Theophany means "the manifestation of God." According to the Gospels, as Jesus was being baptized by John, God the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, hovered over Jesus and the voice of God the Father was heard saying: "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased." The revelation of the Trinity is the central "Epiphany" glorified on this Feast Day.
"Though He (Jesus) had no need of purification, as a man He was baptized for our sake...that He might sanctify the nature of water and favour us with rebirth from water and the Spirit." (Ambo Prayer.*) Thus, through His Baptism, Jesus opens the door to our salvation. During our own Baptism and Chrismation the Holy Spirit also descends upon us, and we become children of God. He calls us His Beloved and pours His grace upon us.
On the Eve of Theophany (Schedrij Vechir, meaning bountiful evening), water is blessed at Divine Services and is brought home so our evening meal may begin with a drink of newly blessed water. Ideally, after the meal, we return to church for the Vigil service.
In the morning, another Water Blessing follows Divine Liturgy. Traditionally, it takes place at a lake or river near the church. A cross shape is cut into ice and the priest plunges a cross into the water. In Ukraine, the robust have been known to jump in to retrieve it.
By the time Theophany arrives, many are too tired from feasting to celebrate Theophany in its fullness. This festal season, let us not wind down, but gear up to Theophany!
* Ambo Prayer: named for the area where a priest stands outside the Royal Doors to recite the prayer at the conclusion of the Diving Liturgy. See church floor plan at: www.saintelias.com/ca/church/diagram.php
"I know by frequent experience that there is nothing which puts the devils to flight like holy water." --St. Teresa of Avila
What to do with Holy Water
On Theophany, during the water blessing ritual, priests recite lengthy prayers for the Holy Spirit to come down upon the water. The natural properties of the water are thereby miraculously changed. The water becomes incorrupt and remains clear, fresh and transparent for years. It is filled with the grace to heal illness, protect people and property, and sanctify objects.
Here are some ways to prepare to receive and use Holy Water:
Prepare a jar for receiving and storing Holy Water. Consider decorating the jar with a cross or greenery.
- Drink Holy Water in church, and fill your jar for home use.
- Bring a jar to take to those who can't get to church.
- Sprinkle Holy Water throughout your home, singing the Feast-Day Tropar or saying: "This room is blessed by the sprinkling of this Holy Water, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
- Pour some Holy Water into drinking bowls for farm animals or pets -- for they are God's creation and gift to us.
- Keep remaining Holy Water and, when you are ill or in distress, drink it with faith in its power to bring healing and peace to your soul.
- Invite your parish priest to bless your home. Tidy up in preparation. When he arrives, turn off electrical devices and light candles. After initial prayers, lead him through your home while holding a lit candle. Ask him to also bless icons and special objects. By being blessed everything in the home becomes holy, and we are reminded to treat possessions -- and each other -- with reverence.