Tuesday, January 06, 2009


In much of the Latin Church, the Feast of Epiphany is currently celebrated on the first Sunday after the start of the civil new year. Also called Theophany, this feast is still kept on its original date of January 6th by many Eastern Christians. Epiphany and theophany are both Greek terms for "manifestation" or "appearance" and are often used interchangably in practice, even though the feast to which the two titles are applied is conceived somewhat differently in the Christian East than it is in the Latin West. While the Latin observance of Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi to Jesus in Bethlehem, the Eastern celebration of Theophany marks Christ's baptism in the Jordan (an event celebrated by the Latin Church on the Sunday after Epiphany). Despite considerable differences in emphasis, the different traditions associated with Epiphany and Theophany provide us with an opportunity to celebrate the presence of Christ in our midst.

In celebrating the Epiphany or Theophany of the Lord, we also celebrate again the wondrous event of the Incarnation. In The Winter Pascha, a book I've referred to occasionally in recent posts, Father Thomas Hopko explains the significance of Christ's baptism in the Jordan for human salvation:
. . . it was in the Jordan, being baptized by John the Forerunner, that Jesus appeared to the world and manifested Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God, one of the Holy Trinity.

The Lord's first public appearance takes place at His baptism for very good reason. Baptism is the symbol of death and resurrection; Christ came to the earth in order to die and be raised. Baptism is a symbol of repentance of sin, and its forgiveness; Christ came as the Lamb of God who takes upon Himself the sin of the world in order to take it away. Baptism is a symbol of sanctification; Christ has come to sanctify the whole of creation. Baptism is a symbol, finally, of radical renewal. When one is baptized the old is over and the new has come. And Christ has appeared on earth to bring all things to an end, and to make all things new. The act of baptism, therefore, contains in symbol the entire mystery of Christ, the whole purpose of His coming.
By celebrating this feast, Father Hopko concludes, "the faithful are enabled to see Jesus made like them in every respect, entering the waters to identify with their fallen condition in order to bring it to an end and to create them anew for life in the kingdom of God."

In many Eastern Christian communities, Theophany observances include a venerable ritual known as the Great Blessing of Waters. In the Byzantine tradition, the Great Blessing of Waters ideally involves a procession from the church to the nearest natural body of water - be it an ocean, a lake, a river, or a mere stream - where the priest says prayers of blessing and immerses a cross into the water three times to recall Christ's baptism. In warmer regions, the Great Blessing of Waters often becomes a major celebration in its own right. One of the largest and most famous of such celebrations in North America takes place each year in Tarpon Springs, Florida, where the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America leads thousands of the faithful in celebrating the Divine Liturgy for the feast day before performing the Great Blessing of Waters at nearby Spring Bayou. As part of the ceremony, the Archbishop tosses a cross into the waters of the bayou; scores of Greek Orthodox youth from the local area then dive into the water to retrieve the cross, which is believed to bear a special blessing for the one who recovers it. If you would like to learn more about this tradition, take a look at this special online report published three years ago by the St. Petersburg Times at the time of the centenary of the Tarpon Springs celebration.

On another note, your prayers for the residents of Ciszek Hall would be appreciated as we leave today for our annual vow renovation triduum at Inisfada. I hope and pray that this time of prayer and reflection will help all of us at Ciszek to begin the spring semester as a spiritually united and invigorated community of brothers in Christ. I hope and pray also that this season is one of consolation and joy for all readers. AMDG.


At 1/09/2009 11:44 AM, Blogger shera10 said...

In Italy, Latin Rite of course, we feast Epifania always on 6 Jenuary.


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