THEOPHANY OF OUR LORD
In the earliest days of the Church, Christians celebrated the manifestations of Christ in the world, the birth, the visit of the three Magi, and the baptism on January 6. This replaced the winter solstice. Instead of worshiping the sun, we worship Christ the Sun of Righteousness. At the beginning of the 4th century, the solstice was brought forward to December 25th and the Church brought forward the birth of Jesus to that date by 354 A.D. in Rome.
In the Western Church, Epiphany means the manifestation of Christ to the world. Jesus was visited by the Magi who followed a star to find Him. They represent the Gentiles. Theophany is the word used in the Eastern Church because the baptism is the manifestation of God, of the Holy Trinity. God the Father spoke, “This is by beloved son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed these words as true, as Jesus came up from the waters of the Jordan River.
One of the verses of the Feast of Theophany is “Light of Light, Christ our God, God made manifest, has shone upon the world. O people, let us worship Him.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the Light of the world.
This great feast, like the Nativity of the Lord, has a fore-feast. All creation, especially the river Jordan in the deep cleft of the earth, is summoned to be ready to receive its Creator who comes in humility to be baptized by the Forerunner, so that all of humanity may be saved.
Our life on earth is especially dependent upon water and light. Water covers most of the earth and interacts with the entire cycle of nature to help things grow. In a comparable way, light is essential to photosynthesis, the miracle behind everything that is green. It causes creative changes in the atmosphere and on the surface of the earth. Light allows us to appreciate nature’s rich colours. And these two elements—water and light—are the chief symbols for the Feast of Theophany.
TROPAR (Tone 1)
At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, * worship of the Trinity was revealed, * for the Father’s voice bore witness to You, calling You His beloved Son, * and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words. * O Christ God, who appeared and enlightened the world, * glory be to You!
KONDAK (Tone 4)
Today, You have revealed Yourself to the universe, * and Your light, O Lord, has shone upon us * who spiritually sing to You. * You have come and revealed Yourself, O Inaccessible Light!
THE BLESSING OF WATER
The final day of the Christmas season and one of the greatest feasts of the Eastern Church is Theophany or Epiphany. In the Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church, we celebrate this feast on the eve of Theophany (January 5) and on January 6. A whole series of traditions practiced by Ukrainians for many centuries are linked with this major feast day. First and foremost among the traditions is the Solemn Blessing of Holy Water. Wherever circumstances permit, this solemn blessing of water takes place by a river, lake, or pond. However, if none of these are near, the liturgical rites of the blessing are held in church. This blessing commemorates our Lord’s baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River when the Blessed Trinity was revealed to the people for the first time. As Jesus was standing in the water, the Holy Spirit in the appearance of a dove was seen above Him, while the voice of God the Father was heard to say, “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased!”
During the ceremony the incensing of the water signifies the descent of the Holy Spirit. The three candles that are immersed and snuffed out in the water, remind us that through Christ’s baptism our sins are destroyed and forgiven.
The many benefits we derive from holy water are suitably expressed in the inspiring prayers of the blessing itself. In these prayers, the priest asks God to endow the water with the power to sanctify us, to forgive sins, to cure the sick, to purify the souls and bodies of those who draw and drink this water, to alleviate their suffering, to sanctify their homes and to protect them from the incursions of the devil and from other afflictions.
It is for this reason that the faithful take this holy water home. It is fitting and right to have the home blessed by a priest or deacon. However, the head of the household can sprinkle all the rooms in the home as well as the surrounding yard. The remaining water is kept for future use.
Among its many uses, holy water may be used to bless oneself or others before undertaking a long journey, or we may bless our children with it before putting them to bed to protect them from possible harm. Sick people may drink some of the holy water or be sprinkled with it, humbly asking God for the grace of recovery. In times of grave temptation or family difficulties and afflictions, the use of holy water often brings strength and consolation.
It is evident, therefore, that in many events in our lives, holy water, as a sign of and petition for God’s grace, can be very beneficial if taken and used with God’s assistance.
WHAT CAN I DO AT HOME OR IN MY CLASSROOM?
. Bring holy water for each student with which to bless him or herself.
. Explain to the children that holy water protects us when we are afraid and brings us closer to God.
. Ask the parish priest to come and bless your home or your classroom.
. Explain the meaning of the Icon to the children.
. Read the Gospel story and ask the children questions about what happened.
. Learn to sing the Tropar and Kondak of the Feast Day.
. Attend the Blessing of Water in your parish.
. St. John the Baptist
. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
. The voice of the Father in the semi-circle at the top of the icon.
. The tree of sin. The axe is Jesus who cuts down sin by His death and resurrection.
. Angels witnessing the event.
. Jesus Christ. He blesses the River Jordan.