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Monday, January 4, 2016

The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ (Apple Spas)

by Ihor Cap, Ph.D.

Photo: The Transfiguration in Drohobych, Ukraine

On August 19 (Julian calendar), Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Ukrainians celebrate one of the 12 biggest Christian holidays, the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ.  Roman Catholics celebrate this event on August 6 (Gregorian calendar). In Ukraine, it is also more commonly known as Yabluchny Spas (Apple Spas) or Second Spas. Spas is the short form for Spasytel’ or Savior. It is one of three Spases’ celebrated in the month of August, but the Second Spas is most important among them. The first one is known as the Makovey Spas. The Horikhovy Spas is the third. Mak in Ukrainian means poppy-seed and horikh means a nut.

When did the Transfiguration occur? According to Mathew (17:1) and Mark (9:2), the transfiguration occurred six days after Jesus foretells his death. However, Luke (9:28) says it was about eight days prior to foretelling his death. The Holy Scripture tells us that on this day:
…Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, aand a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. (Mathew 17:1-13)
Keeping in mind these words, Ukrainians attend a special liturgy to remember that Christ is always with us after which their new harvest of vegetables, fruits, honey and ritual wheat sheaves called “Obzhynky” are blessed. Apples remain the most popular fruit of all. Perhaps this explains why some refer to this holiday as Apple Spas. The Spases’ are the Ukrainian way of bidding summer farewell, and welcoming autumn. That is why the saying among the people “Spas has arrived – bring an extra pair of gloves.”  As far as ritualistic harvest songs and dances go, only isolated elements of these ancient rituals continue to exist and these have since blended with Christian rituals and were incorporated into the Church calendar and celebrations (Encyclopedia of Ukraine, See Folk Dance)
The Transfiguration Of Christ in Ukraine Slide Show

Folklore and Mythology
Ukrainians being an agrarian society have a long history of customs and beliefs associated with the four seasons and the sun. Here are a few of the more common ones connected with the Apple Spas.  It is considered sinful to eat apples before the Spas. No wonder everyone looks forward to a real holiday harvest feast afterwards. No one is forgotten on this day, not even the dead. The Apple Spas happens to be one of three days in the year in which the souls of the departed are remembered.  Neighbors, orphans and even the sick would be visited this day. Obzhynky are blessed along with the fruits brought to church. Obzhynky are ritual sheaves that are made from remaining stubs of wheat or rye in the field. To reap, to cut or to harvest are root words associated with the term “Obzhynky.”  The clump of wheat was tied into a sheaf and left at the end of the field as an offering to the gods who would protect their fields.  The sheaf was shaped into beard-like formation and was known under various names like the “Savior’s beard”, “Grandpa’s beard”, or “Goats beard.” Later, this ceremonial sheaf would be presented to the “hospodar” (master) and “hospodynia” (mistress) with an abundance of well wishes.  The hospodar ensured the ceremonial gift would be placed next to the icon in the corner. The harvest feast of fruit and drink ensued either in the home or in the yard. (Encyclopedia of Ukraine, See Harvest rituals)
The long and labor-intensive process of reaping the harvest is also remembered in Ukrainian folk songs known as “obzhynkovi pisni” (harvest songs). They sang about “…the sun, the grain, the implements, the birds living in the grain, about being tired and aching backs, about the abundant harvest for this year and next” and about wedding wreaths , says Orysia Tracz. in her article "Obzhynky": Ukraine's version of the Thanksgiving holiday. (See The Ukrainian Weekly, December 3, 2000, No. 49, Vol. LXVIII)
“Obzhynkovi khorovody” or ritual harvest dances are usually performed by women and without the accompaniment of folk instruments. Dancers’ movements are more restrained, circular in form and enriched by creative patterns that often worship the cult of the life-giving sun. However, these dances later came to embrace other everyday life themes of serfs. Some of the better known ones are conveyed in the spring khorovody or vesnianky-hahilky. Zelman and Bondarivna are two such favorite khorovody. (Encyclopedia of Ukraine, See Harvest rituals)
Author: Ihor Cap

Photos: Ihor Cap

View a Video of The Transfiguration in Ukraine 

Reading List
Tracz, P. Orysia. (2000). "Obzhynky": Ukraine's version of the Thanksgiving holiday. Published in The Ukrainian Weekly, December 3, 2000, No. 49, Vol. LXVIII issue. To read article, visit
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
To learn more about ancient Ukrainian folk dances, see the Folk dance section of the Encyclopedia of Ukraine or follow the link here.  ( )  
Click here to learn more about Ukrainian harvest rituals. ( )
For more information about Ukrainian Traditional Folk Beliefs, Mythology, and Demonology, see the Encyclopedia of Ukraine or click here. ( )

Note: This article was first published in the website on October 7, 2008.