Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
On January 6th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church celebrates
THE HOLY THEOPHANIA OF OUR LORD, AND GOD, AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. First Tone
When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest; for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, calling Thee His Beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the certainty of the word. O Christ our God, Who hast appeared and hast enlightened the world, glory be to Thee.
Hypakoe. Plagal of First Tone
When Thou didst enlighten all things by Thine Epiphany, the briny sea of unbelief fled, and as Jordan flowed down, it turned back, exalting us to Heaven. Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, preserve us at the height of Thy Divine Commandments, O Christ God, and have mercy on us.
Kontakion. Fourth Tone
On this day Thou hast appeared unto the whole world, and Thy Light, O Sovereign Lord, is signed on us who sing Thy praise and chant with knowledge: Thou hast now come, Thou hast appeared, O Thou Light Unapproachable.
About the beginning of Our Lord's thirtieth year, Saint John the Forerunner and Baptizer, who was some six months older than our Savior according to the flesh, and had lived in the wilderness since his childhood, received a command from God and came into the parts of the Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins.
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'" (St. Luke 3:4-6)
"Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, 'I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (St. Luke 3:15-16)
"When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the Heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from Heaven which said, 'You are My beloved Son; in you I am well pleased." (St. Luke 3:21-22)
Then our Savior also came from Galilee to the Jordan, and sought and received baptism--though He was the Master and St. John was but a servant. This was how the event is revealed in the Holy Scripture:
"Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?' But Jesus answered and said to him, 'Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he allowed Him." (St. Matthew 3:13-15)
Whereupon, there came to pass those marvelous deeds, great and beyond nature: the Heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove upon Him that was being baptized, and the voice was heard from the Heavens bearing witness that this was the Beloved Son of God, now baptized as a man (Saint Matthew 3:13-17; Saint Mark 1:9-11; Saint Luke 3:1-22). From these events the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ and the great mystery of the Holy Trinity were demonstrated. It is also from this that the present feast is called "Theophania." that is, the Divine Manifestation, God's appearance among men. On this venerable day the sacred mystery of Christian baptism was inaugurated; henceforth also began the saving preaching of the Kingdom of the Heavens.
On the Great Feast of the Theophania, the Baptism of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, every Orthodox Christian would do well to remember another baptism, the one performed over each of one of us Orthodox Christians, the baptism in which each of us, through the mouths of our Godparents, gave God pledged that we would always renounce Satan and his works and would always join with, "unite unto" Christ.
On Monday, January 6th, we will begin the ceremonious rite of the Great Blessing of the waters. Its center, one might say its main part, is the grand prayer in which the Almighty God is glorified and the Grace of the Holy Spirit is invoked upon the waters which are blessed. This prayer begins with the divine words: "Great art Thou, O Lord, and wonderful are Thy works, and no word doeth justice to the praise of Thy wonders." Those who have attended the Mysterion (Sacrament) of baptism and listened carefully know that this prayer for the blessing of the water in which a person is to be baptized begins with the same words, and the first part of this prayer is conducted in the same way the same as during the Great Blessing of the waters. Only later, in the last part, does the prayer change at the completion of the Mysterion of baptism, which is composed for this Mystery, as a new human soul is to be baptized.
This Great and Holy Feast-Day is called the Baptism of Christ, but those who know the Orthodox Tradition of the Church know full well that it is also called "The Feast of the Holy Theophania or Theophanies" in plural.
Why? Because of course, the central commemoration of this feast day is that the choir sang the words "God the Logos (Word) shone upon the flesh to the human race." The Incarnate Son of God, of Whose Birth only a few knew at the time, "shone forth to the human race," for His Baptism is as His ceremonial appearance in His service, which He performed until His death and Resurrection.
But at the same time, today's Holy Day is also noteworthy, as is chanted in the apolytikion (Dismissal) hymn, because it is during this very holy day that "the worship of the Trinity was made manifest." All Three Persons of the Holy Trinity for the first time appeared in Their distinctness, which is why this is called "the feast of the Holy Theopanies." People present heard the voice of God the Father "This is My Son, the Beloved, with Whom I am well pleased," the Son of God received baptism from Saint John (meanwhile, we know from the Gospel that Saint John, distraught when the Savior of the world came to him, tried to refuse), and the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove descended from the Father to the Son. In this way, "the worship of the Holy Trinity was made manifest," and that is why our Holy Orthodox Church chants this in the Apolytikion, and calls this Great and Holy Feast-Day, "The Feast of the Theophania."
Geronda (Elder) Sophrony wrote, "Every Divine Liturgy is a Theophany." We Orthodox," he said, "live Christ within the Divine Liturgy, or rather Christ lives within us during the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is a work of God. We say: "Time is a creation of the Lord." Among other things it means now is the time for God to act."
"Christ liturgizes, we live with Christ. The Divine Liturgy is the way we know God and the way God becomes known to us. Christ celebrated the Divine Liturgy once and this passed into Eternity. His divinized human nature came to the Divine Liturgy. We know Christ specifically in the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy we celebrate is the same Divine Liturgy which was done by Christ on Great and Holy Thursday in the Mystical Supper. The 14th through the 16th chapters of the Gospel to Saint John is one Divine Liturgy.
So in the Divine Liturgy we understand Holy Scripture. The early Church lived without a New Testament, but not without the Divine Liturgy. The first records, the written hymns, exist in the Divine Liturgy. In the Divine Liturgy we live Christ and understand His word."
Geronda [Elder] Sophrony continues: "As Christ cleansed His Disciples with His word and said to them: 'You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you' (St. John 15:3) and He washed the feet of His Disciples with water, during the Sacred Washing, so also in the first section of the Divine Liturgy He cleanses us that we might attend later His Table of agape (love).
The purpose of the Divine Liturgy is to convey Christ to us. The Divine Liturgy teaches us an ethos, the ethos of humility. As Christ sacrificed Himself, so also should we sacrifice ourselves. The type of the Divine Liturgy is the type of impoverishment for us. In the Divine Liturgy we try to be humbled, because we have the sense that there is the humbled God. Every Divine Liturgy is a Theophany.
"The Body of Christ appears", he writes. "Every member of the Church is an Icon of the Kingdom of God. After the Divine Liturgy we must continue to iconify the Kingdom of God, keeping His Divine Commandments.
The glory of Christ is to bear fruit in every member. His fruit. This explains His word: 'Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (St. John 15:8)."
It is common practice for Orthodox to bless the waters not only in church on Theophania, but go to their nearest local body of water or even well and bless those waters also. The blessing is normally done twice: once on the Eve of the Feast--usually at a Baptismal Font inside the church--and then again on the day of the feast, outdoors at a body of water i.e., lake, river, sea, harbor, quay, etc. (ideally, it should be a body of "living water"). At the end of the ceremony the priest or bishop will bless the waters. If swimming is feasible on the spot, any number of volunteer Orthodox young men try to recover the cross which the priest or bishop will cast into it. The person who finds the cross will bring the cross to the priest or bishop and who then offers a special blessing to the swimmer and their household. Certain such ceremonies have achieved particular prominence, such as the one held annually at Tarpon Springs, Florida. My two sons, Demetri and Stefan both participated and dove for the cross for a number of years. All the area priests join usually His Eminence, the local Metropolitan and other bishops at this memorable and most inspiring divine service. I participated for twenty years and I consider this experience as a personal and family blessing.
In Russia, where the winters are severe, a hole will be cut into the ice so that the waters may be blessed. In such condition, the cross is not cast into the water, but is held securely by the priest and dipped three times into the water. The water that is blessed in the church is known as "Theophany Water" and is taken home by the faithful Orthodox Christians to be used by them throughout the year. The Orthodox Church teaches that the holy water from the feast of the Theophania differs from regular water because the very nature of the water is changed after it has been blessed and becomes incorrupt, a miracle attested to as early as Saint John Chrysostom.
Following the Feast of Epiphany or Theophany the parish priest is invited by his parishioners to bless their homes and their businesses etc. He of course brings the holy water from the church and therefore there is no need to perform the holy service of the blessing of the waters. All the members of the family should be present when the priest comes to your home.
(To be continued)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God