Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Traditionally celebrated on the 6th of January, the Feast of the Theophany or Epiphany of the Lord is one of the oldest and greatest feasts of the Christian calendar. As I noted in a post on this date last year, the Greek terms epiphania and theophania both point to the "appearance" or "manifestation" of Christ in our midst. This feast day celebrates God's divine self-disclosure in the person of Jesus Christ, calling us to a deeper and more appreciative awareness of the gift of the Incarnation so recently celebrated on Christmas.

As I observed last year, Eastern and Western Christians have emphasized different aspects of Christ's divine manifestation in their celebrations of Epiphany and Theophany. The Western celebration of Epiphany focuses on the adoration of the newborn Savior by the Magi (an event most Eastern Christians celebrate together with the Nativity at Christmas), while the Eastern celebration of Theophany commemorates the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan. Some accounts suggest that the celebration of the Baptism of Christ on this date predates the celebration of Christmas on December 25th, such that Theophany once served as a commemoration of the Nativity as well. (The conjunction of the Nativity and Theophany of Christ has been maintained by the Armenian Church, which celebrates both events today.)

The Eastern Christian celebration of Theophany includes a wonderful tradition known as the Great Blessing of Waters, which affirms the goodness of the created world as well as the healing power of baptism. I wrote a bit about the Great Blessing of Waters in last year's Theophany post, highlighting a major celebration of the ritual held annually in Tarpon Springs, Florida. The above photos depict a much humbler celebration of the Great Blessing of Waters held last year by the parishioners of Archangel Gabriel Greek Orthodox Church in Traverse City, Michigan. Whether conducted on a large or a small scale, in warm climates or cold ones, the Great Blessing of Waters reminds us that Jesus Christ came into our midst not simply to offer us a way of salvation but to redeem all of creation. As we continue to celebrate Christ's presence among us, let us also be mindful of our duty to revere and care for the world that God chose not merely to create but also to inhabit as a human being. AMDG.


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