OFFICE OF HOLY EPIPHANY
by Fr. John Chromiak
The services beginning with the Eve of the Epiphany, are the same as on the Eve of Nativity. The difference between both Feasts is the festival hymns and the consecration of water. The Vigil is a day of fast as strict as that of Nativity. The Imperial Hours are read, and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is celebrated.
The special feature of the Service on the day of the Epiphany is the consecration of the waters. It takes place on the vigil of the feast and after the Liturgy, thus, there are two Blessings of the Waters. The first consecration is retained as a reminder of the baptism which Catechumens used to receive on this day, and of the vows which we ourselves took at our own baptism. The second consecration takes place in memory of the Baptism of Our Lord.
The service of consecration consists of: the chanting of Sticherae, the reading of the Paremii, of lessons from the Epistle and the Gospels, prayers offered by the Priest for the consecration of the waters, and in thrice-repeated immersion of the Cross to the chanting of the Troparion of the Feast.
The Old Testament displays the pattern of divine salvation, a pattern which anticipates the salvation which was accomplished through the coming of God's Messiah, of whom the Prophets had spoken. "This is he who I said should come crying, and preaching throughout the whole wilderness with a clear voice." (Isaiah 40:3) The prophets not only proclaimed the Lord, but also he who was to minister unto Him, long beforehand. Also was the place which he was to abide, and the manner of doctrine which he had to teach when he came, and the good effect produced by him. Thus, the prophet sayeth that he shall come saying, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Isaiah 40:3). And he himself when he was come said, "Bring forth fruits, meet for repentance." (Matt. 3:8) which means the same as what the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed.
The Prophets spake all by the Spirit and their foretellings were accurate. "Behold my servants, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon Him, and He shall show judgment to the Gentiles. And in His name shall the Gentiles trust." (Isaiah 42:1-4).
The Paremu which is read from the Prophecy of Isaiah tells of the Glory of the New Zion and the way of Holiness. In the Paremu following, the invitation of the world to accept Salvation of Jehovah who will make everlasting covenant and even the sure mercies of David. Here is found the message of Salvation, Repentance, Promise of Mercy and Forgiveness, and the Grace of God. Parable xii:3-6, is given — God's Salvation to the People of Israel Greatness thanksgiving of all the people. Greatness of the Holy One of Israel, shown by excellent things He hath done.
In the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians 10:1-4, which is read at this Office — "our fathers crossing the Red Sea." Like as we, on our belief in Christ and His Resurrection, are baptized, the fathers also put confidence in Moses. Having seen him cross first, they also ventured into the waters. Here is the symbol of the Font, and that which follows, of the Holy Table. For as we partake of the Lord's Body, so they the manna, and as we partake of the Blood, so they water from a rock. It was not the nature of the Rock which sent forth the water, but another Rock, a spiritual One, performed the whole, even Christ who was everywhere with them and brought about all the wonders-This was the Rock that followed them. All our fathers were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. The sea was the symbol of water and the cloud was the symbol of the Spirit. This is the symbolical salvation of the New Testament Spiritual salvation. The nation was redeemed out of Bondage and escape from sin.
In the Flood, water cleansed the world from its corruption. In our Baptism, water cleanses the soul from sin. Noah was saved because he was righteous, thus he received the salvation. During the flood, sin was drowned. Noah was left behind as a spark of the world and from him a new race rekindled.
The Office of Epiphany especially commemorates the Baptism of our Lord. Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. At the baptism of Jesus, the Trinity was present and manifested. This was the Divine Manifestation. The Son of God received baptism in the River Jordan; God the Father testified to His Son by a voice from Heaven, and the Holy Ghost, appearing in the form of a dove, confirmed the words of God the Father. The powers of heaven were astonished at beholding this strange mystery. The sea saw and fled, Jordan beholding, turned back. God who was manifest on earth lighted the world.
Although the sinless Christ was not in need of baptism, He came to John to be baptized of him. John forbad Him, but Jesus answereth saying, "Suffer it be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteous." (John 3:13). Jesus was baptized because He had to die in behalf of sinners, and Jesus' baptism in water represented in advance His baptism in the blood shed on the Cross for the sins of man. For the justification and salvation of other men, Jesus had to die on the Cross and rise from the dead, so also, He had to be baptized in water not for His own purification, but for the purification of the baptized men who die symbolically in their baptism for their own sins, and rise again by virtue of Jesus who died for them, and resurrected. Thus, the fulfillment of all righteous demands of God.
John baptized with water, but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit. Christ was immediately baptized by the spirit through which the mortal substance was anointed and perfected according to the Hymn-writer of the church, "Thou anointest to perfection the mortal body, O King eternal, through the movement of the Spirit." For as He came out of the water, He saw the heavens open and the Spirit descended upon Him as a Dove." He was testified to as Beloved Son by the dignified voice of the Heavenly Father saying, "Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," "I am well pleased" signifies the benevolence which willed the salvation of lost man through Jesus Christ.
The two baptisms of Jesus, water and the spirit, clearly indicated and revealed the universal law of God's justice, the law by which God judges every man and every nation. The streams of the Jordan were hallowed by our Lord, The Holy Spirit descended from Heaven, and crushed the heads of the serpents which lurked there. For the justification and salvation of man, Jesus was baptized for man's sin-just as He died on the cross for the sin of man.
It becometh us to fulfill all righteousness", (Matthew 3:15) was the manifestation of both love and obedience. Righteousness is the fulfilling of all commandments. At the baptism of Jesus, the heavens opened. At our baptism, the heavens also open and God is calling unto us and the spirit comes. The dove in Christ's baptism is the spirit. The dove is the symbol which brought good tidings of the common calm of the whole world to Noah after the flood. The flood was a deliverance and reformation, but by punishment, and now, Salvation by Grace. The dove comes at Christ's Baptism to point out to us our Deliverer from all evils, and giving the gracious hopes.
The Epiphany is the first manifestation of the Divine Glory to those who were the authoritive judges of its true possession-members of the priesthood of Babylon. It has a great historical significance. Behind it lies the conception of the Kingdom of God on Earth.
Christ's baptism in the River Jordan was of a two-fold nature. It partook of the old as well as of the new. To be baptized by the Prophet marked the old, but the descent of the Spirit shadowed out the new. Thus, joining the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. It was God's nature with man's.
"For He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire". (Matt. 3: 11.) Baptized with the Holy Ghost — declaring abundance of the grace, and by fire on the other hand indicating the uncontrollable quality of His Grace. In the symbol of Fire, God discoursed with Moses in the burning bush, with all the people in the Mount Sinai, and with Ezekiel on the cherubim. (Ezek. 1:27). Christ baptism by Fire, His dwelling in our hearts by His Spirit.
At the blessing of the waters, the Priest blesses the water with his hand in the Name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit at each repetition which he ask of the Lord to come down now also through the descent of the Holy Spirit and sanctify this water. Following this the priest asks of the Lord to impart unto the water the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan and make it a fountain of Immortality, a gift of sanctification, a remission of sins, a healing of infirmities, a destruction of demons; unapproachable by hostile powers, filled with Angelic might. And may it be unto all those who shall draw it, and shall partake of it unto the purification of their souls and bodies, unto the healing of their passions, sanctification of their houses, and unto every service. For thou art our God, who through water and the Spirit dost renew our nature, which had fallen into decay through Sin. Here is also mentioned the Physical Salvation in the Historical events of the Old Testament.
The priest asks of the same Master to sanctify also this water by the Holy Spirit and this is repeated thrice also. The priest asks of the Lord who was graciously pleased to receive baptism in Jordan and dids't sanctify the waters to bestow His blessings and graciously grant that we may be filled with Thy sanctification, through our partaking of this water, and through sprinkling therewith. And may it be unto us. O Lord, for the health of our souls and body.
At the consecration of the water, the grace of the Holy Spirit is invoked upon it in the following words: "Great art thou, O Lord, and marvelous are thy works, and there is no word which sufficeth to hymn thy wonders." Unspeakable is the Power of the Cross. The Cross is the power of God, Symbol of Victory, and a Symbol of Salvation.
And again blessing the water in cross-form with the Holy Cross, he dippeth the cross therein, upright, elevating and lowering it, holding with both hands, and singing the Hymn which commemorates the Baptism of our Lord in the River Jordan - the Troparion of the Feast. This is repeated thrice in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Trinity)
At the closing of the office, Psalm is read, a Psalm of thanks unto the Lord. Rejoice and great praise and glory given to the Lord. The Lord is Praised and Glorified for the Personal Deliverance from fear. Those who fear in Him are blessed and shall not want any Good thing. In true devotion to God, we find the richest satisfaction for all great needs in life for God is good and this is found out by experience. God is concerned about those who are righteous and refrain from evil, but is antagonistic to evil doers. For those who look to God and put their trust in Him are redeemed.
"Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him." (Ps. 11: 8-10)
"I love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust: my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower." (Ps. 18:1-2)
"But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall drink of the cup that I drink of and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized." (Mark 11:38-39)
"He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his Salvation." (Ps. 24:4-5)
"In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:37-39)
"God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24)
"But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." (I Cor. 1:30-31)
"Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man he born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)
Throughout the Office of Epiphany we can see the Justification in Righteousness, Salvation, Redemption, and Revelation.
The sanctification of one of the elements of nature in this case water — constitutes yet another step in the gradual process of the redemption of the cosmos, a process which, however, depends on man's willingness to cooperate with his Creator.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America