The Holy Theophany is one of the 12 Great Feast Days of the Holy Orthodox Church that follows after the Feast Day of Naming of our Lord Jesus Christ. On that day our Savior was baptized in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist. “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt. 3, 16-17) This event shows for all of us that God is one in the Holy Trinity. Saint John Chrysostom said: “Why then is this day called Theophany? Because Christ made Himself known to all - not then when He was born – but then when He was baptized. Until this time He was not known to the people. And that the people did not known Him, who He was, listen about this to John the Baptist, who says: “Among you stands one you do not know.” (Jn. 1, 26)
On the eve of the feast-day of Theophany (January 18) Ukrainian Orthodox Christians parishioners of the Greater Washington, DC Metropolitan area gathered at St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral to celebrate the traditional Theophany Eve and the Great Blessing of the Water. This event is part of Theophany/Epiphany celebrations by Orthodox Christians around the world and this year it was liturgically served and observed by the clergy and faithful of the cathedral with His Eminence Archbishop Daniel leading the services of the day.
"At Your Baptism in the Jordan, Lord, the Worship of the Trinity was Made Manifest...."
In his sermon, Vladyka Daniel, reflecting of the Sacred season of Nativity of our Lord stated: "…The challenge of the Nativity/Theophany season is to take all that we believe and live it 365 days a year ... do it for the poor and the sick and the lonely and the unemployed. Do it for those who feel life isn't worth living anymore… The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the beginning of what is called the "public" ministry of Christ. He was thirty years old. He died His redemptive death at Golgotha when He was only thirty-three. However, He also spent thirty redemptive years of life in what writers have sometimes called His "hidden years" in Nazareth's school, "growing in wisdom and stature". (Luke 2:52) Those years were not hidden in the sense of unimportant. It simply means that we do not find much about them in the Gospel accounts. However, they are rich with meaning, revealing the deeper truths of our faith and its invitation to each one of us who bear the name Christian to live our lives now in a new way by living them in Him… This Feast - together with Pascha and Pentecost - make up the three great Feasts of the ancient Church. Through the Baptism of the Lord the Most Holy Trinity has been revealed to the world. God the Father spoke from Heaven about the Son. The Son was baptized by the Lord's holy Forerunner, John. And the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a Dove…”
Following the Great Compline and the Blessing of the Water service, everyone in attendance partook in the traditional theophany Holy Supper, hosted by the Sisterhood of the cathedral parish community. During the supper, the seminarians of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary treated everyone in attendance with a traditional Christmas Carols concert.
As the early hours of Thursday morning (January 19, 2023) arrived, the Feast of Theophany of Christ, about 150 faithful of the parish family gathered in the cathedral for the liturgical celebration. The pastor of the cathedral parish community, Very Rev. Fr. Volodymyr Steliac, along with the seminarians and subdeacons of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary (South Bound Brook, NJ) joined the hierarch for the liturgical service.
"We’re blessing the waters as a physical reminder of the responsibility we have to care for the earth,” said the archbishop in his homily during the Liturgy. “Each year, we place a cross into the waters asking Jesus Christ to send down the Holy Spirit for the cleansing and sanctification of the water… The triple miracle which took place on this occasion — the opening of the heavens, the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and the testimony of God the Father — completely convinced Saint John that Jesus Christ was the awaited Messiah. The visible descent of the Holy Spirit on the Messiah was exactly what Saint John was waiting for, because at the very beginning, when he was sent to preach as a prophet, God told him: "Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He Who baptizes with the Holy Spirit." Consequently, from that moment John the Baptist could unmistakably and without the slightest doubt testify to all that Jesus is the Messiah and the Lamb of God that takes upon Himself the sins of the world. Soon after the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, John sent some of his disciples to Him: the brothers Andrew (the First-called Apostle) and Peter and the brothers James and John (the Theologian). They joined Christ and became His first disciples and apostles… The Feast of the Theophany, or the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, is, along with Pascha, one of the most ancient Christian holidays. It is dedicated to our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan River. From ancient times Christians celebrated this feast day with great enthusiasm, because it reminded them of their own baptism and stirred them to a deeper consciousness of the power of this Mystery… As today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Jordan, let us thank God for the free gift of salvation through the grace of baptism. Let us also earnestly ask him for the grace to keep us faithful to our baptismal promises to say no to Satan and all his false promises and to say yes to God even unto death.”
Following the Divine Liturgy, Vladyka Daniel, assisted by the Fr. Volodymyr led the traditional Great Blessing of Water, which is perhaps the most memorable part of the Theophany services. Water, as a symbol of purification and cleansing connected explicitly with the blessing of the Jordan River, which occurred at the baptism of the Lord.
Following the Great Blessing of Water, the hierarch, clergy and faithful in attendance shared in a festive luncheon, once again prepared by the Sisterhood of the cathedral community.
All appreciated the time Vladyka spent with the parish, manifesting the episcopal ministry through his prayer, teaching, encouragement, and fellowship, and especially on this, the Great Feast of Theophany.
Christ is Baptized! In the Jordan River!
Photos by Subdeacon Andrii Vatrych