Monday, January 5, 2015

Theophany - the "manifestation of God"

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Within the Orthodox Church, today is the Eve of Theophany, designated as a "strict fast day."  We enjoyed the longest fast-free period in the Church from December 25 - January 4 inclusive; but in preparation for the Great Feast of Theophany we fast in order to fully appreciate the feast to come.  Unlike the Western Epiphany that commemorates the visit of the Magi and the offering of their gifts to the Christ Child; Theophany itself is the commemoration and actualization of Christ's Baptism in the River Jordan - and further of the public revelation of God's Trinitarian nature.  This ultimate revelation finds wonderful expression in the well-known troparion of the Feast:

        When Thou, O Lord, was baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity
        was made manifest!  For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee,
        and called Thee His beloved Son! And the Spirit, in the form of a dove,
        confirmed the truthfulness of His word.  O Christ, our God, who has revealed
        Thyself, and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee!

Theophany, of course, means the "manifestation of God," His "showing/shining forth" to the world openly when the Messiah is baptized and anointed upon His descent into the waters of the Jordan and the Holy Spirit simultaneously descends in order to "remain" upon Him.  (JN. 1:32)  The "Great Blessing of the Water" is the central, distinguishing rite of this Feast.  In his book, The Celebration of Faith, Vol. II, Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes the following about this popular rite:

        Go into a church on the eve of Theophany while the "Great Blessing of Water" is being celebrated.
        Listen to the words of the prayers and hymns, pay attention to the rite, and you will feel that there is
        more here than merely an ancient ritual:  it has something to say to us today, just as it did a thousand
        years ago, about our life and our perpetual and unquenchable thirst for purification, rebirth, renewal
        ... In this celebration water becomes what it was on the firs day of Creation, when "the earth was
        without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving
        over the face of the waters."  (GEN. 1:1-2)  The words of the service echo this in praise and thanks-
        giving: "Great art Thou, O Lord, and marvelous are Thy works, and there are no words which suffice
        to hymn Thy wonders ..."  Once again, a beginning.  Once again, humanity stands before the mystery
        of existence.  Once again, we experience the world joyfully and we see its beauty and harmony as
        God's gift.  Once again, we give thanks.  And in this thanksgiving, praise, and joy, we once again
        become genuine human beings. (pp. 63-64)

To "once again become genuine human beings."  Now that sounds like a New Year's resolution worth making and striving for! 

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