Just twelve days after Christmas, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Theophany (also called Epiphany).
The Feast of the Theophany of Christ is celebrated on January 6 and commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John the Baptist, at which the mystery of the Trinity was revealed. The early Church often celebrated the Nativity of Christ and his baptism on the same day, based on Luke’s words that Jesus “began to be about thirty years of age” when he was baptized (Luke 3:23). Later the two feasts were separated.
The baptism of Christ is one of the few stories that is told in all four Gospels. Saint John the Baptist had been preparing the people of Israel for Christ by baptizing them with water as an outward sign of repentance. He told to them to look for the One, however, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
When Christ came to John to be baptized in the Jordan, John was therefore reluctant to do so. How could he baptize the Messiah? Yet he did so at Christ’s urging in order to “fulfill all righteousness.”
Then the Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon Him as the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16). After this, Christ went into the wilderness to fast, pray, and be tempted by the devil.
The baptism of Christ is truly a “theophany”–a manifestation or revealing of God himself. The world was granted a manifestation of the Triune God in the voice of the Father who sent the Spirit in the form of a dove upon His Son.
Ways to Celebrate Theophany as a Family
The Feast of the Theophany marks the end of the Nativity celebration. Now the Church shifts its focus to Jesus’s earthly ministry and teachings. This feast with its emphasis on the Trinity, on the blessing of the waters, and on baptism is often a favorite of children. Here are a few ways to bring your family into the celebration of the feast.
1. Attend Divine Liturgy and Learn the Hymn
Let’s start with the best way to celebrate. The service for this feast is typically in the evening and consists of the Royal Hours and Liturgy of St. Basil combined with Vespers. While the service is long, it is filled with beautiful symbolism and the Great Blessing of the Waters. My kids always enjoy seeing the waters blessed, being sprinkled by the holy water, and taking home our own bottle of holy water.
The hymn for the feast is also beautiful. It goes:
“When Thou, O Lord, was baptized in the Jordan
The worship of the Trinity was made manifest!
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee,
Calling Thee his Beloved Son.
And the Spirit in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of his Word.
O Christ our God, who has revealed Thyself and enlightened the world,
Glory to Thee!”
Learning this hymn will be especially helpful for your family’s house blessing later on.
2. Bring Holy Water Home
All of the faithful are invited to take bottles of the blessed water home with them after Liturgy and throughout the festal period. Your bottle can be anything that you would like and can then be kept in your icon corner. Many families give each member a small sip of holy water each morning, while others give it to those who are ill.
By having a bottle in your icon corner, you bear witness to the feast, and to Christ’s baptism and blessing of the waters, throughout the year.
3. Sing “As Many as Have Been Baptized”
Our children love to sing the hymn “As Many as Have Been Baptized” at the top of their lungs during this festal period! The hymn is quite simple and goes:
“As many as have been baptized into Christ,
Have put on Christ. Alleluia!”
We sing it at the end of our family prayer times, at the dinner table, and even in the car on the way to school. It is a beautiful way to connect the baptism of Christ with their own.
4. Look at Pictures of the Children’s Baptisms
The Feast of Theophany can be a good time to pull out some old pictures of your children’s churchings and baptisms. Children love to see pictures and hear stories of themselves! When they see the pictures of themselves as babies being brought to the Church, it can help them draw connections between their lives and the life of Christ. Taking a few minutes during the day to bring out those pictures, baptismal garments, or baptismal candles gives children a tangible reminder that they are part of the Church, that they belong to Christ.
5. Watch Videos of the Blessing of the Waters
There are MANY videos on YouTube that show the blessing of the oceans. Children (and adults!) will be fascinated to realize that the oceans are actually blessed with holy water each year. Take a few minutes to watch some videos like this one that shows the blessing of the Atlantic Ocean or this one for the Pacific Ocean.
Celebrating Theophany together can be a rich, joyful time that helps begin 2020 on the right foot.
Have a blessed feast!
How does your family celebrate the Feast of Theophany?