January 6 (old calendar) / January 19 (new)
THE HOLY THEOPHANY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
Ven. Macarius of Mt. Athos (1431).
THE HOLY THEOPHANY OF OUR LORD
Theophany is the Feast which reveals the Most Holy Trinity to the world through the Baptism of the Lord (Mt.3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). God the Father spoke from Heaven about the Son, the Son was baptized by Saint John the Forerunner, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a dove. From ancient times this Feast was called the Day of Illumination and the Feast of Lights, since God is Light and has appeared to illumine “those who sat in darkness,” and “in the region of the shadow of death” (Mt.4:16), and to save the fallen race of mankind by grace.
In the ancient Church it was the custom to baptize catechumens at the Vespers of Theophany, so that Baptism also is revealed as the spiritual illumination of mankind.
The origin of the Feast of Theophany goes back to Apostolic times, and it is mentioned in The Apostolic Constitutions (Book V:13). From the second century we have the testimony of Saint Clement of Alexandria concerning the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, and the night vigil before this Feast.
There is a third century dialogue about the services for Theophany between the holy martyr Hippolytus and Saint Gregory the Wonderworker. In the following centuries, from the fourth to ninth century, all the great Fathers of the Church: Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Ambrose of Milan, John of Damascus, commented on the Feast of Theophany.
The monks Joseph the Studite, Theophanes and Byzantios composed much liturgical music for this Feast, which is sung at Orthodox services even today. Saint John of Damascus said that the Lord was baptized, not because He Himself had need for cleansing, but “to bury human sin by water,” to fulfill the Law, to reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and finally, to sanctify “the nature of water” and to offer us the form and example of Baptism.
On the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, the Holy Church proclaims our faith in the most sublime mystery, incomprehensible to human intellect, of one God in three Persons. It teaches us to confess and glorify the Holy Trinity, one in Essence and Undivided. It exposes and overthrows the errors of ancient teachings which attempted to explain the Creator of the world by reason, and in human terms.
The Church shows the necessity of Baptism for believers in Christ, and it inspires us with a sense of deep gratitude for the illumination and purification of our sinful nature. The Church teaches that our salvation and cleansing from sin is possible only by the power of the grace of the Holy Spirit, therefore it is necessary to preserve worthily these gifts of the grace of holy Baptism, keeping clean this priceless garb, for “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27).
On the day of Theophany, all foods are permitted, even if the Feast falls on a Wednesday or Friday.
Troparion of the Theophany, tone 1
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 And called You His beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, Confirmed the truthfulness of His word. O Christ, our God, You have revealed Yourself And have enlightened the world, glory to You!
Kontakion of the Theophany, tone 4
Today You have shown forth to the world, O Lord, and the light of Your countenance has been marked on us. Knowing You, we sing Your praises. You have come and revealed Yourself, O unapproachable Light.
Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7 (Epistle)
- For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,
- teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,
- looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
- who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
- But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,
- not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
- whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
- that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Matthew 3:13-17 (Gospel)
- Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
- And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
- But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.
- When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.
- And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”