Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE BLESSING OF WATERS AT EPIPHANY
A POEM OF SOPHRONIOS, PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM
Priest: Trinity above being, above goodness, above divinity, all-powerful, all-seeing, invisible, incomprehensible, Creator of all spiritual beings and rational natures; goodness itself, the inaccessible Light enlightening all who come into the world, shine in me, Your unworthy servant, and enlighten the eyes of my understanding, that I may make bold to praise Your infinite benevolence, and power. May my prayer for the people here present be well-pleasing; may my offenses not impede the coming of the Holy Spirit among us, but judge me uncondemned as I cry to You now and say of Your surpassing goodness:
We glorify You, Loving Master, Almighty, King from everlasting. We glorify You, Creator and Author of all. We glorify You, Only-begotten Son of God, born of the Father without a mother, and of a mother without father. For in the previous feast we saw You an Infant; in this present one we see You complete, perfect, manifested from the perfect God. For today the time for feasting has come and the choir of the Saints holds assembly with us, and Angels celebrate with men. Today the grace of the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, came upon the waters. Today the unwaning sun has dawned, and the world is lit up with the Light of the Lord. Today the moon with its brilliant rays shares its light with the earth. Today the luminous stars embellish the universe with their joyous luster. Today the clouds refresh humanity with a rain of justice from above.
Today the Uncreated One is by His Own will touched by the creature. Today the Prophet and Forerunner approaches the Master, but pauses in awe, seeing God's condescension towards us. Today the waters of the Jordan are turned into healing by the presence of the Lord. Today all creation is watered by mystical waters. Today men's sins are washed away in the waters of the Jordan. Today Paradise is thrown open to mankind, and the sun of righteousness shines upon us. Today the water that the people under Moses found bitter, is turned into sweetness at the Lord's presence.
Today we are free of the ancient grief, and like a new Israel have been redeemed. Today we are delivered from the darkness and are bathed in the light of the knowledge of God. Today the world's gloom is dispersed in the epiphany of our God. Today the entire universe is lit as by a heavenly torch. Today error is abolished and the coming of the Lord opens the way to salvation. Today the heavenly joins the earthly in celebration, and that which is below holds discourse with that which is above. Today the holy and vibrant assembly of the Orthodox rejoices. Today the Master hastens towards baptism so as to raise mankind to the heights. Today He Who bends to none, bows before His own servant, so as to free us from bondage. Today heaven has been deeded to us, for of the Lord's Kingdom there shall be no end. Today the earth and the sky have divided the world's joy, and the world is filled with gladness.
The waters saw You, O God, the waters saw You and were afraid. The Jordan reversed its flow when it saw the fire of Divinity descending bodily and entering it. The Jordan turned back seeing the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove and hovering about You. The Jordan turned back seeing the invisible become visible, the Creator made flesh, the Master in the form of servant. The Jordan turned back and the mountains leapt, seeing God in the flesh, and the clouds gave voice, marveling at the One present, Light of Light, True God of True God, Who submerged in the Jordan the death of disobedience and the sting of error and the bond of Hades, giving to the world a baptism of salvation. Wherefore I Your sinful and unworthy servant, recounting the greatness of Your wonders, seized with dread, in deepest awe cry out to You.
Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your works, and no word will suffice to praise Your wonders. (3)
THE DIVINE THEOPHANY
Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos
The feast of the Theophany refers to the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan by Saint John Forerunner, who is called the Baptist. This took place when Christ reached the age of thirty years, before He began His formal work of teaching and before His later Sufferings for the salvation of the human race.
The choice of thirty years for the beginning of Christ's formal activity in the world is related to the fact that the biological formation of the human organism reaches its fullness at that time. Moreover He would have been more acceptable to the Israelites at this time.
This event is described by the Holy Evangelists (St. Matthew 3:13-17; St. Mark 1:9-11; St. Luke 3:21-2; St. John 1:32-34).
Not many events are mentioned in Holy Scripture in the interval between the Meeting of Christ and Baptism of Christ. What we know about are the flight into Egypt and the return from there, as well as the presence of Christ in the Temple when He was twelve years old.
This is not without reason and purpose. The Gospels were not written to describe the whole history of Christ, but to present the Incarnation of the Son and Logos (Word) of God, and what Christ taught, what He did and what He suffered for the human race. In essence, the Gospels were catechetical aids. So the historical events of Christ's life and the references to His childhood years were not needed. His appearance in the Temple was included in the Gospel because it was the early evidence that He was the Son of God.
The event of Christ's Baptism by Saint John the Forerunner in the River Jordan is called Theophany and Epiphany. In the early Church the feasts of the Nativity and the Theophany were celebrated together on the same day (6 January). In the 4th century the feasts were separated, and Christmas was transferred to 25 December, the day on which the Gentiles celebrated the sun god and the Christians the Sun of Righteousness. Likewise it is called the Feast of Lights, as Saint Gregory the Theologian characterizes it, because of the baptism, illumination of the catechumens, and because of the lighting of fires.
The word 'theophany' comes from the Apostolic passage "God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by Angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory" (I Timothy 3:16), and relates mostly to Christ's Nativity. The word 'Epiphany' comes from the Apostolic passage "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men" (Titus 2:11), and is related mostly to Christ's Baptism, for it was then that people recognized the Grace of Divinity.
In any case it is a fact that on the day of Christ's Baptism, with the manifestation of the Holy Trinity and the confession of the Worthy Forerunner, we have the official confession that the Son and Word of God is the "one of the Trinity" Who became man to save the human race from sin, the devil and death.
In the Patristic tradition the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan is connected with the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites. Just as it was by the wonder-working energy of the Unincarnate Logos [Word], through Moses, that the Egyptians were engulfed and the Israelites were freed, so also here by the power of the Incarnate Logos (Word), corrupt and perverted man is reformed and the dragons are crushed, that is to say, the demons lose their power.
Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite says that in order to reshape a vessel, the potter needs two elements: water for molding the earth, and fire to burn and cast the molded clay and so to reshape it. And God, the Great Potter of our own mold, does just the same thing. Wanting to reshape our nature, which was crushed by sin, God used fire and water. And He takes the fire from Himself, because as God He is a "consuming fire" which consumes wickedness, and He borrows the water from the River Jordan.
The fact is that by Christ's Incarnation, by all the steps of the Divine Economy, and certainly by the Baptism in the River Jordan, the human race is reshaped. After the Fall and the crushing of our nature we have reshaping and rebirth. This reshaping is possible, on the one hand because after the sin human nature did not disappear altogether, and on the other hand because God Himself is man's Creator and is Himself man's re-Creator.
HAGIASMOS (HOLY WATER)
"There is the Small and Great Hagiasmos, both signifying the liturgical act by which water is sanctified as a result of certain prayers and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, as well as by immersing in it a small ceremonial cross. The service is called Hagiasmos sanctification, because it is believed that by being sprinkled with and by drinking this sanctified water the faithful is cleansed and sanctified. The celebrant priest or Bishop prays that the sanctified water heal soul and body and protect the faithful against all adversary powers. The use of sanctified water goes back to the ancient Church. Ecclesiastical writers such as Epiphanios and Theodoret mention events involving the use of sanctified water for the purpose of restoring health in people and of warding off epidemics and other diseases. Sprinkling with sanctified water (holy water) accompanied by prayers and sealing with the Cross had already been introduced into liturgical use in the 4th century for the purpose of healing not only people but even sick animals, and for bestowing the blessing of God on new homes and on new buildings for public use.
Traditionally, on the 1st of each month the priest performed Hagiasmos in church and then visited each home of his parish sanctifying by sprinkling people and their home with holy water. Naturally, this custom could be observed only in small parishes. In the United States this tradition of monthly Hagiasmos (pronounced in Greek without the H) for the people and their homes is nearly impossible owing to the fact that in very few communities, if any at all, do people reside in a group and in close proximity to the church. Yet most priests perform the monthly Hagiamos in church and people can take it to their homes that day or on the following Sunday. The Greek term Hagiasmos means both the liturgical service and the sanctified waters itself, also known as 'holy water'. The Great Hagiasmos is performed on Epiphany day January 6th.
The Orthodox Christians receive sanctified water at the end of the special service of Epiphany and with it sanctify their homes, gardens, and other possessions while some preserve it for the entire year partaking of it at times of illness and other personal or family adversities." [Rev. Nicon D. Patrinacos)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God