Saturday, January 2, 2010

Forefeast of the Theophany

One of the things I love, liturgically, about the Orthodox Church is how every major feast (those of the Master and a few of the Theotokos) have not only the day of feasting, but also a forefeast and a leave-taking of the feast when the hymns of that day are, more or less, repeated. Most feasts have a period of one week where we are celebrating.

Today is the forefeast of the Theophany of our Lord, where we celebrate his baptism at the hands of His Forerunner, John. Often, it seems, after Christmas, we Orthodox Christians get into a little bit of festal overload and tend to ignore that one week after Christ's birth in the flesh, we should be celebrating His circumcision in the flesh and naming, and then proceed on to celebrate His baptism where, as the Theophany troparion exclaims, "the worship of the Trinity was made manifest." The forefeasts are there to recall us always to worship our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ and to prepare us for the great theological truth that is revealed to us at every feast for us and for our salvation.

The troparion of the forefeast is as follows:

Make ready, Zabulon; prepare thyself, o Nepthalim. River Jordan, stay thy course and skip for gladness to receive teh Soverign Master, Who cometh to be baptzied. O Adam, be thou glad with our first mother, Eve; hide not as ye did of old in Paradise. Seeing you naked, He hath appeared now to clothe you in the first robe again. Christ hath appeared for He truly willeth to renew all creation.

This hymn is sung to the hard chromatic melody "Joseph was Amazed" which provides the same melody for the Forefeast of the Nativity. And if you read both troparia side by side, you can see that they parallel each other in so many ways.

The Troparion of the Forefeast of Nativity is in boldfaced and the Troparion of the Forefeast of Theophany is in italics.

Make ready O Bethlehem
Make ready, Zabulon

Prepare, O Ephratha
Prepare thyself, O Nephthalim

For the tree of life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin
River Jordan, stay thy course and skip for gladness to receive the Soverign Master who cometh to be baptized.

For her womb did appear as a supersensual paradise
O Adam, be thou glad with our first mother Eve; hide not as ye did in paradise

In which is planted that holy plant, wherof eating, we shall live and not die as Adam
Seeing you naked, He hath appeare now to clothe you in the first robe again

Christ shall be born raising the image that fell at he beginning.
Christ hath appeared, for He truly willeth to renew all creation.

So many Orthodox hymns have this parallel which is important because though a feast may explain one or several important theological truths, it is important that we see how all of these great acts which our Lord has done for us, are all tied together. It frequently frustrates me when my friends and family who are mainly of Lutheran background say that the only feast we should keep is that of the Death and Resurrection of our Lord. For them, it is always "Cross, cross, cross." And so, as a result, feasts such as our Lord's transfiguration (One of my favorite), the Exaltation of the Cross, Ascension, Theophany, Circumcision and such are skipped over or even totally ignored. This is what has happened in mainstream Protestantism as a whole, where the actions taken by our Lord are repeated by them (Eucharist and Baptism) only because Christ did it; not because there is any theological importance behind those actions!

It is to the credit of the Church which always should call us to mind that the feasts we celebrate are all interconnected to one another. I can list any number of other instances where this happens. As Orthodox, it is important that our hymnography not be taken for granted or ignored. It forms the whole of our history of salvation!

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