Christ is born! Glorify him!
I love this time of the year. The spirit of joy and good cheer permeates the air. Yes, at times, the lines in the stores and rushing around may bring out the frustration in people, but for the most part, I have noticed many more acts of kindness and caring.
For example, I was waiting in line at a store to pay for my purchases when I noticed that one person who was checking out gave extra money to the cashier to apply it to the person behind him. They did not know each other. He just turned and wished the next person in line “Merry Christmas,” then left the store.
The Christmas season is a wonderful time of the year. This beautiful feast is not just one day, Dec. 25. We all know the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The Christmas celebration is intended to be celebrated for 12 days, continuing to today, Jan. 5. It is during this time that parties and celebrations should take place.
In the Orthodox Church, members are called to fast for 40 days before Christmas, then there is no fasting, but feasting through Jan. 4. This wonderful feast of Christmas ends and takes us into another great feast — “Theophany” or “Epiphany,” which is observed Jan. 6. This is the celebration of the baptism of our Lord.
Theophany means “God manifested in the flesh” and refers to the baptism of our Lord in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. Actually, the early Church originally celebrated Christmas and Theophany on the same day, Jan. 6.
In the fourth century, the Church decided to separate the two feasts and chose to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, which was when the Gentiles celebrated the sun god.
Our Lord was 30 years old when he was baptized, and his baptism marked the beginning of his ministry. It was a monumental event in history and in the church because Christ redefined the meaning of baptism.
The baptism of John was a baptism of repentance. When Christ was baptized, the Holy Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove. The heavens opened up, and a divine voice came from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased ...”
St. John Chrysostom, a fourth-century bishop, known as one of the greatest minds and theologians in history, said that the Christian baptism, besides from being a baptism of repentance, is a baptism of cleansing that purifies the soul and gives us the Holy Spirit.
At baptism, our sins are washed away. Baptism is more than a symbol — it is the time of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us. It is a time when we begin to grow as Christians with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
One may ask, “We say that Jesus Christ was perfect. He was without sin. So if Christ was sinless, why did he need to be baptized?” St. John of Damascus, an eighth- century saint, said that Christ did not need to be baptized because he needed purification. Christ is perfect; he never sinned. So why would he need to be baptized and purified? He does not. He was baptized so that he could “identify Himself with our purification.” Just as Christ suffered and was crucified for mankind and felt all of our pain and grief, so he identified with our purification.
Besides the purification of sins, the baptism in the River Jordan blessed the water. This blessing united the water with the uncreated grace of God. A tradition observed in all Orthodox churches throughout the world is on the feast of Theophany. Water is blessed, and then the priest travels to all of the parishioners’ homes in order to bless their homes, businesses and all of the people. The water is kept year-round and is a source of healing and renewal.
Another tradition in Mahoning County occurs when the Eastern Orthodox Clergy Association conducts a blessing of the water service. It will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at Lake Glacier in Mill Creek MetroParks. This short service is open to all. Priests will bless the water, which flows into the Mahoning River, and pray for the prosperity of everyone in the Valley.
Our Lord, by his birth and baptism, shows the love he has for us, his people. He is constantly blessing us and watching over us. And despite what we do, he always has hope for us and will take care of us. I pray we all had a blessed Christmas, and may the blessing of his baptism fill us with the warmth and grace of His all holy spirit.
The Rev. Thomas M. Constantine is pastor of St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Church in Boardman.