Posts Tagged ‘Theophany’

A Little Water Never Hurt Nuthin’

February 3, 2009


I’m a little late with this, but here’s a link to a local news story that ran in the San Antonio Express News this past Saturday.    Thank you Elaine Ayo and John Davenport at the Express News for a really nice article that concisely presented the spirituality and deep significance of Theophany and blessings to the non-Orthodox world.   San Antonio is really fortunate to have a local newspaper that covers religion news so well. 

A couple of parishioners quietly mentioned to me they thought an article on the blessing of cars might look a little weird to anyone outside the Orthodox faith who hasn’t experienced this before.  Well, it certainly isn’t as majestic, awe-inspiring and mystical as Pascha or the Nativity, but it really grows on you.  This is a good example of Orthodoxy entering into even the most mundane areas of life.   As Americans we tend to like our religiosity confined to Sunday morning between 10 am and noon.   And we certainly aren’t comfortable with religious expression and “rites” that aren’t confined to the four walls of a church (just bow your head and make the sign of the Cross in a crowded restaurant and see how many people give you “that look” – not an entirely hostile look, just the one reserved for religious zealots).

But as our priest, Fr. Leo Poore, pointed out in the article (he’s in the photo above)

There’s nothing that we know of that cannot be renewed, cannot be blessed. It affirms the fact that things are renewed through Christ and we are all called on to be as Adam and Eve before the fall.

I personally love the season of  Theophany, house blessings and car blessings.  It’s such a personal experience to have your priest bring the services of the Church right into your own home.  It reminds me that Orthodoxy is a total life experience in a way that I just can’t get from my own personal piety and practices (not the Church’s fault, just my own lack of faith and poor prayer life).

So why not bless our cars?  We spend hours a week driving around in them – so much of our life is spent in cars these days.   For all intents and purposes you can complete an entire life cycle in a car.  Babies are conceived in them, born in them.  We eat, sleep and work in our cars.  You can propose in one and get married in a drive-thru line.  And God knows enough of us die in them.   How weird can blessing the darned things be?

Theophany of Our Lord and Saviour

January 4, 2009


 In the cold peak of winter (it’s going to be in the 40’s and 50’s here in South Texas which is about the peak of winter here, so you’ll have to imagine someplace else) the Church celebrates the Theophany – the Baptism of Our Lord and Saviour.  January 6th is the date of Theophany under the New Caledar (Gregorian).    In the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran denominations, this day is more commonly known as Epiphany and is remembered for the visit of the Magi.  Dia del Reyes or the Day of the Three Kings is a big deal around here and other Catholic, Spanish-speaking (or French-speaking) areas.

Whichever calendar you use, as a new convert to Orthodoxy years ago I thought it was a little disjointed for the Church to put the feast of Theophany, an event that didn’t occur in Christ’s life for another 30 years, as the culmination of the twelve days of Christmas.   The visit of the Magi just chronologically seemed to fit, considering we celebrated the Circumcision of Christ on January 1st, the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, and the murder of the Holy Innocents.  It just seems to wrap things up so neatly.  It’s not that Orthodoxy doesn’t venerate the Magi, it’s just that the Theophany is the feast that most climaxes Christ’s appearance in the world.  It took me a long time, and it still feels a little odd when Theophany comes along, but I understand the greater meaning the Church was trying to convey.  In the west Christmas has been turned into a big Nativity play while sometimes forgetting the overall cohesiveness of Christ’s incarnation and manifestation to the world.  For that reason, the Church celebrates historical events in their theological context, not only as an historical series of events but events with a common theme.  If you then were trying to group the events of the Incarnation you have to go back nine months then to the Annunciation.   According to OrthodoxWiki

Originally, there was just one Christian feast of the shining forth of God to the world in the human form of Jesus of Nazareth. It included the celebration of Christ’s birth, the adoration of the Wisemen, and all of the childhood events of Christ such as his circumcision and presentation to the temple as well as his baptism by John in the Jordan. There seems to be little doubt that this feast, like Easter and Pentecost, was understood as the fulfillment of a previous Jewish festival, in this case the Feast of Lights.

The most central feature of Theophany involves water.  It is a feast of Jesus’ baptism in water,  the prototype of our Baptism as Christians.  The liturgical music for this date mentions water a million times, the Church performs the Great Blessing of Water, and the faithful immediately drink the blessed water, annoint themselves with it, take home jugs of blessed water to drink throughout the year and pour over their ailing bodies whenever illness strikes.  The priest blesses our homes with this water, even our cars, livestock, places of work.  But one of the oddest of traditions that some people don’t even realize are associated with Theophany, are the ice swims or polar bear jumps.  Maybe people have been doing this for millenia.  First as a post-sauna ritual, then as a stunt.  It’s popularity has spread world-wide and every news crew and newspaper has to run photos of swimsuit-clad or bizarrely decorated, obviously freezing nuts jumping into swimming pools and lakes, oceans and ponds.  However, leave it to the Orthodox Church and in particular, the Russians/Ukrainians to give it an association with one of the great feasts of the Church.  Surely only the promise of spiritual blessings could make a person jump into freezing waters that are doing their best to kill you.  (They don’t have paramedics at these things for dramatic effect you know.)    For a warmer celebration of Theophany I’d prefer the Greek Orthodox Church’s Theophany dive at Tarpon Springs, Florida; but you’ll notice it’s only young men doing the diving.

If you’d really like to read a much more edifying post on the meaning of Theophany than my rambling nonsense, please visit one of my favorite priest bloggers, Fr. Stephen at Glory to God for all Things