Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Above is the icon of the transfiguration from the Dionysiou Dodekaorton.  The Gospel account is set around the time of the Jewish feast of Tabernacles.  Originally a harvest festival the Jews spent the eight days of the feast in makeshift booths wether they were involved in working the fields or not.  There is an obvious link here to Christ's approaching crucifixion and death and the harvest of souls that will result.  He has chosen only three of his men, his inner circle of Peter, James and John, to experience this  encounter with the mystery of His being.

This icon has three sections.  At the top we have Christ in the centre surrounding by a deep blue mandorla land flanked by Moses and Elijah.  At the middle left Christ and three of the apostles, Peter, James and John, are ascending Mount Tabor while on the other side they are descending.  At the bottom the three apostles react to the revelation of Christ’s of Divine Personhood.

At the top left is Elijah his hand raised beseechingly to Christ.  Christ Himself raises His right hand in blessing while His left holds a scroll (barely visible).  The mandorla around Him is sometimes oval and sometimes circular as in this case.  According to the research of Andreas Andreopoulos the circular mandorla refers to the early Christian legend that the three Apostles were allowed to see into paradise while the oval mandorla emphasises the glory of the uncreated light that poured out from Him.   On the right stands Moses with the Law in His hands presenting it to the Lord.  Thus is presented to us the Gospel account of Christ speaking with Moses and Elijah, the Law-giver and the greatest of Israel's prophets about His approaching passion.

At the bottom the three apostles are prostrate with shock.  Peter alone looks on, his hand over his mouth.  The Father has told him to listen to Christ and so he must keep silent and contemplate the man he serves.  They lack haloes for they are not yet sanctified but are incapable of perceiving the uncreated light of God.  Nearby a cave makes reference to the cave (or cleft in the rock) in which Moses and later Elijah encountered God.  It also foretells the tomb in which Christ will be laid after His death and from which  He will rise and the darkness in which world languishes without His Light.  The hill upon which Christ stands has an almost wave-like form as if nature is rising to lift Him up.  It's lighter colour seems to point to His light that illuminates the world.

This Lent let us ascend the mountain with Christ.  Let us contemplate Him, our lives stripped of all that is not necessary and our hearts and minds focused on His Presence.  Let us place our hands over our mouths and, listening to the Beloved Son of the Father, hear again the words of the Word and put them into practice.

Aidan Hart, the foremost British iconographer,  has a great talk on "Icons as prayer without ceasing" at his website here.

Andreas Andreopoulos  Metamorphosis: The Transfiguration in Byzantine Theology And Iconography  ISBN-10: 0881412953 ISBN-13: 978-0881412956.
  • Solrunn Ness The Uncreated Light: An Iconographiocal Study of the Transfiguration In the Eastern Church  ISBN-10: 0802817645 ISBN-13: 978-0802817648


  1. thank you for your wonderful page. could you do me a favor? I did not know what is the meaning by "the Dionysiou Dodekaorton."

  2. Dear Unknown, Dodekaorton refers to the twelve Great Feasts of the Eastern Catholic/Orthodox Church liturgical year and Dionysiou refers to the Monastery of Dionysiou (St Dionysius), Mount Athos, Greece. Usually these icons appear in a row on the icon screen above that separates the sanctuary (the area around the altar) from the nave where the people gather to worship.



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