The events associated with the Transfiguration of Christ are described by the saint evangelists St.Matthew,St.Mark and St.Lucas (Mt.17:1-13, M.9: 1-12; L.9:28-36). According to them, approaching the suffering on the Cross, Our Lord having taken three most devoted disciples (the apostles Peter,John and James) ascended mount Fabor where he underwent Transfiguration in front of them showing them His Divine Glory.There the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah interceded with Him.Despite the fact that this event occurred 40 days before Сrucification of the Saviour it is observed in August and not in February, otherwise the celebration would have fallen on the Great Lent. According to the established tradition the time gap of 40 days separates the Transfiguration of Christ from the Triumph of the Holy Cross celebrated on the 27th of September (14th September old style) when the church recalls the martyrdoms of Jesus Christ and his sufferings on the Cross.In all probability, the festival of the Transfiguration of Christ was established as early as in the 1V century-at that time St.Helena of Apostolic zeal, the mother of Emperor St. Constantine the Great, on mount Fabor had a church built in memory of the Transfiguration of Christ.
The iconography of the festival is based on the Gospel text.On the icons, frescoes, miniatures of the manuscripts the Saviour standing on the mount is in the centre of the composition, at His sides-the prophets, at the foot of the mount-the apostles prostrating themselves.One of the most ancient icons the symbolic meaning of which can be interpreted as , Transfiguration of Christ, in the opinion of N.V. Pokrovsky is the mosaic of the apse of the Church of St.Apollinaris (Sant’Apollinare in Classe) in Rome (mid-V1 century).Another record of this epoch is mosaic in the conchae of the apse of the church of the monastery of St.Catherine on Sinai which shows the iconography of many conventional depictions of the Transfiguration in Byzantine and Russian art.From the X11 century the iconography of Transfiguration was complemented by depictions of ascending and descending apostles headed by Jesus Christ.Similar images occur everywhere in many icons of the XШ-X1V centuries: wall-paintings of the Church of Annunciation in Gracanica (1321) and in the Church of Our Lady Perivlepty in Mistra (third quarter of the X1V century).In the later icons a more complete composition is present alongside with a number of iconographic details.Thus,on a few icons of the XV1-XV11 centuries at the sides of Christ are represented not only the prophets Moses and Elijah but the raising of Moses from the tomb and Elijah flying over to Mount Fabor.Both Old Testament holy men are accompanied by the Angels.According to the concept of the Fathers of the Church, Elijah did not die but was taken in flesh to the Heaven and represents the world of the living whereas Moses represents the world of the dead.
One of the most famous icons of the Transfiguration is attributed to Theophanes the Greek, it was painted in early XV century for the the Cathedral of Transfiguration of Our Lord of Pereslavl-Zalesskiy (now at the State Tretyakov Gallery).On this icon as in many works created after the end of the doctrinal dispute about the nature of the Fabor Divine and Uncreated Light, one can see dynamism and movement emanating from the whole composition.
In the patristic writings and in the liturgical books Transfiguration was interpreted as a foreboding of Christ’s suffering, therefore this subject matter in violation of the chronological sequence was considered as an element of the Holy Passion cycle which affected the arrangement of festival scenes.Thus, in the wall-paintings in the church of Our Saviour in Nereditsa (1199,Novgorod)Transfiguration is presented at the side of the scene The Entry into Jerusalem. In the wall-paintings in the church of Nativity of the Virgin Mary of the Snetogorsk monastery (1313, Pskov)Transfiguration is placed between The Entry into Jerusalem and the Washing the Feet of the Disciples.In the Russian iconostases of the XV1-XV11 centuries Tranfiguration becomes a symbol of the Holy Passion cycle replacing it in the Festival tier between the icons of The Entry into Jerusalem and the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
It is celebrated on the 19th August (6th old style).