Greek theophania, meaning "appearance of God") is one of
the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, celebrated on January
6. It is the feast which reveals the Most Holy Trinity to the
world through the Baptism of the Lord (Mt.3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11;
Baptism of Christ
commemorates Christ's baptism by John the Forerunner in the River Jordan, and
the beginning of Christ's earthly ministry. The Feast of Theophany is the
culmination of the Christmas Season, which starts on December 25 and ends
on January 6. In mystic commemoration of this event, the Great Blessing of
Water is performed on this day, and the holy water so blessed is used by the
local priest to bless the homes of the faithful.
The feast is
called Theophany because at the baptism of Christ the Holy Trinity appeared
clearly to mankind for the first time—the Father's voice is heard from Heaven,
the Son of God is incarnate and standing physically in the Jordan, and the Holy
Spirit descends on Him in the form of a dove.
This feast is also sometimes
referred to as Epiphany by English-speaking Orthodox Christians, but that name
more properly refers to the Western Christian feast falling on that same day and
commemorating the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus. The term epiphany does
appear in some of the service texts for this feast, however.
Originally, there was just one
Christian feast of the shining forth of God to the world in the human form of
Jesus of Nazareth. It included the celebration of Christ's birth, the adoration
of the wise men, and all of the childhood events of Christ such as his
circumcision and presentation to the temple as well as his baptism by John in
the Jordan. There seems to be little doubt that this feast, like Pascha and
Pentecost, was understood as the fulfillment of a previous Jewish festival, in
this case the Feast of Lights. The Armenian Apostolic Church still keeps January
6 as a feast of both Christ's Nativity and baptism.
The services of Theophany are
arranged similarly to those of the Nativity. (Historically the Christmas
services were established later.)
The Royal Hours are read and
the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served with Vespers on the eve of
the feast. The Vigil is made up of Great Compline and Matins. On the morning of
the feast, the Divine Liturgy is served.
The Liturgy of the feast begins
with psalms of glorification and praise instead of the three normal Antiphons.
And the baptismal line from Galatians 3:27 replaces the Thrice-Holy.
For as many as been baptized into
Christ have put on Christ: Alleluia.
The Gospel readings of all the
services tell of the Lord's baptism by John in the Jordan River.
The epistle reading of the Divine Liturgy tells of the consequences of the
Lord's appearing which is the divine epiphany.
Since the main feature of the feast
is the blessing of water. It is prescribed to follow both the Divine Liturgy of
the eve of the feast and the Divine Liturgy of the day itself. But most local
parishes do it only once when most of the parishioners can be present. The
blessing verifies that mankind, and all of creation, were created to be filled
with the sanctifying presence of God.
In connection with the feast, it is
traditional for the priest to visit all the homes of the faithful for their
annual house blessing using the water that has been blessed at the Theophany
Troparion (Tone 1)
When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in
the Jordan, worship of the Trinity wast made manifest; for the voice of the
Father bore witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the
form of a dove confirmed the truth of His word. O Christ our God, Who hath
appeared and enlightened the world, glory to Thee.
Kontakion (Tone 4)
On this day Thou hast appeared unto
the whole world, and Thy light, O Sovereign Lord, is signed on us who sing Thy
praise and chant with knowledge: Thou hast now come, Thou hast appeared, O Thou
Troparion (Tone 4)
Be thou ready, Zabulon; prepare
thyself, O Nephthalim. River Jordan, stay thy course and skip for gladness to
receive the Sovereign Master, Who cometh now to be baptized. O Adam, be thou
glad with our first mother, Eve; hide not as ye did of old in Paradise. Seeing
you naked, He hath appeared now to clothe you in the first robe again. Christ
hath appeared, for He truly willeth to renew all creation.
Kontakion (Tone 4)
In the running waters of the Jordan
River, on this day the Lord of all crieth to John: Be not afraid and hesitate
not to baptize Me, for I am come to save Adam, the first-formed man.
Troparion (Tone 4)
The River Jordan receded of old by
the mantle of Elisha when Elijah ascended into heaven; and the water was
separated to this side and that, the wet element turning into a dry path for
Him, being truly a symbol of Baptism, by which we cross the path of transient
age. Christ appeared in the Jordan to sanctify its waters.