Icon of the Transfiguration

5 Keys to Understanding the Icon of the Transfiguration

On August 19, the Orthodox Church celebrates one of the greatest feasts, the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. The event described in the Gospels tells about the appearance of Christ’s divine origin to the three Apostles while they were praying on Mount Tabor. The icon of the Transfiguration is a highly revered image, the composition of which conceals many symbols. In this blog post, we have outlined 5 keys to understanding the meaning of this sacred icon.

5 keys to understanding the icon of the Transfiguration

1. Mandorla

In iconography, a mandorla is a circle or oval containing an image of Christ. The mandorla resembles a large shining halo that represents an important religious symbol. In the icon of the Transfiguration, the Savior is enclosed in a circle, signifying the presence of God who appears in His full glory. Sometimes, the mandorla is composed of many circles. It is a symbol of the eternal movement and union of the earthly and heavenly worlds.

2. Prophets

During the Transfiguration of Christ, two Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Moses, appeared on the mountain. The Prophet Elijah did not experience death and was summoned by an angel from heaven. The Prophet Moses, in his turn, suffered death, and his body was disputed over by the Archangel Michael and the Devil. The icon of the Transfiguration that portrays these prophets carries a secret meaning: Jesus Christ has dominion over both life and death.

3. Cliffs and trees

According to the tradition, the place of the Transfiguration was a smooth hillside. However, the Christian icon depicts steep cliffs. The mountains here are a symbol of faith and the spiritual path that every righteous person takes. As for the trees, they are a reference to the Tree of the Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.

4. Color palette

As you probably know, each color in Orthodox icons has its meaning and is used with purpose. In icons of the Transfiguration, Jesus is often clothed in white robes. This color symbolizes eternal grace and purity of soul. The Apostles’ faces and clothing also reflect white as an extension of heavenly light to mankind. Among other important colors used in painting the Transfiguration icon is brown. It indicates the temporality of the earthly world. It is interesting that this color also transforms, merging with gold (a symbol of the presence of the Lord) and yellow ocher.

5. The light of Tabor

The light of Tabor is the Uncreated Light, the divine origin of Christ. The rays of light allowed Jesus’s disciples to see His glory.

Hopefully, now the icon of the Transfiguration does not seem too hard to understand. Stay tuned for more interesting interpretations of religious icons!