Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! You are wondering why I’m still saying Merry Christmas. Christmas was 10 days ago.
We all know the song “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Well, contrary to what many people may think, the 12 days of Christmas begins on Christmas Day and ends with the Feast of Theophany or Epiphany, which is Monday, Jan. 6. Theophany has just as an important role in our lives and the life of the Church as Christmas.
In the early Church, the Nativity of our Lord and Theophany, the feast of the baptism of Christ, were celebrated together Jan. 6. We never knew the exact date that our Lord and Savior Jesus was born. The date of his birth, however, was not as significant as who the person of Christ is. Thus, the church put a greater emphasis on our Lord’s baptism and the beginning of his ministry.
However, in the fourth century, the two feasts were separated. Christmas was transferred to Dec. 25. This was the beginning day on which the pagans celebrated the sun god. The Christians turned it into the celebration of the sun of righteousness, Jesus Christ.
Christmas, the birth of Jesus, was, and is, a historical event. It took place at a specific moment in history. The evangelists insisted on recording the event to emphasize that Christ assumed human flesh and that God’s incarnation was real. God and man co-existed in the mystery of Jesus Christ. Since Christ is God and man, and lives forever, we as Orthodox Christians proclaim that “Christ is Born” and not that he was born. His birth was not a one-time event; rather, it is an ongoing event that continues in our hearts every day of our lives.
On Jan. 6, we celebrate the other great feast — Theophany. The word Theophany comes from 1 Timothy 3:16, which states “God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.” This relates to Christ’s Nativity.
Epiphany comes from another one of St. Paul’s letters, (Titus 2:11), which states, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” This relates to Christ’s baptism, for it was then that people began to recognize his divinity.
In the Gospel according to St. Mark, when Christ was baptized in the River Jordon, St. John the Baptist gave witness to what he saw. He saw the heavens open up and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove. Then he heard the heavenly voice say, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11)
Through this confession of St. John the Baptist on the day that Christ was baptized, and with the manifestation of the Holy Trinity, we are assured that Jesus Christ is one of the Trinity who came into the world to save us all from sin and death. This is evident in some of the prayers of the services we celebrate on this day.
“For today the … choir of saints assembles with us and angels join men in keeping festival … Today the Sun that never sets has risen and the world is filled with splendor by the light of the Lord … Today the Uncreated of His own Will accepts the laying on of hands from His own creature …”
On the feast of Theophany, every Orthodox Church proclaims the divinity of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Each parish conducts the “Blessing of Waters” service. Water is sanctified and is blessed as the waters were sanctified by Christ’s baptism. After the waters are blessed, priests visit the home of the parishioners and bless them.
The Eastern Orthodox Clergy Association of Mahoning Valley observes another tradition on the feast of Theophany. The group will meet at 3 p.m. Monday at Lake Glacier (lower parking lot) in Mill Creek MetroParks to pray for the well-being of the Valley and to bless the waters of Youngstown. A cross is thrown into the lake, symbolic of Christ blessing our Mahoning Valley. Everyone is welcome to pray for the prosperity of our Valley.
The Rev. Thomas M. Constantine is pastor of St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Church in Boardman.