Today the Maker of heaven and earth
comes in the flesh to the Jordan.
He Who is sinless
asks for baptism, that He may sanctify
the waters and cleanse the world from evil.
All creation is illumined.
Heaven and earth rejoice.
Therefore let us pray to Him with one heart:
O Christ, our God,
Who has appeared as Light
shining upon the faithful, have mercy
upon us and save the world. Amen.
Adapted Theophany Hymns
The Feast of Lights
Our life on earth is especially dependent upon water and light. Water covers most of the earth and interacts with the entire cycle of nature to help things grow. In a comparable way light is essential to photosynthesis, the miracle behind everything that is green. It causes creative changes in the atmosphere and on the surface of the earth. Light allows us to appreciate nature’s rich colors. And these two elements – water and light – are the chief symbols for the Holy Theophany of our Lord, or the Feast of Lights, which we celebrate on January 6/19.
Theophany is one of the most important feast days in the Orthodox Church along with Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. Theophany commemorates the event of Jesus’ baptism. According to the Gospels, when Jesus came to be baptized heaven opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove and God the Father by His heavenly voice gave witness that Jesus was His beloved Son. Jesus’ baptism signified not only His own divine identity as Son of God but also disclosed the glory of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Thus, along with the themes of the sanctification of the waters, purification from sin and renewal, Theophany also celebrates the revelation of God to the world. “Theophany” means divine manifestation – the manifestation of God to the world as Trinity, the three great Lights of Father, Son and Spirit, one in essence and glory.
Some of the themes of the Feast of Theophany are expressed through the following hymns:
When You, O Lord,
were baptized in the Jordan,
the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father
bore witness to You, calling You beloved Son,
and the Spirit in the form of a dove
confirmed His word as steadfast.
O Christ, our God,
Who has appeared and illumined the world:
Glory to You!
Light of Light, Christ our God,
God made manifest, has shone upon the world.
O people, let us worship Him.
Theophany Hymn of Praises
The true Light has appeared
and bestows enlightenment upon all.
Christ Who is above all purity
shares baptism with us:
He brings sanctification to the water
and it becomes a cleansing for souls.
The outward event is earthly but
the spiritual disclosure is higher than heaven:
salvation comes through washing,
the Spirit is given by means of the water,
and immersion signifies our ascent to God.
How wonderful are Your works, O Lord:
Glory to You!
Theophany Hymn of Praises
The first of the above hymns tells about the revelation of the Holy Trinity at the time of Jesus’ baptism.
The second hymn proclaims Christ as God, the divine Light which comes from Light, God the Father, and shines upon the world.
The third hymn touches on the meaning of baptism which Christ shared with us and which He began as a Christian rite.
The Great Blessing of the Waters
As a great feast, Theophany includes a whole cycle of liturgical services. On the Forefeast of Theophany (January 5/18), we read according to tradition the Great Hours, a prayer service consisting of many hymns, psalms and other readings from the Old and New Testaments. After the Great Hours, the Great Vespers of Theophany combined with the Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated. All these services are then crowned with the special rite of the Blessing of the Waters, a rite which is repeated on the Feast of Theophany following Matins and the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
The Blessing of the Waters on the Forefeast of Theophany is sometimes called the Small Blessing of the Waters and on the Feast of Theophany it is called the Great Blessing of the Waters. Both are exactly the same, however, and have the same value. It is done twice probably because of the great throngs of people who traditionally came to receive holy water. A sign of sanctification by God’s grace, the blessed water is sprinkled throughout the Church, on the congregation and on each Orthodox Christian individually. It may also be drunk. On the Feast of Theophany and on subsequent days all the faithful, their homes and often their fields, gardens and other possessions are traditionally sprinkled with holy water by the priest or head of the household while the Theophany Dismissal Hymn is sung: “When You, O Lord, Were Baptized in the Jordan”. Holy water in small bottles may also be kept in homes near the icons for drinking before breakfast or for blessing of persons or the home on the first day of each month or other special occasions.
The rite of the Blessing of the Waters occurs on other occasions. Each Baptism includes the blessing of the water in the baptismal font. Also, a separate service of the Blessing of the Water may be celebrated at any time of the year on occasions such as groundbreaking for a new building, moving into a home or apartment, starting a project or a business, or to bless a farm, flock, boat and the like.
What does it mean to be sanctified by God’s grace through the visible sign of water? Part of the prayer of every Blessing of the Waters, including that of the sacrament of Baptism, expresses the meaning of sanctification through water as follows:
O King, Who loves humanity,
be present now as You were then (at the Jordan)
through the coming of Your Holy Spirit
and sanctify this water.
(This is repeated three times as the priest makes the sign of the cross over the water.)
And confer upon it the grace of redemption,
the blessing of the Jordan.
Make it a source of incorruption,
a gift of sanctification,
a forgiveness of sins,
a protection against disease,
a destruction to demons,
inaccessible to evil powers and filled with angelic strength:
that all who draw from it
and drink of it may have it
for the cleansing of their soul and body,
for the healing of their passions,
for the sanctification of their dwellings,
and for every purpose that is fitting.