The Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ (commemorated on August 6 or 19) is an important one for Orthodox Christians to celebrate! After all, the Transfiguration was a revelation of the Holy Trinity (God the Father spoke, Christ was there, of course, and the Holy Spirit was revealed in the form of a cloud). Also, at the Transfiguration, Christ’s radiance was physically seen by the disciples so that they could better realize His Divinity. In addition, Moses and Elijah were present, showing the disciples that in Christ the law and the prophecies are fulfilled. And so it was that on Mt. Tabor, God allowed the disciples to have their own “mountaintop” experience, just as Moses (Mt. Sinai) and Elijah (Mt. Horeb) had during their life on earth.
Since this Feast is important, we need to learn about it ourselves, help our children know about it, and together celebrate the Feast! Transfiguration is a difficult concept for anyone to grasp, but especially so for children. How can we help our children learn what it was like for the disciples to see Our Lord’s Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor? Our Lord did not slip into a hidden wardrobe and change out of His ordinary clothes into shiny robes, nor did He simply step into a giant spotlight shining down from the sky. Rather, the disciples were simply permitted to physically see some of His Divine Glory shining through. (But not all of it: just “inasmuch as they were able,” according to the troparion of the day). So, how can we begin to explain or show the Transfiguration to our children?
One way to illustrate this concept would be to decorate three little plastic tubes to represent Christ, Moses, and Elijah.
We used permanent marker to turn two (upside down) spray hand sanitizer tubes to create “Moses” (holding a walking stick and tablets with the Ten Commandments) and “Elijah” (hands folded in prayer, over a burning fire). Then we took a new (blue) glow stick (also upside down) and added a smiley face for “Christ.” The story can be reenacted with these “characters,” using a throw pillow “Mt. Tabor.”
“Christ” can climb to the top of the mountain to pray.
While the disciples (all the people gathered to hear the story) watch, “Moses” and “Elijah” can appear, sparking a discussion that includes why they are holding what they are holding, and why they were even part of this event in the first place, as answered in the paragraph above.
At the moment of Christ’s Transfiguration, break the glass vial inside the glowstick, allowing the blue to emanate from it. Be sure to explain that, just as the glowstick could have been glowing at any moment (all of the right ingredients were there, but protected from mixing and glowing), Christ is always Divine. However, His disciples could not always see Him illumined, because God was protecting them from something that they would not have understood. It might have even scared them if He was always radiant! (At some point, you may also want to explain that God did not have to “do something” to Christ to make Him radiate; as we have to do something to the glowstick to make it glow. Unfortunately, as always, the analogy falls short of the truth.) However, on Mt. Tabor, God allowed the disciples to see some of His radiance, to help them know beyond the shadow of a doubt that He is God (and also to help them understand that His forthcoming crucifixion was voluntary, according to the kontakion of the day).
As the shining glowstick “Christ” sits atop Mt. Tabor, talk together about what it must have been like for the disciples to have experienced this reality, and why it is so important to our Orthodox Faith that we celebrate the Transfiguration as one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church.
“When, O Christ our God, Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, Thou didst reveal Thy glory to Thy Disciples in proportion as they could bear it. Let Thine everlasting light also enlighten us sinners, through the intercessions of the Theotokos, O God Thou Bestower of light, glory to Thee!”
Here are some links that can help you and your Sunday Church School Students learn more about the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, as well as ideas to help you celebrate the feast together:
Continue to learn together about the Feast of the Transfiguration in the book http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth
Listen to the hymns for the feast: https://www.goarch.org/-/listen-to-the-hymns-of-the-feast-of-transfiguration?inheritRedirect=true
If there is time during class (or in place of the lesson), watch this video by the Department of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America with your students. “Rich with enlightening interviews, music, festal hymns, icons, and beautiful visuals, this program is sure to inspire and provoke thoughtful exploration of Orthodox worship. At the end of the presentation is a set of questions for exploration and discussion. It is designed to be used by an individual or family, as well as in a group setting such as a parish Bible study or adult church school class.” https://www.goarch.org/-/the-transfiguration-exploring-the-feasts-of-the-orthodox-christian-church?inheritRedirect=true
Print this folding stand-up centerpiece about the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ for your students’ dining room table or icon corner: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/44cc08f7375825e0a722417e140a9cce.pdf
Find printable activity sheets about the Transfiguration, geared for older children here: https://www.scribd.com/document/273631504/Orthodox-Transfiguraton-Worksheets
This transfiguration activity can help to explain the word itself. Use the content in the context of the story of Christ’s transfiguration to add to the mystery of transfiguration! All you need is paper, a cotton swab, lemon juice, and an iron: http://aprilfiet.com/theology-culture/now-see-transfiguration-sunday-childrens-lesson
“Saint Seraphim of Sarov’s life teaches us how we are to nourish our experience of the Transfiguration of Christ. The New Testament, the Psalms, the teaching of Saint Isaac the Syrian, the Jesus Prayer, prayer to the Mother of God, Paschal joy, hiding away from the limelight, compassion and absence of harshness: these were the characteristics of Saint Seraphim’s life. We can acquire some of them. Let us start by seeing what we can do with the New Testament, with the Jesus Prayer, and with the Mother of God…” Read more about the Transfiguration and how we can allow God to transform our lives, in the same way that St. Seraphim of Sarov did: http://www.pravmir.com/can-nourish-experience-transfiguration-christ/
Older students will benefit from reading and discussing +Metropolitan Anthony Bloom’s homily on the transfiguration: https://myocn.net/37960-2/