Friday, January 06, 2006

Theophany

This is one of the great feast days in the liturgical calendar of the Byzantine Churches. It is celebrated on January 6, yet the mystery does not correspond to the Latin Epiphany (though the meaning of the words are similar: “epiphany”= “showing forth” and “theophany” = “manifestation of God”). The feast of the Holy Theophany celebrates the baptism of Christ by St John in the Jordan. It receives its name from the manifestation of the Holy Trinity on that occasion: the voice of the Father, the baptism of the Son in the flesh, and the visible descent of the Holy Spirit. I would like simply to share with you today some richly poetic liturgical texts from the Office of Matins for the feast. These were composed by St John Damascene.

From the ancient snares have we all been set loose,
And the jaws of the devouring lions have been broken.
Let us, then, rejoice exceedingly and open wide our mouths,
Weaving with words a melody to the Word
Whose delight it is to bestow gifts upon us.

O Word all-shining, sent forth from the Father,
You have come to dispel utterly the dark and evil night
And the sins of mortal men,
And by your baptism to draw up with You, O blessed Lord,
Bright sons from the streams of
Jordan.

That He may lead us back to the life-giving pastures of Paradise,
God the Word goes searching for us in the lairs of the dragons.
Destroying the terrible snares which the enemy had laid for man,
He makes a prisoner of him who bruised all mankind in the heel,
And so He saves his creation.

When the shining vaults of heaven were opened,
He who knew the mysteries saw the Spirit
Who proceeds from the Father and rests on the immaculate Word,
Descending in ways past speech in the form of a dove:
And he commanded the multitudes to hasten to the Master.

In the beginning You brought upon the world the all-ruining flood,
Unto the lamentable destruction of all things,
O God who reveal wonders most great and strange:
And now, O Christ, You have drowned sin in the waters
Unto the comfort and salvation of mortal men.

The Maker saw in the darkness of sin, in bonds that knew no escape,
The man whom He had formed with his own hand.
Raising him up, He laid him on his shoulders,
And now in abundant floods He washes him clean
From the ancient shame of Adam’s sinfulness.

In piety and eagerness let us run
To the undefiled fountains of the stream of salvation,
And let us look upon the Word who gives us to drink
From pure waters that satisfy our holy thirst:
And gently He heals the disease of the world.


As you can see, this feast is not only about the manifestation of God and the baptism of Christ, but also about our own healing, forgiveness, and salvation. “Glory to your Theophany, O Lord!”