Contemplating the Transfiguration: ..."How good it is the we are here!"
But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
While I was a university student, I studied Medical Technology. I wore a lab coat stained with acid burns and methylene blue and often smelled of formaldehyde. I took my fill of organic chemistry and biology courses, dissected animals, and learned to perform lab tests like gas chromatography and spectrophotometry. I did what was necessary to obtain a diploma and get a job with which to "support myself". I hated those classes. What I really loved, though, were the wonderful electives I was allowed to take to fill in the gaps. I thrived on philosophy and religion courses and quickly made friends with all the seminarians and future nuns on campus. I was a commuter, so it wasn't always practical to go home between classes and I could only spend so much time in the student-center drinking coffee and wasting time, so I decided to stop by the chapel on campus and say a prayer once in a while. Soon I found myself stopping every day, then "on purpose"...imagine my surprise. It became a wonderful habit, an addiction, of sorts, and I began to fall in love with God in prayer. At first I would recite the prayers I had memorized as a child, "Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One..." Then I began to rattle off a list of all of my petitions, "Please, please,please, let me have passed that horrible biochem test. Please!" As time went by, I found that, as He had already heard most of what I had to say, I would just sit there and be quiet, resting my soul in Him without a sound, movement, or even thought. That was nice. One day, as I knelt there silent and still, it came over me like a tidal wave..."O God, how good it is to be here!" I prayed. "If only I could sit here forever, I would never, ever sin!" It was absolutely wonderful. It is no wonder that one of my most favorite verses of scripture is from Luke 9:33, "Master, it is good that we are here!"
When Peter, James and John found themselves immersed in the presence of God, they could want nothing more. They were in the cloud of His presence. They were filled with that same peace and utter joy that God had permitted me to experience in prayer that day. After having experienced that, they would never be the same. They would do things that would confound their friends and, quite frankly, terrify their enemies. Their devotion to Him would defy all logical reason, yet they would persevere. All they would ever want would be to convey that same love to others, let them feel what they felt and know what they know. They would understand Him a bit better, and would know and trust Him more...and...they would begin to long for the day in which they could encounter Him like that again.
How is your garden growing? It's been harvest time here for a little while now, but I'm sure the best is yet to come. As the feast of the Transfiguration comes along we gather fruit, historically the first fruits of the season (usually grapes), to take as an offering to the church to be blessed and distributed to the congregation.
During the prayer for the blessing of grapes the priest says,
"Bless, Lord, this new fruit of vine which reached ripeness because Thou kindly provided good weather, drops of rain and stillness. Let eating this fruit of vine make us joyful. And give us the honor of offering this fruit to Thee, as the gift of purging of sins, altogether with the Holy Body of Thy Christ."
As Christ was transfigured into His ultimate form as God, these offerings, which were once buds and flowers are now ripe, transfigured by God into the nourishing fruits that they are. How appropriate it is that these very grapes may someday become transformed yet again into wine, which could then, in turn, become transfigured finally and ultimately into the Precious Blood of Christ. What an appropriate symbol of this feast!
The custom of blessing grapes on the Transfiguration is old one. In the Third Rule of the Apostolic Canon, the earliest collection of ecclesiastic laws, or canons, which was compiled in the second century, instructions are given to bring first fruits of the harvest to the church as an offering.
Also, in an early manuscript from the 7th century called, " The Laws of the Kingdom", written by the emperor Constantine VII (Porphyrogenitos) it states,
"The Emperor of Constantinople gathers the “beginnings” (first fruits) in Chalcedon, where there are many vines, and then he waits for the Patriarch of Constantinople to come on the Holiday of Transfiguration, to bless the fruits and to personally hand out the grapes to the laymen”.
Since some regions of Europe are too cold a climate for grapes to be ready on the feast, other fruits were used. In parts of Russia, for example, apples are used. In the most northern climates of Russia, it is even too cold for apples, so green peas are the predominant symbol of the feast! As you prepare to take your basket of fruit to liturgy this year, feel free to fill it with whatever fruits you like, whether from your own garden or from the market, and celebrate how good it is that we are here!