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The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium
Gerhard PodskalskyGerhard Podskalsky, Robert F. TaftRobert F. Taft, Annemarie Weyl CarrAnnemarie Weyl Carr


(μεταμόρφωσις), the appearance of Christ, accompanied by Moses and Elijah, to Peter, James, and John in the shining glory of his divinity (Mt 17:1–8), traditionally believed to have taken place on Mt. Tabor. This illumination, seen only by the three disciples, foreshadowed the complete transformation of Christ at the Resurrection, after his suffering on the cross. The Transfiguration served as a prophetic sign foretelling the future transfiguration of all Christians.

A number of writers devoted homilies to the Transfiguration: from the early authors John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, pseudo-Proklos, and Andrew of Crete, up to later writers such as Joseph Bryennios and Patr. Gennadios II Scholarios. The main themes of sermons on this topic were the cardinal distinction between Christ and the two principal Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah with whom he appeared to his apostles and the significance of the Transfiguration as a pledge of redemption: “Christ was transformed not without purpose but to show us the future transformation of nature and the coming second advent … bringing salvation” (pseudo-Chrysostom, PG 61:714.19–22).

The Transfiguration of Christ was a central paradigm for Palamite hesychasm and served as the principal example of any vision of the uncreated light (energies or grace), which embraces both the spirit and the senses, beheld by the natural eyes of man who is transformed, however, by the Spirit of God. By referring to the supposed consensus of the Greek fathers, Palamas sought to avoid in his doctrine the crude, sensate vision of light characterizing the Messalians; in his doctrine (outlined in the Triads) he attached the earlier effect of the Holy Spirit to the eyes of the body.

The feast of the Transfiguration (6 Aug.) was introduced at Constantinople even before the time of Leo VI, to whom it is attributed, probably at the beginning of the 8th C. at the latest (V. Grumel, REB 14 [1956] 209f). Constantinople borrowed the feast from Jerusalem, though its origins there remain obscure. It did not exist in the 4th C. (P. Devos, AB 86 [1968] 87–108) and probably derives from a ca.6th-C. Palestinian “Feast of Tabernacles.” It has been suggested that it commemorated the dedication of the three basilicas on Mt. Tabor (M. Aubineau, AB 85 [1967] 422–27).

One of the 12 Great Feasts of the Byz. church calendar, the Transfiguration has a paramone vigil plus a seven-day afterfeast. The emperor celebrated the feast in Hagia Sophia (Philotheos, Kletor. 219.12–23), but in the 14th C. he went to the church of the Pantokrator monastery instead (pseudo-Kod. 245.7–10).

Representation in Art

The earliest depictions of the Transfiguration are from the mid-6th C.: the apse mosaic at the monastery of St. Catherine, Mt. Sinai, shows the classic composition with Christ in mandorla flanked by Moses and Elijah and with Peter, John, and James at his feet; the apse of S. Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, conveys the Transfiguration in symbols—sheep beneath a cross in glory. By replacing Christ with a jeweled cross—sign of his eschatological return—the Ravenna mosaic reveals the significance given the event by Christ himself, as a foretaste of the Parousia when he will come in glory to consummate the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). The scene, at first static and symmetrical, becomes more dynamic in the 12th C. For instance, Nicholas Mesarites interprets the disciples not as cowering in fear but hurled to the ground by the light. The light becomes an active force in Palaiologan imagery, blazing from Christ's mandorla and hurtling the disciples down a precipitous landscape, for example, Paris, B.N. gr. 1242 (Rice, Art of Byz., pl.XXXIX), and thus illustrating the hesychast theology.


G. Habra, La Transfiguration selon les pères grecs (Paris 1974).Find this resource:

M. Aubineau, Une homélie grecque inédite sur la Transfiguration, AB 85 (1967) 401–27.Find this resource:

Meyendorff, Palamas 172–78.Find this resource:

G. Podskalsky, Gottesschau und Inkarnation, OrChrP 35 (1969) 5–44.Find this resource:

J.A. McGuckin, The Patristic Exegesis of the Transfiguration, StP 18.1 (1986) 335–41.Find this resource:

M. Sachot, L'homélie pseudo-chrysostomienne sur la Transfiguration (Frankfurt am Main 1981) 22–37.Find this resource:

Idem, Les homélies grecques sur la Transfiguration: Tradition manuscrite (Paris 1987).Find this resource:

Millet, Recherches 216–31.Find this resource:

E. Dinkler, Das Apsismosaik von S. Apollinare in Classe (Cologne-Opladen 1964).Find this resource:

K. Weitzmann, Byzantium and the West Around the Year 1200, in The Year 1200: A Symposium (New York 1975) 62f.Find this resource:

Gerhard Podskalsky, Robert F. Taft, Annemarie Weyl Carr