Orthodox America

  Our Lord’s Theophany

January 6

        One of the greatest and most important feasts of the Church is the Feast of Our Lord's Baptism. This feast is also called Epiphany meaning "manifestation," or Theophany, meaning "manifestation of God," or "God is revealed."

     The holy Prophet John, the Baptist and Forerunner of the Lord, was called by God to prepare the way of the Lord; that is, to tell the people that the Kingdom of God was at hand and that they should make themselves ready through repentance and baptism.

     At this time Jesus was about 30 years old, and He came from Nazareth to the Jordan River to be baptized. John, recognizing that Jesus was much greater than any prophet, felt unworthy to baptize Him. But Jesus reassured him, saying, "Let it be so, for we must thereby fulfill all righteousness"; that is, fulfill the law of God and show an example to the people.

    When Jesus was baptized and came up out of the water, the heavens suddenly opened, and John saw the Spirit in the form of a dove descending upon Jesus. And there came a voice from heaven saying, "Thou art My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased." Then John, together with many others, was convinced that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.

    Here, for the first time, all three Persons of the Holy Trinity were revealed to the world: the voice of God the Father calling down from heaven, the Holy Spirit descending from the Father in the shape of a dove, and God the Son in the person of Jesus Christ.

    But why, one might ask, did Christ--Who is sinless--need to be cleansed through baptism? We find the answer to this question in the Feast day services: "Though as God He needs no cleansing, yet for the sake of fallen mar] He is cleansed in the Jordan." Just as mankind fell away from God through the sin of its forefather Adam, so it is renewed and cleansed through the Baptism of Christ, the New Adam, in Whose Baptism we see also an example for our own baptism.

    This feast was celebrated with great solemnity by the early Church. In memory of the Lord's Baptism, catechumens would prepare to be baptized on the vigil of this day. For this reason it is called: “the Feast of Lights," for in baptism a person is 'illumined' by the light of Christ. During the Liturgy, in place of the Trisagion "Holy God, Holy Mighty..."), we sing "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ..."

    The day before the Feast is kept as a strict fast. In church we hear special readings from the Old Testament prophets. On this day the priest blesses the water as a reminder of the baptism which took place traditionally at this time in the early Church. Another blessing of the water is performed the following day after Liturgy in memory of Our Lord's Baptism in the Jordan, for which reason it is, if possible, performed outdoors near a river or stream. ,



    On the Feast of Theophany, that is 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, that is, it doe s not spoil, remains transparent and fresh for many years, 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.

    One should have at home enough Theophany water so that it will last the whole year, and make use of it at every need: in cases of illness, leaving on a journey, whenever one is upset, students when going to examinations. They do well who daily, before eating any kind of food, drink a little Holy Water. It strengthens the powers of the soul--if it is done, of course, with prayer and reverence, and one does not merely expect from it a mechanical result. 

(From the writings of Archbishop John Maximovitch)