Finishing the Church Year Strong
This Church year, we celebrated the birth of the Theotokos (September 8), followed her into the Temple (November 21), witnessed her Son and our Lord’s Incarnation and Revelation to the world (March 25, December 25, January 6, and February 2), followed Him to the Cross and Resurrection (September 14, Palm Sunday and Pascha), and were called to His glory (Ascension and Pentecost).
Now it’s time to prepare for the last two Great Feasts of the Church year. They fall just nine days apart, but are seemingly disconnected from each other. That is, we celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ on August 6, an event which took place some six months prior to His passion. Then on August 15, we seem to make a quantum leap to celebrate the Dormition of His Most Holy Mother, which took place several years after his death and Resurrection.
One begins to see why the Church year ends with both Transfiguration and the Dormition. Christ’s Transfiguration gave the Apostles assurance that His Passion in the flesh as Man was voluntary, since He was also God in the flesh. In other words, He was not going down to Jerusalem only to fall in a trap unwittingly and get himself killed, thus providing a tragic ending to the life of a decent but merely mortal individual. The fact of Christ’s voluntary suffering and death would not be fully grasped until after He rose from the dead. Hence, He cautioned the eye-witnesses to the event, Ss. Peter, James and John, to tell no one until He was risen. Without confirmation by the Resurrection afterwards, it would have only seemed an illusion to disappointed disciples.
Just as His followers only came to understand the events that happened on Mt. Tabor as a consequence of His Resurrection on Mt. Calvary, so our liturgical narrative recalls the Transfiguration to us after Pascha. Yet at the same time, it orients us once more to the Passion that follows, as we repeat the narrative during the next liturgical year. When we finish the Church year by commemorating the Theotokos’s translation from death to Life eternal, the connection with the Transfiguration and her transfigured life is clarified. What was vouchsafed the apostles on Mt. Tabor is realized in Mary’s person. Transfigured in body and soul, she rests in the arms of her Son as He welcomes her into eternal Life.
Thus, we have an ongoing opportunity to relive these saving events in the lives of Christ and His most holy mother. So, let’s conclude the Church Year by endeavoring to be more observant, more faithful next year, beginning in September. This has been a difficult year, but the Great Feasts are each tremendous occasions for rejoicing. In them we see the love of God at work in and through the human race to return that human race to Himself. In celebrating the Great Feasts, we participate in this work and claim it for our own.
From the Rector’s Desk,