t find a picture of it.  Below is the Transfiguration of Corona, Queens, though, where I was baptized and raised.  Under that is the Russian Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration in Williamsburg (“Preobrazhenie,” “obraz” being the Slavonic for “image,” like the Latin “figura” in Transfiguration or the Greek “morphe” in Metamorphosis) which you used to be able to see from the BQE against the Manhattan skyline before all the ugly condos for the hipsters with rich daddies went up.  Below that are some grapes.

* prasad is a food offering to a Hindu deity which is blessed and then distrubuted to his devotees

** manave is a greengrocer

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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