Posted by: Fr Chris | January 5, 2019

Theophany Day!

Theophany:  Manifestation of God  Epiphany –  shining forth

For Byzantine Catholics, the 12th day of Christmas is the baptism of Jesus in Jordan, for Latins, it is when the magi, traditionally known as the Three Kings, come to worship Jesus as king of kings. They celebrate the Baptism on the Sunday after the 6th of January.

I grew up in St John the Baptist parish in Kenmore, New York. In front of the church there are two life-sized statues of St John baptizing Jesus, with John pouring the water over his head.  Every time I passed that monument, I remembered that this shows the moment in Matthew’s Gospel when the Father speaks: This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.  The Father proclaims Who Jesus is – his eternal son, the second person of the trinity.  One of sixty vv in NT that affirms Jesus is divine.

St Gregory of Nyssa: Today He is baptized by John that He might cleanse him who was defiled, that He might bring the Spirit from above, and exalt man to heaven, that he who had fallen might be raised up and he who had cast him down might be put to shame. Baptism, then, is a purification from sins, a remission of trespasses, a cause of renovation and regeneration. too the child of regeneration has nothing for which to answer, being released by royal bounty from accountability. And this gift it is not the water that bestows (for in that case it were a thing more exalted than all creation), but the command of God, and the visitation of the Spirit that comes sacramentally to set us free. But water serves to express the cleansing.

Water is sanctified on Theophany. Fr Artur celebrated this last night for the holy water to take home, and then today going down to bless the Rio Grande river as in Europe the custom is to bless living water in a river or lake.  Holy water is ordinary water that has been completely transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The prayer says: Come now and sanctify this water, and goes on to talk about how the water now serves as a protection against evil, healing for the sick in both soul and body, sanctification of places, for the gift of enlightenment. It is sanctified when the triple branched candle goes into the water, when the priest’s hand goes in 3 times, when the priest breathes 3 times, when the life-giving  cross is put into the water three times. The whole ceremony invokes the Holy Trinity over and over again.

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The baptism of the Lord is the first big event recorded in the four gospels after the birth of Christ and His first forty days on earth. The Bible itself begins with the Spirit moving over the void,  a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. Theophany is called a feast of light: the Spirit bringing light where there was darkness, and then moving over the waters of the earth.

Holy water is so important that in the Byzantine rite it was the practice to bless water every month on the first day, because the people used so much of it. Now this is formally done still only on August 1, but it would be great to have the need to bless water over and over again because you used it so much.

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The holy water is kept near the church’s front door, available all year for those who need it. The clergy use it to bless houses, to bless cars, to bless  icons and religious objects, to bless the casket at the end of life’s journey on earth.

You can use it, to bless your children, every day if you want, putting them under God’s protection, to bless yourself daily. You can use it to bless a room after someone has bad dreams, to put in someone’s beverage when they’re sick, to bless after a fight or bad incident takes place, or a nasty person visits. When you travel and stay someplace, take a little plastic bottle of holy water with you and bless the room. Take water home, but use it! Invite Father to come and bless  your house, and enjoy the ceremony as an opportunity for renewal and healing and blessing.  All of these things are done so that by visibly partaking of the water we invisibly  partake of the Holy Spirit and invoke the Spirit’s graces and blessings.

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This is such an important feast that it is a holy day of obligation for us, and the day before it is kept as a fasting day. This is one of the days when converts are baptized, as a powerful sign of their deliverance from the world of sin and darkness and being brought into light and goodness. And it is meant to be a day of enlightenment for us. John baptized with water, and the crowds who came to hear him were so moved by his preaching that they confessed their sins, went into the Jordan river to be baptized, and emerged with the conviction to live differently.

So for us – the excitement of Christmas is over, the season of Lent is a ways off. But that does not mean that Christian life and behavior is on vacation. Icons of St John the Baptist also often depict an axe at the base of a tree. This symbolizes the cutting down of all that is rotten and bad within ourselves through repentance.

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Drinking of the sanctified holy water is a symbolic act that we all partake of on this feast, but it is meant also to be a wake-up call, a reminder of our own baptism, a reminder to convert and change our lives. We do not have to confess our sins publicly but we are expected to live in a state of awareness of the ongoing need to change, to dig down into ourselves, to grab hold of a spiritual axe and cut out of ourselves the things that we know lead us into sin, or behaviors that we know are sinful. John warned the people who came to him that there was a judgment coming. Judgment Day will come for each of us – at our  own deaths, and at the end of time. No one can escape it. We have been given the fullness of revelation through the Catholic Church, and we have been fed with the Bread of Life, some of us for a few years, some of us all our lives. Whatever the case, we are invited to make this day a day of both renewal and repentance, and to go forward in the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit, so as to grow closer to the Father and become holier on our own personal roads to paradise. Christ is among us.

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Fr. Jack Custer of St. Michael Cathedral, blessing the Passaic River, 2018 


  1. Reblogged this on Trump:The American Years and commented:
    somehow i missed this the last few times i checked the reader for good article. better late than never i guess.

  2. Father,is there a reason you don’t have a twitter button to share on Twitter?

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