The Feast of Theophany

theophany Troparion of the Feast

Tone 1 

When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord/ the worship of the Trinity made its appearance./ For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee/ when He called Thee His Beloved Son./ And the Spirit in the form of a Dove/ confirmed the truth of the word./ O Christ our God, Who hast appeared and hast enlightened the world./ Glory to Thee!


Resources for Theophany

A Word from the Pastor 

By Fr. Patrick Tishel 

We have just celebrated one of the most revered feasts of the Church year, THEOPHANY. On this sacred day we celebrate the Lord's baptism at which time God was present, manifested Himself, and revealed His Triune Person-Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God who was known in a veiled way to the Jews continued to make Himself known through His Son. The Father's voice was heard: "This is my beloved Son," the Son was touched by John's hand in Baptism, and the Holy Spirit was seen in the form of a dove. This manifestation which took place so long ago is meant to take place again for each of us. You will hear so much explained as you listen and study the prayers of the service found in the Festal Menaion.

Theophany was one of the times during the yearly cycle reserved for baptizing the catechumens and so it is called The Feast of Illumination referring to the Illumination of Baptism. It is also the time that water is blessed and consecrated for use by the Church and faithful.  As Christ was baptized and descended into the waters of the Jordan, He purified the waters entering in like a fiery coal. These are now the purified waters that we enter into at baptism, for the cleansing of our souls and bodies.

What does it mean that our Lord descended into the Jordan, was baptized and blessed the waters? Let us go back to the beginnings.

When God created the Heavens and the Earth, there was darkness and water surrounded the earth, enveloping around it. Water was created by Him and had a specific essence and purpose. It was from water that life was first called forth when God made the animals of the sea.

The Spirit of God "moved upon the face of the waters." What does it mean for the Spirit to  "move?" The Syriac word used for "moved" actually means "cherished." St. Basil the Great said that the Spirit of God prepared and "cherished" the watery substance to bring forth living creatures as one sees a bird cover its eggs with its body and impart warmth, care and vital force.

The great poet John Milton captured this sense in these verses of Paradise Lost:

          Darkness profound covered the abyss;                                       but on the watery calm                                                                    His brooding wings the Spirit of God outspread,
          And vital virtue infused, and vital warmth,
          Throughout the fluid mass (chapter vii).

The watery substance that was made to be infused with life was polluted at the fall. The Baptism of the Lord purified the waters. At the Blessing of the Waters (during the Theophany service) this substance is once again infused with divine life and energies.

Holy water is given to each of us at Theophany with the prayer that: "He[Christ] may impart unto these waters the blessing of the Jordan, so that all who take from it and partake of it, may do so unto the cleansing of body and soul, unto healing from passions, unto sanctification of their homes and unto every kind of benefit....and that He may grant unto all who touch it or anoint themselves therewith sanctification, health, purification and benediction."

On a more practical note, holy water will be blessed before the Vigil on Friday evening so please bring clean bottles to take some water home with you. Use the water in times of sickness, or troubling times. Use it also to bless your house during the year and to bless new things you receive such as clothes or furniture to sanctify everything under the blessings of Christ.

We (the priests) look forward to coming to your home and bringing the blessing of Theophany. After the Divine Liturgy and the procession "to the Jordan" (our Jordan is the Charles River) on Saturday we will begin the first day of blessing all the homes in the Parish. Please schedule a time for this either by contacting the priests by phone or using the link provided on the website. Please do not put off the event because your house is not ready. Not only is it a joy to be together, but it is also of great benefit; furthermore, this blessing constitutes the spiritual action that proclaims the connection between your home and the Church of Christ. Please have your icon corners or shrines prepared,  lampada or candles lit, and a good size bowl with holy water from this year's blessing of the waters near by. That is all you need: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled."   

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Patrick

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A Lesson on God's Appearance

 By St. Ignatius Brianchaninov 

"This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (St. Matt. 3:17, 17:5).

Such were the words of the pre-eternal God the Father to man about the pre-eternal God the Son, when the Son, by the will of the Father through the work of the Spirit was incarnated from the Virgin and accomplished the salvation of fallen man. Brothers, let us show obedience to the Son of God as is desired of us by God so that the grace of God may rest on us.

Perhaps someone will say I might want to obey the Son of God, but how shall I achieve this when almost two thousand years have past from the time when our Lord Jesus Christ abided on earth in the flesh and preached His all-holy teaching. 

To attain (the state) of being always with Christ, of hearing His most sweet voice, of feeding from His life-giving teachings, is very convenient; the Lord Jesus even until now is abiding with us. He abides with us in His Holy Gospel, abides with us through the Holy Sacraments of the Church, abides by His omnipresent omnipotence, abides all abundantly as is befitting the limitless all-perfect God. The Lord clearly proves His presence among us by freeing souls from the bondage of sin, by distributing gifts of the Holy Spirit by numerous signs and miracles.

Those wishing to approach the Lord and to join with Him in the all blissful union for all eternity should commence this holy task with a thorough study of God's Word, should start with the study of the Gospel in which Christ is concealed, from which Christ speaks and acts. The words of the Gospel "are spirit and they are life" (St. John 6:63). They change the carnal man into a spiritual one and give life to a soul killed by sin and worldly vanity. They "are spirit and they are life;" guard against explaining the Word filled with the fearful power of God in such a way as It might easily appear to your dead soul, to your dead heart, to your dead mind. The Word pronounced by the Holy Spirit can only be explained by the Holy Spirit.

Those wishing to come to the Lord so as to hear His divine teaching and be enlivened by it and be saved, approach; stand before God with the greatest reverence, the holiest fear as do His holy angels, His Seraphim and Cherubim. By your humility, make the ground you stand on the heavens. And the Lord shall speak from His Holy Gospel just as to His beloved disciples. And may the holy Fathers who have interpreted the Holy Gospel by the grace of the Holy Spirit become your guide to an exact and infallible understanding of it. 

It is disastrous to approach the Gospel-the Lord Jesus Christ Who lives in the Gospel-without due reverence, with boldness and arrogance. The Lord accepts only the meek, those who are filled with the awareness of their sinfulness and unworthiness, those filled with repentance; He turns away from the proud. The turning away of God's face from the impertinent tempter (so I call the thankless, thoughtless and cold listener) vanquishes the tempter with eternal death. The God-inspired elder Simeon proclaimed of the incarnated God-Word, [that He] "is destined for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against" (St. Luke 2:34). The Word of God is a rock, a rock of immense size and weight, "and whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (St. Matt. 21:44). 

Brothers, let us be reverent and active listeners. Let us prove obedience to our Heavenly Father Who today proclaimed to us from the Holy Gospel about His all-holy Word, "This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (St. Matt. 3:17, 17:5). Listen to Him! Listen to Him! And the good-will of the Father in Heaven will rest on us unto all ages. Amen.

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A Meditation on Theophany

Introduced and Compiled by Fr. Patrick Tishel

Based on the Oration on the Holy Lights by St. Gregory the Theologian[1]


Every time we approach a Festival of Christ's Life, we are at a crossroads; we either pass by the promise of a Feast lazily, accepting the vague outlines of our memory, or we come with hunger and thirst and seek the Truth of the Christian Mysteries that leads to the life of our soul and to deification. 

To participate in a Festival of the Church is to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven. So when we seek to understand the meaning of Theophany, we look beyond academic understanding to the knowledge that God reveals as a secret to a soul who loves Him.

The following oration by St. Gregory Nanzianzen was taken from a sermon that he gave in the midst of Divine Services; it was spoken to the faithful to inspire and to deliver the mysteries of Christ, given by one who can accurately be called a "steward of the mysteries."

The Call to Celebrate Theophany

"...The Holy Day of the Lights,[2] to which we have come, and which we are celebrating today, has for its origin the Baptism of my Christ, the True Light That lighteneth every man that cometh into the world, and effecteth my purification, and assists that light which we received from the beginning from Him from above, but which we darkened and confused by sin.[3] 

Therefore listen to the Voice of God, which sounds so exceeding clearly to me, who am both disciple and master of these mysteries,[4] as would to God it may sound to you: I Am the Light of the World. Therefore approach ye to Him and be enlightened, and let not your faces be ashamed, being signed with the true Light. It is a season of new birth; let us be born again. It is a time of reformation; let us receive again the first Adam. Let us not remain what we are, but let us become what we once were.[5] The Light Shineth in Darkness in this life and in the flesh, and is chased by the darkness, but is not overtaken by it:  I mean the adverse power leaping up in its shamelessness against the visible Adam, but encountering God and being defeated; in order that we, putting away the darkness, may draw near to the Light, and may then become perfect Light,[6] the children of perfect Light. See the grace of this Day; see the power of this mystery. Are you not lifted up from the earth? Are you not clearly placed on high, being exalted by our voice and meditation? And you will be placed much higher when the Word shall have prospered the course of my words." 

Our Contemplation of Christ's Mysteries must begin in Humility

"...Let us begin our discussion of them from the most fitting point.[7] And the most fitting is, as Solomon laid down for us: The beginning of wisdom, he says, is to get wisdom. Wisdom is fear.[8] For we must not begin with contemplation and leave off with fear (for an unbridled contemplation would perhaps push us over a precipice), but we must be grounded and purified, and made light, so to say, by fear; and thus be raised to the height. For where fear is there is keeping of commandments; and where there is keeping of commandments there is purifying of the flesh-that cloud which covers the soul and suffers it not to see the Divine Ray. And where there is purifying there is Illumination; and Illumination is the satisfying of desire to those who long for the greatest things, or the Greatest Thing, or That Which surpasses all greatness. 

Wherefore we must purify ourselves first, and then approach this converse with the Pure..."

Our Meditation on Theophany Leads to Glorifying God Along With the Saints and Angels

"And now, having purified the theatre by what has been said, let us discourse a little about the Festival, and join in celebrating this Feast with festal and pious souls. And, since the chief point of the Festival is the remembrance of God, let us call God to mind. For I think that the sound of those who keep Festival There, where is the dwelling of all the Blissful, is nothing else than this, the hymns and praises of God, sung by all who are counted worthy of that City.

Worshipping God-The Three in One

"For to us there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and One Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things; and One Holy Ghost, in Whom are all things...and His Adoration ought not to be rendered only by Beings above, but there ought to be also worshipers on earth, that all things may be filled with the glory of God (forasmuch as they are filled with God Himself); therefore man was created and honored with the hand and Image of God. But to despise man, when by the envy of the Devil and the bitter taste of sin he was pitiably severed from God his maker-this was not in the Nature of God. What then was done, and what is the great Mystery that concerns us? An innovation is made upon nature, and God is made Man. ‘He that rideth upon the Heaven of Heavens in the East' of His own glory and Majesty, is glorified in the West of our meanness and lowliness. And the Son of God deigns to become and to be called Son of Man; not changing what He was (for It is unchangeable); but assuming what He was not (for He is full of love to man) that the Incomprehensible might be comprehended, conversing with us through the mediation of the Flesh as through a veil, since it was not possible for that nature which is subject to birth and decay to endure His unveiled Godhead." 

The Baptism of Christ by St. John

"But John baptizes, Jesus comes to Him...perhaps to sanctify the Baptism Himself, but certainly to bury the whole of the Old Adam in the water; and before this and for the sake of this, to sanctify the Jordan; for as He is Spirit and Flesh, so He consecrates us by Spirit and water. John will not receive Him; Jesus contends. "I have need to be baptized of Thee" says the Voice to the Word, the Friend to the Bridegroom; he that is above all among them that are born of women, to Him Who is the Firstborn of every creature; e that leaped in the womb, to Him Who was adored in the womb; he who was and is to be the Forerunner to Him Who was and is to be manifested....But what saith Jesus? "Suffer it to be so now," for this is the time of His Incarnation; for He knew that yet a little while and He should baptize the Baptist. And what is the "Fan?" The Purification. And what is the "Fire?" The consuming of the chaff, and the heat of the Spirit. And what is the "Axe?" The excision of the soul which is incurable even after the dung. And what is the "Sword?" The cutting of the Word, which separates the worse from the better, and makes a division between the faithful and the unbeliever; and stirs up the son and the daughter and the bride against the father and the mother and the mother in law, the young and fresh against the old and shadowy. And what is the Latchet of the shoe, which thou John who baptizest Jesus mayest not loose?...Perhaps the Message of the Advent, and the Incarnation, of which not the least point may be loosed, I say not by those who are yet carnal and babes in Christ, but not even by those who are like John in spirit.

But further, Jesus goeth up out of the water...for with Himself He carries up the world...and sees the heaven opened which Adam had shut against himself and all his posterity, as the gates of Paradise by the flaming sword. And the Spirit bears witness to His Godhead, for he descends upon One that is like Him, as does the Voice from Heaven...

Now, since our Festival is of Baptism, and we must endure a little hardness with Him Who for our sake took form, and was baptized, and was crucified; let us speak about the different kinds of Baptism, that we may come out thence purified. Moses baptized but it was in water, and before that in the cloud and in the sea. This was typical as Paul saith: the Sea of the water, and the Cloud of the Spirit; the Manna, of the Bread of Life; the Drink, of the Divine Drink. John also baptized; but this was not like the baptism of the Jews, for it was not only in water, but also ‘unto repentance.' Still it was not wholly spiritual, for he does not add ‘And in the Spirit.' Jesus also baptized, but in the Spirit. This is the perfect Baptism. And how is He not God, if I may digress a little, by whom you too are made God? I know also a Fourth Baptism-that by Martyrdom and blood, which also Christ himself underwent; and this one is far more august than all the others, inasmuch as it cannot be defiled by after-stains. Yes, and I know of a Fifth also, which is that of tears, and is much more laborious, received by him whose bruises stink through his wickedness; and who goeth mourning and of a sad countenance; who imitates the repentance of Manasseh and the humiliation of the Ninevites upon which God had mercy; who utters the words of the Publican in the Temple, and is justified rather than the stiff-necked Pharisee; who asks for mercy and crumbs, the food of a dog that is very hungry.

... But let us venerate today the Baptism of Christ; and let us keep the feast well, not in pampering the belly, but rejoicing in spirit. And how shall we luxuriate? ‘Wash you, make you clean.' If ye be scarlet with sin and less bloody, be made white as snow; if ye be red, and men bathed in blood, yet be ye brought to the whiteness of wool. Anyhow be purified, and you shall be clean (for God rejoices in nothing so much as in the amendment and salvation of man, on whose behalf is every discourse and every Sacrament), that you may be like lights in the world, a quickening force to all other men; that you may stand as perfect lights beside That great Light, and may learn the mystery of the illumination of Heaven, enlightened by the Trinity more purely and clearly, of Which even now you are receiving in a measure the One Ray from the One Godhead in Christ Jesus our Lord; to Whom be the glory and the might for ever and ever. Amen.


[1] The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, VII, eds. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Pp. 352-359.

  Epiphany or Theophany.

[3]   The principle of our human life is the Light, which is the life of Christ; "In Him was life; and the life was the light of man." The fullness of our life which was meant to be eternal and paradisal was diminished by the sin of Adam and our own sins, but is restored by the Incarnation of Christ.

[4]  St. Gregory of Nanzienzen, along with St. John the Apostle and St. Simeon the New Theologian are considered the great Theologians of the Church, and thus rightly called "masters" of the mysteries of Christ.

[5] There is a mystery to the Fall of Adam that God reveals to us, which unlocks our hearts to desire repentance...because suddenly we begin to see the riches of heavenly life that were once our inheritance and which are opened to us once again through Christ. To be able to see fallenness and sin is a sign of Light coming into darkness.

[6] Christ was baptized in the waters of Jordan. Then those who followed not only received temporary cleansing but received the Kingdom of Heaven itself. "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I , whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with firs" (St. Matt. iii, 11).

There is much one could say about the effects of the Fall and the influence of fallen spirits on man; man's original state, the imprisonment of sin and freeing by Christ. See The Sin of Adam by St. Simeon the New Theologian, an important work on man's original state, fall and salvation.

[7] Often people come to study Christianity and miss its essence; they see nothing or just a superficial "something," and then judge it, feeling superior. But there is a veil over God's mysteries which are reserved for the pure, for those who love God. The coarseness over our hearts and our passions blinds our perceptions of heavenly things. This is one of the first realizations we must come to. We need to seek purity if we earnestly want to approach the Pure One. We should not expect that the treasures will be given over to us if our minds are still wallowing in the pig sty. Bit if we seek in heavenly places, we shall find.

[8] Why would anyone cultivate fear of God? Is this psychologically healthy? Fear of God implies being awake to Divinity. Some people do not fear because they do not know God. Others fear because of their self-concerns; pure fear is concern at displeasing God and losing communion with Him through accepting evil.

St. Maximos the Confessor gives a clear teaching on this subject:

"We ascend step by step from what is remotest from God, but near to us to the primal realities which are further from us but near to God. For we begin by abstaining from evil because of fear, and from this we advance to the practice of virtue through strength..."(St. Maximos the Confessor. The Philokalia, II, p. 219).

"Fear is two-fold: one kind is pure, the other impure. That which is pre-eminently fear of punishment on account of offences committed is impure, for it is sins which gives rise to it. It will not last forever, for when the sin is obliterated through repentance it too will disappear. Pure fear, on the other hand, is always present even apart from remorse for offences committed. Such fear will never cease to exist, because it is somehow rooted essentially by God in creation and makes clear to everyone His awe-inspiring nature, which transcends all kingship and power" (Ibid., p. 180).

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