(6th of January)
Today we celebrate in advance one of the Great Feasts of Our Lord, the Holy Theophany (or Epiphany-also known as the Feast of Lights). This Feast is one of the main Feasts ranked after Pascha in importance, and its significance is profound. The Holy Gospels and the inspired teachings of the Holy Fathers can help us understand the depth of meaning found in this Feast. As we know from the Holy Gospels, when Jesus was born, few people were even aware of what happened. Not even the people of Nazareth had noticed that the long-awaited Messiah was in their midst, right there in the village! It was not until Our Lord reached the age thirty, that He would be revealed to all.
At God’s command, St. John the Forerunner came to the Jordan River area, proclaiming to the people their need to repent, confess their sins, and be baptized so that their sins may be forgiven (see Luke 3:2-3). Many people heard the call and came forward to be baptized. One day, Jesus of Nazareth also came and was baptized by St.John in the Jordan River (see Mark 1:9). Since He was without sin, Jesus did not stay in the water as others did, as He had nothing to confess. As He immediately came out of the water, a glorious thing happened: The sky opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, coming down upon Our Lord as He was praying. This was followed by a voice from Heaven which said “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
It was at this wondrous event, that the three Persons of the Holy Trinity revealed Themselves in action: The voice of God the Father, the Son as God-man being baptized, and the Holy Spirit coming down as a dove upon Jesus to confirm the words of the Father. The Apolytikion hymn of the feast marks this event beautifully:
Lord, when You were baptized in the Jordan, the veneration of the Trinity was revealed. For the voice of the Father gave witness to You, calling You Beloved, and the Spirit, in the guise of a dove, confirmed the certainty of His words. Glory to You, Christ our God, who appeared and enlightened the world.
At the time of the Lord’s Baptism we are seeing three key events:
- The sky opens up! With the disobedience of Adam and Eve, not only was the gate to earthly paradise (Eden) shut, but the heavenly paradise was also closed off. The Spiritual sky, God’s heavenly kingdom, remained barred for humanity. Now, with our Lord Jesus Christ’s baptism and prayer, Heaven was opened, revealing a new road to Paradise for us.
- The Holy Spirit descends “in the form of a dove”. It was a dove that signaled to Noah that the Flood was over. In the same way, the Holy Spirit is bringing the message of a new era of God’s grace for humanity. This is what we heard in today’s Epistle reading: “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11).
- And finally- A voice, the voice of God, comes down from heaven, by which the recognition of the Messianic mission of Jesus Christ is confirmed publicly. From this moment on, the God-man Lord officially begins His work of salvation for all human beings.
On the Feast day of Theophany, we enjoy also a special blessing, which the sanctifying grace of the Great Blessing of the Waters. For the sake of the faithful, the Church performs the Great Blessing, which is a dramatization of Jesus’ Baptism. With His baptism in the waters of the Jordan River, the Lord blessed the water as well as nature as a whole. “Today the nature of the waters is sanctified …” is what is chanted at the beginning of the service of the Great Blessing.
During the service of the Great Blessing, the celebrant priest or bishop prays: That with the descent of the Holy Spirit, the water may also become holy. May all who receive this holy water be blessed (along with their homes), and enlightened with the knowledge of the true God. And may they be cleansed from sins and the power of Satan, and protected from any disease. It is for these reasons that Orthodox Christians prepare their souls to receive with faith and devotion the water of the Great Blessing. Theophany Water becomes an object of a special blessing from God. We see this in the fact that despite the fact that it remains in our churches for the whole year, is immune from change or corruption. It remains clear, no matter how much time may pass. This is something that does not happen with common water. St. John Chrysostom has mentioned this miracle in his time as well.
My brothers and sisters, let us prepare ourselves both physically and spiritually, to take part in the feast of Theophany (Epiphany) with faith and devotion. In so doing, may we become recipients of sanctification for soul and body.
May the Light of the Revealed Christ guide the course of our lives. Amen.