The first three great feasts in our Church were: Resurrection, Pentecost and Theophany (i.e., the Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan). We will be celebrating this third feast this coming week (January 6th) and next weekend. Our celebration of this feast is marked by the inclusion of the Great Blessing of Water. It was not celebrated, however, until the end of the second or at the start of the third century. It should be noted that it was originally regarded as a collective feast since it embraced other events in the life of Jesus which bore witness to his divinity (i.e., Nativity, the Coming of the Wise Men, Baptism, Miracle at Cana and the multiplication of the loaves). Theophany must be understood in the plural sense for it means a feast of holy Theophanies or Manifestations of God.
This feast had three periods of development. The first was throughout the third century and included all of the events which were considered as true manifestations of Jesus’ divinity. The second was during the fourth century during which the Nativity held first place. During the third period, toward the end of the fourth century, the Birth of Jesus and the Visit of the Wise Men were separated from His Baptism. It was at that time that January 6th became the feast of Theophany as we know it. It is one of the twelve major feasts of our Church.
The feast of Theophany places before our eyes one of the greatest and most profound truths of our holy faith: the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. This is the true focus of the feast. It is believed, based on the New Testament Gospel accounts, that the Baptism of Christ is the event that truly revealed to us the true nature of our God, namely that He is Triune, that is He is Three Persons in One Godhead.
In the service of the Great Blessing of
Water we see this truth of our faith visually proclaimed. Water, which is one of the primary substances of creation, symbolically represents that which we call life. This includes all forms of life – everything that we see as living. The ritual that blesses this symbolic representation of life, represents the Trinity – all blessings are done three times and include fire and breath. The next two blessings, that is the priest’s hand and the cross, visually connect water to humanity. The great Blessing of Water is truly a profound profession of our faith and belief in God as Triune – Three in One. As we celebrate this feast, let us renew again our belief that Our God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit now and forever.