Epiphany-Theophany-Feast of Lights

All three Persons of the Holy Trinity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-were made manifest.

All three Persons of the Holy Trinity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-were made manifest.*

On January 6th the Church celebrates one of the great and wonderful events in the life of Jesus Christ, His Baptism. Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan by the Prophet and Saint, John the Baptist. In the New Testament we read how Jesus approached John who was preaching a life of repentance and spiritual purity in the wilderness and asked to be baptized. Saint John’s famous response was simple and straightforward, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me” (Matthew 3.13)?

While John baptized people in water and asked them to repent, change the way they were living, we know that baptism in Jesus Christ and in the Name of the Holy Trinity is something more. It is a baptism not just of water but a baptism that gives us a great and special gift, the Holy Spirit. In addition our baptism in the Church not only washes away sin but it gives us something heavenly and eternal. In our baptism we are born again. In our baptism through the action of the Holy Spirit and the promise of Jesus Christ we participate in a real way in Jesus’ own death on the cross and His resurrection from the tomb on the third day (Romans 6).

This special day in the Church has many names, we call it Epiphany, sometimes Theophany or even the Feast of Lights. We know that something very special happened on that day and these names give us a hint as to what was so unique and special about that day. On the day Jesus was baptized we read in the Holy Bible that, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3.16-17). The word Theophany means a revelation of God. This is exactly what happened on the day Jesus was baptized, God revealed Himself to the world as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, Three Persons in One Essence.

On the day before Theophany, January 5 and on January 6, the Church holds many special services. One of those services is the Blessing of the Waters. It happens on both January 5 and January 6. During this service the Priest will read many of the same prayers that were read during your baptism. He will also take a cross and baptize it, that means he will dunk it three times into a large bowl of water, just like you were baptized in water three times. This symbolic action of the priest recalls the three days Jesus was in the Tomb before rising from the dead, it also brings to mind the Trinity. After Jesus rose from the dead and before He ascended into the heavens He commanded His Disciples to, “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you” (Matthew 28.19).

On Theophany we bring to mind the baptism of Jesus and what that means for all the world but we also bring to mind our baptism. We think about the great gift of eternal life that we are given through Jesus Christ and our baptism. We remember and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We rejoice that we have been born again, born from above and anew to participate in the life of God and His Church in a real and powerful way through God’s grace and our response to it. We enter again into the transforming presence of God through the Holy Spirit and we are sprinkled with Holy Water. This final act of the service reminds us of the change that has occurred and continues to occur in every Christian who has been baptized and continues to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Here are some special things to think about and look for during the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism, Theophany (Epiphany and also the Feast of Lights):

1. What special hymns are sung during the liturgies that are celebrated during this Feast?

2. What unusual services are celebrated during these special days?

3. Have you heard the prayers the Priest reads during the service of the Blessing of the Waters before?  If so, when?

4. What does the Priest use to sprinkle you with Holy Water during the service?

5. How many times does the Priest dunk the cross in the water?

6. What does it mean to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit?

7. How has your baptism changed who you are?

8. Does our baptism and our decision to follow Christ mean we are supposed to do something different?

*This icon of the Theophany was found here.