Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A few "random" thoughts on Theophany

This particular entry won't have any one concrete theme or train of thought save for the fact that I will concentrate everything on the Feast of the Theophany which we celebrate this day. Yesterday, the Paramon, I was able to chant the Royal Hours of Theophany, which I never have been able to do before and then celebrate, later that night, the full Orthros and Liturgy followed by the Blessing of the Waters. I had a whole range of thoughts because of this so I will share them in no particular order.

1) Do you realize that the Gospel texts for this feast are among the shortest pericopes? It's true. The Orthros Gospel is from St. Mark and is only 2 verses. The Liturgy Gospel is from St. Matthew and is only 4 verses! And yet this feast is one of our most important ones, a first class feast of the Master! Our Lord's Pascha, Palm Sunday, Crucifixion, Nativity and Meeting are given so much more treatment by the Gospel Writers. Only Transfiguration and the Circumcision of our Lord are treated less. To top it off, Pentecost is not even recorded in the Gospels, it is in the Acts of the Apostles. I think that this proves that what is the Gospel is not found strictly or given meaning only by the Gospels themselves.

2) At the feast of Theophany as for all other first class feasts (excepting the Exaltation of the Cross) we sing the anti-trisagion hymn from St. Paul, "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ!" (Gal. 3: 27). For this feast, this hymn is particularly appropriate? What does it mean, precisely to put on Christ? The Greek word for this is "enedusasthe." This word can be found throughout the Scriptures as well as in other hymns for this feast. We see it in the Prokeimenon for Great Vespers on Saturday nights from Psalm 92 when we sing "The Lord is King; he is clothed (enedusato) with majesty." (This same psalm is the opening psalm of the Ninth Royal Hour on Theophany Eve). We also see it in Psalm 103, with which we begin every Vespers, Great or otherwise, when we sing that "Thou art clothed (eneduso) with honor and majesty." The verb "enduo" simply means "to put on" as like a garment. Thus, when we put on Christ, we are literally "wearing Him." He covers us with his very self and makes us His. Also, at our Lord's Theophany, we clearly see that to put on Christ means, in mystical fashion, to become Christ-like. Thus, we are also made into Sons of the Father as well. At our baptism, the Father and the Spirit are both there revealing us as true sons of God. And as we have put on Christ and become like him, we are also to take on his earthly life. Archimandrite Sophrony wrote a book entitled "His Life is Mine." And as we are baptized into Him, His very life on this earth becomes or should become ours, from his humility to his healing and forgiveness to others and even to his crucifixion and death. To put on Christ is to put on everything about Him and to show ourselves as adopted Sons of God.

3) As I chanted the Royal Hours yesterday, I couldn't help but see all the references, implied or explicit, towards our Lord's crucifixion. In the hymns, we see that the Jordan river turns back in trembling because the Lord has come to destroy the sea monster who inhabits it. The sea monster (the Leviathan) cannot be mistaken for anyone else except for the evil one, the devil. He is contained in the waters because Adam's sin not ony corrupted man but also corrupted the whole world. In short, the whole world benefits from our Lord's coming. As we kiss the Icon of Christ, we chant they hymn "We reverence Thy spotless icon, O Gracious Lord and ask forgiveness of our sins, O Christ God, for of Thy own free will thou wast pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh so that Thou might deliver from bondage to the enemy those whom Thou hast fashioned. Wherefore, we cry aloud unto Thee: Thou hast filled all things with joy, O our Saviour, for Thou didst come to save the world." We do not say strictly, "to save mankind." The whole world is to be saved by our Lord's coming and his work here on earth. After all there is to be a new heaven and a new earth and the dead shall be raised.

Our Lord's crucifixion is referenced simply because it was God who was on the Cross, not some man of good repute with God, not someone looking like God, not a God who put on a magic show, but God Himself. Our Lord had another Theophany besides his baptism in the Jordan. Our Lord's second Theophany was at Transfiguration, which we celebrate on August 6, 40 days (seeing a parallel here?) before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross! His Theophany (or Theophanies) testifies to the saving work He has done for us on the Cross!

A few days ago, I shuddered at Protestants who seem to only focus on the Cross of our Lord and pay little or no attention to the other feasts of our Lord which we celebrate. I said that the explicit devotion only to the cross cannot be fully compreheneded unless we also fully realize our Lord's incarnation, His baptism, Annunciation, etc.! All of these feasts point us to the Cross of our Lord and His Resurrection which is the Feast of Feasts!

4) Though I've realized this for awhile, I am constantly reminded especially in the Troparia of the various feasts that our God is a revealing God! The troparion for Theophany is as follows (Tone 1):

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 unto Thee calling Thee His beloved Son, and the Spirit in the likeness of a dove, confirmed the truth of His word. O Christ our God, who hast appeared and illuminated the world, glory to Thee!

The word tranlsated as "appeared" in Greek is "epiphaneis" which is, of course, the soure of the word epiphany. What is an epiphany? It is a revelation; it is an appearance.

We know of God only because He has revealed Himself to us. At Orthros (except during the weekdays of Great Lent) we chant the hymn "God is the Lord who has revealed (epephamen) himself to us." We cannot come to God through reason (though it does help), we cannot come to God through guessword or experimentation. If we were to strip Christianity of all of its revelation, then all we would be left is a system of morality and only a tincture of theism! Such is extremely important. That is why it is sheer folly for anyone to inject their own reason as to what is God's will or to reject what is God's revelation as many Protestants have done with removing Scriptural books (what they call Apocrypha) from the Canon. Yes, there are a lot of question marks, but for those who presume that God's will can be neatly categorized and quantified are reacting in a manner that is a far cry from humility. God has revealed Himself to us. Could he have done more? Absolutely; He is God and there is no way the world can contain the knowledge of Him. Could He have done less? Again, yes, but we'd be more impoverished because of it. God has revealed Himself so taht we may begin to become like Him.

Such are some of my many random thoughts from Theophany. A blessed Theophany to all!

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