My beloved spiritual children 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.
PREPARING FOR THE GREAT FEAST OF THEOPHANY
On January 6th our Holy Orthodox Christian Church celebrates the Great Feast of the Theophany of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. This is one of the greatest of the Christian year and is in a class with Pascha and Nativity. In English, we are accustomed to hearing this Feast called "The Epiphany," a word which means "manifestation." On this day, the Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the remembrance of the Baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan at the hands of Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner. Because of the great significance of the Holy Feast, the day before (The Eve of the Feast, January 5th), is kept as a vigil, with a strict fast.
The Hymn of the Feast of Theophany is chanted: "When Thou were baptized in Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest; for the voice of the Father bare witness unto Thee, calling Thee His Beloved Son, and the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the steadfastness of that word. O Christ Our God, Who did manifest Thyself and do enlighten the world, glory to Thee!"
It is our holy Tradition to hold the Service of the Blessing of the Waters on this day. In ancient times, there were two blessings: one of the water intended for the baptism of those who were about to be received into the Church, and the other a solemn outdoor blessing of the rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. This latter blessing was in imitation of the tradition of the Christians of Jerusalem who went to the Jordan River to celebrate the festival and in memory of the consecration of the waters of the Jordan at the time Christ was baptized therein. There is an old tradition that upon the Eve of the Theophany and throughout the days closely following, all the waters of the earth are especially sacred, because of their part in the Baptism of the Lord.
Present practice is to bless the waters at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy on the January 6th. The Officiating Priest prays that the Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will grant sanctification, blessings, purification, and bodily health to those who partake of the Holy Water or are anointed or sprinkled therewith. After the Divine Service he sprinkles all faithful Christians present, and offers the bottles filled with Holy Water for personal and home use throughout the year.
In the days following the Theophany (Epiphany), the Parish Priest goes about blessing the homes and businesses of the faithful Orthodox Christians for their spiritual and material protection and welfare throughout the year to come. It is duty of the Church to sanctify the lives of its faithful, to make them holy, and to insure their salvation by every means at her command.
Saint John of San Francisco reminds of the following: "On Theophany, the Day of the Lord's Baptism, every year a great miracle is performed. The Holy Spirit, coming down upon the Water, changes its natural properties. It becomes incorrupt, not spoiling, remaining transparent and fresh for many years. This Holy Water receives the grace to heal illnesses, to drive away demons and every evil power, to preserve people and their dwellings from every danger, to sanctify various objects whether for church or home use. Therefore, Orthodox Christians with reverence drink Holy Water -- a Great Agiasma (holy thing), as the Greeks call it."
Every Orthodox Christian believer should always have at home enough Holy Water to last the whole year and make use of it at every need: In case of illness, leaving on a journey, whenever one is upset, students prior to examinations, etc. Believers who drink a little Holy Water daily, before eating any kind of food and after they offer their prayers, receive God's blessing.
THE DIVINE SERVICE OF THE GREAT HOURS ON THE EVE OF THEOPHANY
In completing the Twelve Days of Christmas, that is the Festal Cycle of the Theophany of the Incarnate Son and Logos/Word of God, Jesus Christ, we come to the Feat of Theophany. A particular feature of the Church Tradition is the divine Service of the Great and Royal Hours, on the Eve.
In fact, this service is not a unified whole, but rather four separate ones linked together. Since they are celebrated together, without any obvious breaks between them, they are thought as one. They are the services of the First, Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours, which make up the familiar Monastic rule of the services of the Great Hours.
The names come from the fact that they were held at particular times during the Byzantine day. Like the Hebrew system of time keeping, that in Byzantium was based on the watches of the day and the night. The first hour of the day in Byzantium was what we would call six o'clock - nationally, sunrise-while the First Hour was held at six o'clock in the evening-representing sunset. The service of First Hour was held at six o'clock in the morning, the Third Hour at nine o'clock, the Sixth at noon and the Ninth at three o'clock in the afternoon.
The reason the Hours on the Eve of Theophany are called 'Great' and "Royal" is because of their Festal content and because they're dedicated to the Baptism of Christ, the King of All, while structurally they are longer and more splendid (Scriptural reading, three hymns and so on). The Hours on the Eve of Christmas and Great Friday also bear this title.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in His Divine Theophany,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God