Focus on the Faith: On Holy Theophany
St. Hippolytus of Rome (+236) wrote:
“What more vital gift is there than the element of water? For with water all things are washed and nourished, and cleansed and bedewed… Nor is this the only thing that proves the dignity of the water. But there is also that which is more honourable than all—the fact that Christ, the Maker of all, came down as the rain, and was known as a spring, and diffused Himself as a river, and was baptized in the Jordan.”
The Holy Theophany of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ, is a commemoration of His great light, which manifested itself at the Jordan River, bringing light and life to all of us who were sitting in darkness.
“Theophany” literally means the “shining forth of God.” After Pascha and Pentecost, Theophany is considered the third greatest feast of our Orthodox Church. St. Cyril of Alexandria (+444) wrote that the beginning of the world, according to the Old Testament, was water. The beginning of the renewal or regeneration of the world, according to the Gospel, was also water, the water of the Jordan, when the Most Holy Trinity was revealed, and the Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Then, the Holy Spirit appeared, in the form of a dove, hovering over the waters, just as the Spirit hovered over the waters in Genesis. St. John the Forerunner bore witness saying: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Christ our Lord took on our flesh, and the sin of the world, so that we, His children, might recognize our need for repentance, and so doing, behold the Lamb of God.
May all of us be blessed during this New Year to behold the Lamb of God, commending ourselves, and each other, and all our lives to Him. Being illumined by the Light of the Holy Theophany, let us eagerly embrace the warm and life-giving rays of the Lord’s Divine Dispensation for us unworthy ones.
A Blessed and spiritually rewarding New Year to all, and to all: Many Years!
Archpriest Basil Rhodes
Orthopraxis: Theophany House Blessings
Houses are traditionally blessed with “Theophany water” each year. A house can be blessed at any time, but the usual season for yearly blessings is from Theophany until the beginning of the Lenten Triodion, which begins four Sundays before Great Lent begins. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a good rule of thumb.
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When a home is blessed, the priest brings everything needed for the blessing:
- Holy water
- A “krupilla” (brush for dispersing the holy water),
- Bowl for the water
- Theophany icon.
Many pious homes supply a bowl, candles and the family Theophany icon.
The family should provide the priest with a list of all family members, living and deceased.
The bowl and icon should be placed on a clean table with a cloth on it, preferably near the family icon corner. It is good for candles to be lit. The house should be clean, with all radios and televisions off.
The priest will bless all rooms of the house. Lights should be “on” and doors opened. The procession for the house blessing should be led by the eldest member of the house carrying the candle. In homes with children, it is always good for the little ones to carry a candle or a small cross and participate in the procession.
The basic order for a simple home blessing is as follows:
- The bowl of water, icon and lit candles are placed on a clean table. IF there is a home censer, it may be lit.
- The priest begins the service with a blessing and the Trisagion prayers (O heavenly King through the “Our Father”.)
- After this the entire home is blessed, with the family walking with the priest holding candles and the Theophany icon while the Theophany Troparion is sung over and over:
When Thou, O Lord wast baptized in the Jordan, / the worship of the Trinity
was made manifest; / for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, / and
called Thee His beloved Son. / And the Spirit in the form of a dove /
confirmed the truthfulness of His word. / O Christ our God, Who hast appeared
unto us // and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee.
(It is a very good idea for the family to sing this troparion, and know it by heart.)
- Upon finishing blessing the house, the family gathers again at the table, and a short litany is said for the welfare of the family. The priest should have been provided a list of all family members’ names, especially those who are ill. A list of Orthodox dead may also be included.
- After this a short prayer is said, and the service is ended.
Note: When the priest visits, it is never required that the family gives him an “honorarium.” The scripture tells us “Freely you have received, freely give.” However, it is a pious custom among among Orthodox Christians to give the priest a donation at this time, but this should never be thought of as a requirement. The priest comes to the home because he wants God’s blessing to be upon it, and to know those in his flock better and to be available to them.
From the Fathers
“As thou takest thy seat at table, pray. As thou liftest the loaf, offer thanks to the Giver. When thou sustainest thy bodily weakness with wine, remember Him Who supplies thee with this gift, to make thy heart glad and to comfort thy infirmity. Has thy need for taking food passed away? Let not the thought of thy Benefactor pass away too. As thou art putting on thy tunic, thank the Giver of it. As thou wrappest thy cloak about thee, feel yet greater love to God, Who alike in summer and in winter has given us coverings convenient for us, at once to preserve our life, and to cover what is unseemly. Is the day done? Give thanks to Him Who has given us the sun for our daily work, and has provided for us a fire to light up the night, and to serve the rest of the needs of life. Let night give the other occasion of prayer. When thou lookest up to heaven and gazest at the beauty of the stars, pray to the Lord of the visible world; pray to God the Arch-artificer of the universe, Who in wisdom hath made them all. When thou seest all nature sunk in sleep, then again worship Him Who gives us even against our wills release from the continuous strain of toil, and by a short refreshment restores us once again to the vigour of our strength. Let not night herself be all, as it were, the special and peculiar property of sleep. Let not half thy life be useless through the senselessness of slumber. Divide the time of night between sleep and prayer. Nay, let thy slumbers be themselves experiences in piety; for it is only natural that our sleeping dreams should be for the most part echoes of the anxieties of the day. As have been our conduct and pursuits, so will inevitably be our dreams. Thus wilt thought pray without ceasing; if thought prayest not only in words, but unitest thyself to God through all the course of life and so thy life be made one ceaseless and uninterrupted prayer.”
+ St. Basil the Great, from Homily V. In martyrem Julittam, quoted in the Prolegomena in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series II Volume 8
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