Pastoral Letter August 5, 2018

“You were transfigured on the Mount, Christ God revealing Your glory to Your disciples, insofar as they could comprehend. Illuminate us sinners also with Your everlasting light, through the intercessions of the Theotokos. Giver of light, glory to You.”  – Hymn of the Feast

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

One of the highlights of our recent Pilgrimage to the Holy Land this past spring was a climb up Mt. Tabor, to the location of our Lord’s Transfiguration. Mt. Tabor is a strange, natural phenomenon. Springing out of the ground, with nothing resembling it anywhere in sight, it rises straight up in the air, defined by awe and mystery. In fact, a fantastic miracle still takes place every year upon Mt. Tabor. On the Feast of the Transfiguration, a great cloud still descends upon the top of the mountain, as the Holy Spirit continues to witness the glory of what took place on that day.

The event of the Transfiguration is recorded in three of the four Gospels: Matthew 17: 1-9, Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36. Jesus took the Apostles Peter, James, and John with Him up upon a mountain, and while they were on the mountain Jesus was transfigured. His face shone like the sun, and His garments became glistening white.

Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ, talking to Him. Peter declared how good it was for them to be there and expressed the desire to build three altars for Moses, Elijah, and Christ. This reference to the booths could imply that this occurred during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles when the Jews would be camping out in the fields for the grape harvest; for this Feast had acquired other associations in the course of its history, including the memory of the wanderings in the wilderness recorded in the Old Testament book of Exodus.

While Peter was speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice came from the cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” When the disciples heard this they fell on their faces filled with awe. Jesus came to them and told them to not be afraid. When the three looked up they saw only Jesus.

As Jesus and His disciples came down the mountain, He told them not to speak of what they had seen until He had risen from the dead.

This biblical account, like Theophany (the Baptism of Christ) is significant because of  the divine and complete presence of the Holy Trinity: The Father through His voice, The Son by His physical participation and the Holy Spirit in the form of the cloud.

Christ’s purpose for taking his Disciples up the mountain (we drove, they walked) was to allow them a glimpse…a slight, subtle glimpse…of the bright, brilliant and absolute radiance of His divine nature. Up to this point, the Disciples sensed it, anticipated it, even enjoyed hints of it. But on this day, there was no question, especially as they were violently tossed over, that the Disciples were in the midst of God Himself. Glory to Him who transfigured before them!

This incredible Feast (One of the Feasts of our Lord) is celebrated next Monday, August 6th. In the past, I’ve explained the custom of blessing grapes on this day. The ripening cycle is complete at this time and the vine is prime for harvest. And just as the Disciples desired to erect special booths in connection to the Feast of Tabernacles, we too, offer the first fruits of our labor to Him.

Of course, Salt Lake City does not share a climate with the Near East or the Mediterranean. So whatever grapes you bring, will likely come from Smith’s or Harmon’s. I’ll be purchasing the grapes for the Church from Fresh Market. My Yiayia (grandmother) grew grapes in her yard. But they were sour, little balls of gross. I think she just kept the vine for the leaves. For us, cultivating a vineyard and harvesting the fruit is not the point. We bless the fruit of the vine as a symbol of fulfilled potential and the pinnacle of a season, and the sweetness of God.

I look forward to your participation in this service. May the blessings of His Transfiguration enlighten our path towards salvation. May He take us, also, to high places. May He appear to us as radiant light.

With Much Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony