Sunday, January 6, 2013

Theophany of the Lord

Holy Water blessed for keeping and consumption after Divine Liturgy of the holy Theophany

Yesterday was the feast of the Epiphany, meaning “manifestation,” in the Latin rite and of the Theophany, or “manifestation of God,” in the Byzantine rite. These two celebrations of the manifestation of God to man are closely related, although the latter moves my soul more than my mind.

Epiphany recalls the visit of the Magi, a group of Eastern astrologers, to Christ some measure of time following His birth. God made known to these pagan divines that the Messiah and King of the Jews would be born in Bethlehem and that they should come to worship and adore Him. No child himself is worthy of adoration, especially to a pagan. These men were therefore given a unique insight and message that this Child would be God made Flesh. And so the Epiphany is the first time God manifested Himself to Gentiles, or non-Jews. This Child’s salvation would be propitiatory and catholic, not confined to residents of the Eastern-most bank of the Mediterranean.

Theophany, the manifestation of God, evokes a close effect, but is complimented with a deeper insight into the nature of God Himself, for this day is the first day on which the Holy Trinity manifested Himself to all mankind. The Gospel of the feast recounts the baptism of the Lord by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan (Matthew 3:13-17). The Troparion of the feast illuminates the cause of our joy:
“At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was revealed, for the Father’s voice bore witness to You by calling you His beloved Son, and the Spirit in the form of a dove, confirmed the truth of these words. O Christ God Who has appeared to us and enlightened the world, glory to you!”
We are given hints in the private revelation of the Incarnation to the Blessed Virgin Mary before the Nativity. The angel Gabriel told Mary that she would bear the Son of God and that this conception would occur by the work of the Holy Ghost, meaning the Holy Ghost, if He could incarnate God, must share in the Nature of God, but this revelation was to our Lady, not to all mankind. Theophany was for all mankind.

Christ presents Himself as the perfectly obedient Son to the Father, and the Holy Ghost descends in the form of a God during Jesus’s baptism at the hands of a reluctant St. John. The descent of the Spirit during this pouring of water is a further manifestation in addition, or in compliment, to the Triune Godhead. Christ, by being baptized in water, sanctified water and indicated that this baptism of water and the Holy Ghost would have a grace-giving and salvific effect.

Water, which preserved God’s people in so many ways in the Old Testament, continues to protect. Water sparged the evil of the world during the Great Flood. Water drowned those Egyptians pursuing the Hebrew people into the Red Sea. Water, flowing from struck rock, maintained those meandering under the aegis of Moses for four decades in the desert. But this is different, and even better. This water does not protect us or cleanse us from earthly enemies, but from the Enemy, from the Devil and from Sin. Therefore, in Christ’s baptism, He sanctifies the waters of the earth, fulfills a promise intimated in the old covenant, and shows us what we must do to obtain salvation.

When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a barbarous peopleJudea made his sanctuary, Israel his dominionThe sea saw and fled: Jordan was turned backThe mountains skipped like rams, and the hills like the lambs of the flockWhat ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou didst flee: and thou, O Jordan, that thou wast turned back?Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams, and ye hills, like lambs of the flock?At the presence of the Lord the earth was moved, at the presence of the God of JacobWho turned the rock into pools of water, and the stony hill into fountains of watersNot to us, O Lord, not to us; but to thy name give gloryFor thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake: lest the gentiles should say: Where is their God?
—Psalm 113 

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