2017 Theophany (PDF)

I have gathered all the 2017 posts related to the Feast of Theophany into one PDF, for those who prefer this format for reading the posts.  You can find the document at Theophany 2017 (PDF).

Each year I gather related blogs into a PDF  for the Theophany, Nativity, Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha and other themes.   You can find a list of all the PDFs I’ve created since 2008 related to scripture, feasts or other Orthodox topics at  Fr. Ted’s PDFs.

 

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Christ God at Theophany

Continuing to contemplate the mystery of Christ’s Baptism and the Theophany of the Holy Trinity.   Below are two hymns from the Vespers of the Feast of Theophany.  The first introduces the sense of coverings or clothing – things that Christ puts on.  As God, Christ clothes Himself with light as with a garment (Psalm 104:2).  At Vespers we sing in the prokeimenon that the Lord clothes Himself with majesty.  Some in Orthodoxy takes this as a reference to the incarnation in which God clothes Himself with a human body.  The human body was originally created for glory, and Adam and Eve were thought to where glorious garments in Paradise before the Fall.  After the fall, they put on “garments of skin” which God gave them (Genesis 3:21).  Christ takes on Himself that garment and transfigures and transforms it back into majesty and glory.  Just by putting on human nature, Christ restores it to majesty – this is the saving power of the incarnation.

In the hymn below, Christ also covers Himself with the water of the Jordan – as God He is invisible and ineffable.  He stands naked in the river, yet the waters cover Him.  The imagery is one of mystery – in Christ, the human body hides God.  The river is covering the body to reveal God!   In the incarnation He allows Himself to be visible.  Since we were created in His image and likeness, we have some sense of Christ in each human being.  In the incarnation we see the type in whose image we are made.  But being God, even incarnate, He is not guilty of sin.   God made Christ to be sin, even though He never commits sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Being God, being pure and holy, it is Christ who gives to baptism the power to take away sin and to regenerate every human being.

He who covers Himself with Light as with a garment

Has granted for our sake to become as we are.

Today He is covered by the streams of the Jordan,

Though He has no need to be cleansed by them:

But through the cleansing that He Himself receives

Wonder! He bestows regeneration on us!

He refashions without shattering,

And without fire, He casts anew,

And He saves those who are enlightened in Him,

Christ our God, the Savior of our souls.

I love the imagery of Christ regenerating, refashioning and recreating us – without shattering or fire.  He refashions by balm not burning.  He recreates by degree not destroying.  He edifies by design not demolishing.

Christ does not destroy His creatures but finds a way to renew and refashion us from within, without having to melt us down or destroy us because we are too evil. He renews the goodness innate in our being, which He bestowed on each of us at our conception – His image!   Christ has become incarnate because humans are capable of being redeemed and created anew.  Christ makes all things new, not all new things (Revelation 21:5).  God loves us because He did not create junk.  God has the eyes to see the goodness in us, savable and redeemable, capable of restoration and renewal.   God does not need to annihilate creation or the human body in order to save it.  The hymns of the Orthodox Church often marvel that in the incarnation divinity does not destroy humanity.  The Virgin Mary is not destroyed by having God incarnate in her womb, just as Moses saw a bush being burned yet not consumed.  God is fire, yet one that does not destroy but renews.  God saves the Three Youths in the fiery furnace, an image of hell, where the fire becomes like dew to those whom God loves.   The divine-human fusion of the incarnation and theosis is God’s method of salvation.

The incarnation of God in Christ is recognized and worshiped by all parts of creation, as we see in the hymn below.

Lord, in Your desire to fulfill what you appointed from eternity,

You have received ministers from all the creation at this, Your mystery:

Gabriel from among the angels,

The Virgin from among humans,

The star from the heavens,

and Jordan from the waters;

And in its stream You have washed away the transgression of the world.

O Savior, glory to You!

Angels, humans, heaven and earth are all united in Christ, and each finds the representative to serve Him as is clear in the icons of Theophany.

The River Jordan and Paradise

The prayers for the Great Blessing of water entreat God to make the blessing of the Jordan be present in the water in the church font.  In the Vespers service for Theophany, 13 Old Testament Readings are proclaimed.  Four of these reading make reference to the River Jordan:

Joshua 3:7-8, 15-17 (the ark causes the Jordan to stop flowing, so Israel can cross to the promised land on dry ground);

4[2] Kings 2:6-14 (Elisha parts the Jordan after receiving Elijah’s mantle when he ascended into heaven);

4[2] Kings 5:9-14 (Naaman is cured by washing three times in the Jordan);

Genesis 32:1-10 (Jacob reminds God that he became a rich man after crossing the Jordan).

The Jordan River has a virtual mythical quality for Israel, and takes on a mystical purpose and meaning.  Crossing the Jordan is associated with the saving acts of God on earth – with movement that brings one closer to God and God’s Kingdom.   St. Gregory the Theologian reflects on the mystical meaning of the Jordan River.

St. Gregory then comes back to the Jordan:

‘Alone among all rivers, the Jordan received the first-fruits of sanctification and blessing, and has shed the grace of baptism over the whole world, as from a source. And these things are signs of that regeneration which is effected by Baptism’.

This is a very striking definition of a type, that it is an act truly accomplished, and signifying some future action. St Gregory then alludes to the Jordan in its relation to Paradise:

‘The Jordan is glorified because it regenerates men and makes them fit for God’s Paradise’.”

(Jean Danielou, From Shadows to Reality,p 275)

The Jordan is involved in several epiphanies of God, but in Christ’s baptism there is the Theophany of the Holy Trinity. It is Christ’s baptism that gives meaning and power to all baptisms done in Christ.  The Jordan has a mystical quality that is transferred to all who participate in it.

The Saving Effects of Theophany

A hymn from the Great Blessing of the Water offers us this understanding of the Feast of Theophany.

“Today the grace of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon the waters.
Today the Sun that never sets has risen and the world is filled with
splendor by the light of the Lord.

Today the moon shines upon the world with the brightness of its rays.
Today the glittering stars make the earth fair with the radiance of their shining.
Today the clouds drop down upon mankind the dew of righteousness
from on high.
Today the Uncreated of his own will accepts the laying on of hands from his own creature.

Today the waters of the Jordan are transformed into healing by the
coming of the Lord.
Today transgressions of men are washed away by the waters of the
Jordan.
Today the blinding mist of the world is dispersed by the Epiphany of
our God.
Today things above keep feast with things below, and things below
commune with things above.

Today earth and sea share in the joy of the world, and the world is filled with gladness.
At thine Epiphany the whole creation sang thy praises.

(The Time of the Spirit: Readings Through the Christian Year, p 88)

 

Theophany (2016)

OSBIn the notes from The Orthodox Study Bible, we learn about the Feast of Theophany.

“The word ‘theophany‘ derives from the Greek words theos (‘God’), and phainesthai (‘to show forth, appear’). Hence, a theophany is an appearance or manifestation of God. While types of Christ in the Old Testament prefigure His coming in the flesh, theophanies are recognized by the Church as being actual appearances of the pre-incarnate Son and Word of God. How this happens remains a mystery. But because the Son of God took on human nature in the fullness of time, each theophany directly prefigures Christ’s Incarnation. St. John of Damascus wrote, ‘No one saw the divine nature, but rather the image and figure of what was yet to come. For the invisible Son and Word of God was to become truly Man.’

THREE THEOPHANIES OF CHRIST     An often cited theophany of Christ occurs in the visit of the ‘three men’ to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18:1–16: ‘Then God appeared to him at the oak of Mamre’ (v. 1). Though three men are there, Abraham addresses them in the singular, ‘Lord.’ He responds in the singular (vv. 9–15). As St. Ephraim the Syrian says, ‘Therefore the Lord . . . now appeared to Abraham clearly in one of the three.’ The three are generally considered to be Christ the Lord, along with two attending angels. At Genesis 32:25–31, Christ is the ‘man’ who wrestles with Jacob, after which Jacob says, ‘I saw God face to face’ (v. 30). St. Cyril of Jerusalem asks the Jews concerning these theophanies to Abraham and Jacob, ‘What strange thing do we announce in saying that God was made Man, when you yourselves say that Abraham received the Lord as a guest? What strange thing do we announce, when Jacob says, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved’? The Lord, who ate with Abraham, also ate with us.’ In the Book of Daniel, a heathen king bears witness to another theophany of Christ. When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon peers into the fiery furnace, upon seeing a ‘fourth man’ he exclaims, ‘The vision of the fourth is like the Son of God’ (Dan 3:92).

OTHER APPEARANCES OF GOD     At times Christ appears as ‘the Angel of the Lord’ or ‘the Angel of God.’ At Exodus 3:1—4:17, ‘the Angel of the Lord’ appears to Moses in the burning bush and identifies Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex 3:6, 15, 16; 4:5). He also says that His name is ‘I AM HE WHO IS’ (Ex 3:14), which in Greek is represented by the three letters placed around Christ’s head in the holy icons. St. Ambrose of Milan observes, ‘Christ therefore is, and always is; for He who is, always is. And Christ always is, of whom Moses says, “He that is has sent me.”’”  (Kindle Loc. 65449-71)

 

Revealing Christ at Theophany

All the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church celebrate the incarnation of God.  thus they affirm the Trinitarian Theology of ancient Christianity, and contemplate the mystery which God revealed in Jesus Christ.  We can look at three hymns from Matins of the Prefeast of Theophany   (January 2) –

You are a rushing torrent, who fashioned the sea and the wellsprings.

How do You come to the waters?

Why do you seek cleansing?

For You are the washing and purification

of those who sing hymns to You, O Christ, forever!

The above hymn, addressed to Christ, accepts the truth proclaimed in the Nicene Creed that all things were made by Christ at creation as recorded in Genesis 1.  The hymn marvels that the One who created water, the sea, wellsprings, now is immersed in water.  The hymn ponders the incongruity and divine mystery of the Holy, Pure and Sinless God accepting baptism which was associated with the cleansing away of sin.  The incarnation, indeed, turns creation upside down!

 

Seeking to dry up the streams of the enemy’s malice,

to drain the sea of the passions

and to pour out cleansing and remission upon the faithful, Master,

You come to be baptized in the streams of the Jordan.

The second hymn uses metaphorical imagery to further contemplate the full meaning of the Baptism of Christ.  Christ is immersed in the waters of the Jordan, but now the streams of water are no longer merely part of material creation.  They now are metaphorically transformed into “the enemy’s malice” as well as “the sea of passions.”  God became human in Christ in order to overcome the evil of Satan as well as human sin and passion.  The hymn reminds us that a literal reading of the text limits the meaning of the events and the power of God.  Whenever God interacts with creation, an entire new meaning and depth is added to the material world.  In Christ and in His every deed, heaven and earth are united together.  God and humanity have their proper relationship restored in Christ.

Creator of the hours and years,

in Your loving-kindness, You have come under time!

You shone forth timelessly from the unoriginate Father

and have come to wash away in the streams of the Jordan

the transgressions committed throughout all ages!

It is not only the material that is renewed in Christ – time also is transformed.  The space-time continuum mean energy and mass, space and time all belong to the same one reality – the created cosmos.  Christ heals and restores everything in the created order including time.  So the hymn marvels that the One who created time enters into time.  The Timeless One  enters into the present moment giving it eternal meaning.  Thus in the worship of the Orthodox Church we enter into the “eternal now” at every Feast and during every Liturgy.  

The Incarnation of the Word of God

You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you did comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  (Isaiah 12:1-3)

Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”  (2 Kings 5:10)

In the beginning, God the Father created the world through the Word of God.  In Christ, the Word of God became part of creation.  In Christ’s baptism the Word of God renews creation.  Water is purified by Christ, and in turn becomes capable of washing away sin.  Thus Christ, God incarnate, renews humanity from within by becoming flesh and uniting divinity to humanity, and from without by making water and creation capable of being the means for our salvation.  The body, renewed from within by God, is washed with the waters of salvation.  The inner renewal, and the external washing are both essential in salvation.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons  (d. 202AD) writes:

“Man was created by God so that he might have life. If now, having lost life, wounded by the serpent, he could not return to life, but was to be fully abandoned to death, then God would be conquered and the malice of the serpent would have overcome His will. but since God is at once invisible and magnanimous, He has shown His magnanimity in correcting man and putting all men to the test, as we have said. Yet, by the second Adam, He has bound the strong man and destroyed his arms, and He has done away with death, bringing life to man who had been subject to death. For Adam had become the possession of the devil and the devil held him in his power, having perversely deceived him in subjecting him to death when he had offered him immortality. Indeed, in promising them that they would be like gods, which was not in his power, he brought about death in them. This is why he who made man captive was himself made captive by God, and man whom he had captured found himself freed from the slavery of condemnation.

The Logos of God was made flesh….to destroy death and to give life to man, for we were in the chains of sin and destined to be born through the state of sin and to fall under (the empire of) death.” (The Spirituality of the New Testament and Fathers by Louis Bouyer, pp 232-233)

Theophany: Better Than Christmas

Americans love Christmas.  For American Christians, Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year.  And yet, in the ancient Eastern Christian tradition, Christmas is surpassed as a Feast by Theophany.  Here is a hymn from the prefeast of Theophany (for January 2), which certainly touts Christmas as a great feast, but one which is surpassed by the events of Christ’s baptism.

The Feast which Passed is radiant,

But the one to come is brighter still!

There the angel proclaimed glad tidings,

But here, the Forerunner prepares the Savior’s Way!

There blood was spilled, as Bethlehem was made barren,

baptism-rus

 

But here the life-giving water gives birth to many children.

There the star revealed You to the magi,

But here the Father proclaims You to the universe.

Incarnate Lord, coming to be made manifest, glory to You!

God’s Spirit Hovering Over the Waters

One of the Old Testament readings for the feast of Theophany is Genesis 1:1-13 which describes the first three days of creation.  St. Basil the Great comments on verse 2 of Genesis 1:

“ ‘And the spirit of God,’ he says, ‘was stirring above the waters.’  (Genesis 1:2)

If this spirit means the diffusion of the air, understand that the author is enumerating to you the parts of the world, saying that God created the heavens, the earth, water, and air; and this latter was spreading and flowing. Or, what is truer and approved by those before us, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of God, because it has been observed that It alone and specially was considered worthy by the Scripture of such mention, and there is named no other Spirit of God than the Holy Spirit which forms an essential part of the divine and blessed Trinity. Admitting this meaning, you will find the advantage from it great.

How, then, was It stirring above the waters? I will tell you an explanation, not my own, but that of a Syrian who was as far removed from worldly wisdom as he was near the knowledge of truth. Now, he claimed that the language of the Syrians was more expressive and because of its resemblance to the Hebrew language approached somewhat more closely to the sense of Scripture; therefore, the meaning of the statement was as follows. As regards the verb ‘was stirring above,’ they interpret in preference to that, he says, ‘warmed with fostering care,’ and he endued the nature of the waters with life through his comparison with a bird brooding upon eggs and imparting some vital power to them as they are being warmed.

Some such meaning, they say, was implied by this word, as if the Spirit were warming with fostering care, that is, was preparing the nature of water for the generation of living beings. Therefore, from this there is sufficient proof for the inquiries of certain men that the Holy Spirit is not wanting in the creative power.” ( The Fathers of the Church: Exegetic Homilies, pp 30-31)

St. Basil turns to philology to help understand the imagery of the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters – he is told that in the Syrian language the words imply by this hovering over the waters a image more that of a mother bird nesting on her eggs to warm them and to bring them to birth.  The Holy Spirit is seen as in some manner vivifying the inanimate waters so that they creatively bring forth life.  God is able from inanimate matter to bring forth life.