The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ is one of the five main “Tabernacle” feasts of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It commemorates the transformation or the “transfiguration” that came over Jesus while He was praying. Christ’s face shone like the sun and his clothes became a radiant and gleaming white. The Apostles Peter, James and John witnessed that event which occurred on a high mountain named Tabor.
Evangelists St Matthew, St Mark and St Luke testify about the Transfiguration of Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-12; Luke 9:28-36).
“… As they looked on, a change came over Jesus: his face was shining like the sun and his clothes were dazzling white. Then the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. So Peter spoke up and said to Jesus, “Lord, how good it is that we are here! If you wish I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was talking, a shining cloud came over them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased – listen to him!”
When the disciples heard the voice, they were so terrified that they threw themselves face downward on the ground. Jesus came to them and touched them. “Get up,” he said, “Don’t be afraid!” So they looked up and saw no one there but Jesus. (Matthew 17:2-8)
In the Armenian Church, the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ is celebrated 98 days following Easter.
The Feast is also known by the common name of Vartavar: Festival of the Roses. Armenians would decorate the temple of the goddess Asdghig (goddess of love, beauty, fertility, and water) with roses, release doves and engage in water games on this popular pre Christian holiday. In modern times, it’s a festival in Armenia where people drench each other with water.
St Gregory the Illuminator combined Vartavar with the Transfiguration. The fifth century historian Yeghishe wrote the prayer that is recited in church on this feast: “O Lord, bless the harvest of this year and defend from all the perils, and may your right hand, O Lord, protect us for the whole year.”