UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
The Feast of Transfiguration of our Lord at St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church – the “heart” of the UOC of the USA
For the Feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration (August 19), His Grace Bishop Daniel, the Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony presided over the liturgical services of the feast at St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church in South Bound Brook/Somerset, NJ.
Over 200 people gathered at the main spiritual temple of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA for one of the major feast days of the Church calendar. Vested in bright vestments with colorful floral images, Bishop Daniel began the Divine Liturgy during which Very Rev. Oleksandr Yatskiv offered a pastoral reflection on the feast day. Concelebrating with the bishop were the pastor of St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church – Very Rev. Yuriy Siwko, Very Rev. John Lyshyk, Very Rev. Oleksandr Yatskiv and Rev. Vasyl Pasakas of the Nativity of the Birth-Giver of God Ukrainian Orthodox parish in South Plainfield, NJ. The seminarians of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary chanted the prayerful responses to the petitions of the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of Transfiguration of our Lord. Numerous faithful in attendance approached the Holy Mysteries of Confession and Eucharist, thus prayerfully sharing in a true Thanksgiving AGAPE meal of Christ Himself.
Bishop Daniel reflected on the historical and spiritual dimensions of the feast, stating: “Lord, it is good for us to be here” (Matthew 17:4) The feast of Holy Transfiguration falls near the end of the liturgical year. Only the Dormition of the Theotokos follows, to complete and close the cycle. Why now? The time of the event comes six days following the confession of St. Peter [Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2], or “about eight days” [Luke 9:28], although that doesn’t fix the date precisely. Nothing is arbitrary. It comes in the season of fruit harvest. The Orthodox Church greets the feast with the tradition of the blessing of fruit. Here is a natural expression of sacrifice to the Lord of His blessings of rain and sunshine which make it possible to reap a bountiful harvest. We who bring our fruit in plastic bags from the supermarket must use our imagination in order to be truly grateful for the harvest blessings. We have not the same appreciation as if we had brought our grapes and apples from our own vines and trees. It takes a farmer’s daily prayers to feel the reward of his petitions.
At another level, we all can comprehend spiritual fruit brought to fruition through the liturgical year now consummated at the completion. The year begins with the birth of the Holy Mother of God, the young virgin herself the glorious fruit of the promise to Abraham and his children to erase Adam’s rebellion and restore the glory of the people of Israel. Mary is the “beginning of our salvation” - the anticipation of a new covenant relationship and the anticipation of the Messiah, the Son of God who would be the fruit of her virgin womb.
The time is ripe to receive the divine light in Christ through the Holy Spirit for those in some ways capable of receiving it. Consider the filtration process: From the 5,000 who heard Him offer them the credentials of the blessed from the Sermon on the Mount; to the seventy selected to visit the villages of the Jews and announce His ministry among them [Luke 10:1]; further choosing twelve apostles; and from them but three blessed to experience His Transfiguration atop the mountain, that eternal moment beyond normal time when Moses and Elijah would be brought from the past to appear with the Son of God in a blinding illumination of the Kingdom of God, displaying eternity in a fraction of time. It was a joy that the three disciples did not want to end.
Is it any wonder that so many of our monastic communities have chosen this feast for their own patronal namesake? The revelation of a second Epiphany where all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are involved? Here, the highlight of spiritual progress offers a supernal incentive for all serious Christians to realize and fulfill the precious words of St. Paul: “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal…” [Philippians 3:13].
When the three offer to make three booths and remain in that sublime exalted state, Christ responds that they must descend from the mountain top and return to what was left behind. Such a rare treat was for them a mere aperitif of blessings, enough for them to experience once but never to be forgotten. [II Peter 1:16] He warned them also not to share the experience with anyone until after His resurrection. We can imagine them describing the indescribable to their fellow apostles and the women during those forty days following Christ’s appearance in the Upper Room that first day of His resurrection and until the Ascension. And what of us? We conclude each Divine Liturgy with the proclamation: “We have seen the true light!” Have we indeed! Has that been an experience, a proleptic proclamation, or something we just do not understand?”
At the conclusion of the service, over fifty baskets of fruit were presented for a blessing. Vladyka Daniel explained: “The blessing of grapes, as well as other fruits and vegetables on this day is the most beautiful and adequate sign of the final transfiguration of all things in Christ. It signifies the ultimate flowering and fruitfulness of all creation in the paradise of God’s unending Kingdom of Life where all will he transformed by the glory of the Lord.
This is an ancient Christian custom. The first weeks of August, on the 19th of August, the farmers use to gather the early fruits of their summer harvest (grapes, figs etc.) and to present them in the Church to be blessed and to give them for free to congregation. These fruits are called the “beginnings”.
In a text from the 7th century (“the laws of the kingdom” by emperor Constantine Porfirogenitos) this custom is described vividly: “The Emperor of Constantinople gathers the “beginnings” (“aparches”) in Chalcedone, 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”.
This custom is honored in many places in Ukraine, Serbia, Romania, Greece and other nations throughout the world.
We must not forget that the Church was presented once as a “vine”. So, [the] Church blesses the first fruits of vine giving a “theological” meaning to farmer’s work.”
At the end of the Divine Liturgy, His Grace Bishop Daniel and the clergy in attendance received good wishes for the feast from the faithful, while greetings the faithful of the Church with the feast and offering prayerful wishes of Divine Love and Protection to numerous parishioners that celebrated their birthdays on the day of the feast.