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THE THEOPHANY OF JESUS
FEAST DAY: 6 January
ICON: On the left John the Baptist, is bowing in awe and reverence and with his right hand he is baptising Jesus in the Jordan River. Jesus is in the centre. He wears a waistcloth, and with His right hand He is blessing the waters of the Jordan.
Above His head the Holy Spirit descends as a dove, enclosed in an aureole, the symbol of divine glory. In all the Gospels the Holy Spirit is described, as a dove,
“He who sent me to baptise with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptises with the Holy Spirit;’ and I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:33, 34).
At the top the ray of light in the mandorla (semicircle shape)―points over the head of Jesus and represents Heaven opening to hear the voice of God. On the right-side angels with their heads bowed in reverence are ready to receive Jesus as He comes out of the water.
At the left-hand bottom corner is a tree stump with an axe embedded in it. This recalls St John’s words to the Pharisees, “even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10). The axe ready to cut suggests the Messiah is at hand.
The Feast of the Theophany means manifestation of God. It is also called the Feast of the Epiphany, meaning manifestation of the Trinity. As Melkites on 6 January, we celebrate what happened at Jesus’ baptism and what it represents for us as Christians―the feast does not celebrate the fact that Jesus is Baptised―it is not called the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.
The troparion of the Theophany tells what we celebrate, “At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was revealed; for the Father’s voice bore witness to You, calling You His beloved Son and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of His word. O Christ God, who have appeared to us and enlightened the world, glory to You!”
Jesus’ baptism is celebrated for two important reasons. First, it marked the beginning of Jesus’ public life. He would go from the Jordan to the wilderness and be tempted, then return to begin His ministry. Second and of most significance, all three persons of the Holy Trinity are present―God (His voice), the Son (Jesus in the flesh) and the Holy Spirit (the dove) ―this is the first manifestation of the Holy Trinity as revealed in the New Testament.
The baptism of Jesus is told in all four Gospels―Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They say that Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptised by John the Baptist. Initially, John refrained, saying, “It is I who should be baptised by You, and You come to me." But Jesus said to him: "Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15). John obeyed and performed the baptism.
When Jesus came up from the water, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him as a dove and the Father in heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22).
By His baptism, Jesus blessed the life force of water and his Father, and the Holy Spirit are witness to the incarnation of Jesus for the salvation of humankind.
Blessed or Holy Water is used in all Eastern and Western Churches but with differences in their meaning and purpose. In the West holy water is mainly for purification. It is placed at the doors of the church for worshippers to bless themselves when entering, as a kind of purification.
In the Eastern Churches the meaning and purpose of the blessing of water relates to transformation. At baptism water is transformed, so the person being baptised is in communion with the Holy Trinity. They are immersed in the water and then raised out of it, to experience their own Pascha (Easter) by being connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus, becoming a partaker in the divine nature. In baptism a person is blessed by being immersed in the water, the reverse happens at the Theophany―it is the water which is blessed because Jesus enters it.
On the Feast of the Theophany a cross, representing Jesus, is immersed in water three times, re-enacting the baptism of Jesus, and blessing the water. This blessing of water represents the transformation of creation and extends the blessing of the Jordan to all creation.
The Melkite priest goes through the church sprinkling everyone with the newly blessed water. In Eastern countries this procession would walk through the neighbourhood as the people chant the troparion of the Theophany. People would open their doors and the priest would go into their homes, passing from one to another with the blessing of the Jordan. This tradition witnesses the ongoing transfiguration of creation started at the Jordan River. Today, this tradition is scheduled in January and the priest will come to your home to bless it.
الغِطاس أي ظهور ربّنا وإلهنا ومخلّصنا يسوع المسيح المقدّس
تاريخ العيد: 6 كانون الثاني
إن عظمة هذا العيد في الكنيسة البيزنطية تعود إلى اعتبارات لاهوتيّة أكثر منها تاريخيّة. فهو عيد فكرة أكثر منه ذكرى نقطة من تاريخ حياة يسوع، أي عماده في نهر الأردن. الظهور الإلهي، ليس بدء الحياة العلنية، واعتلان الثالوث الأقدس للمرة الأولى في تاريخ البشرية فحسب، بل هو، فوق هذه الأبحاث التاريخية، اعتلان مجد الله ومحبته للبشر ولطفه ورحمته، في شخص المسيح يسوع صائراً بالتجسد الإلهي بشراً مثلنا، ليكون ذبيحة فداء لخلاص جميع الناس.
"لقد ظهرت نعمة الله المخلّصة جميع الناس" (تيطس11:2). تلك هي الفكرة التي جعلت عيد الظهور يشمل في الأجيال الأولى عيد الميلاد، كما سبق واشرنا. وتيمُّناً بعماد يسوع في الأردن، وفي هذا الجو من الحياة الإلهية التي أفاضها بتجسده وفدائه على البشرية، كانت الكنيسة في عصورها الأولى تقيم اليوم حفلة تعميد الموعوظين. ولذا نسمعها تردّد عليهم مع بولس الرسول قي الليتورجية الإلهية:" انتم الذين بالمسيح اعتمدتم، المسيح قد لبستم". وهي إذ تقبلهم في حضنها، تقدّمهم للمسيح عروسها الإلهي، الذي بالماء والروح أخصب أمومتها.
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