January 6 Epiphany is an one of the most important christian feasts which celebrates the revelation of God in his Son as the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Even before the year 354 the Western Church had separated the celebration of the Nativity of Christ as the feast of Christmas and set its date as December 25 and it reserved January 6 as a commemoration of the manifestation of Christ, especially to the Magi, but also at his baptism and at the wedding feast of Cana. This day is celebrated in many different and interesting ways: in Italy with “Befana”, in Ireland with “Little Christmas” or “Women Christmas” in Romania with horse races etc. Predominantly the holiday is known as “Day of the Kings” or “Three Kings Day”. In Greece, Cyprus and the Greek diaspora throughout the world, the feast is called the Theophany (from the Greektheophania, meaning “appearance or manifestation of God to the world”) and it focuses on the Baptism of Christ.
….And when Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him 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, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” Matthew 3:16-17 In Holy Tradition and in the Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Churches water has a profound symbolic presence.
Water in the sacrament of baptism is intimately related to the Feast of the Theophany. It reveals the most Holy Trinity to the world through the Baptism of the Lord in the waters of the river Jordan by John the Baptist, the forerunner. It marks the end of one of the holiest times in the ecclesiastical calendar, the “Holy Twelve Days” between the birth of the Logos, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, on 25 December, and Theophany, when the three persons of the most Holy Trinity are present during his baptism.
The celebration begins on 5 January, the “Forefeast of Theophany”, when the service of the first Blessing of the Waters is conducted (mikros agiasmos) following the Holy Liturgy. On 6 January the Holy Liturgy is followed by the second Blessing of the Waters (megas agiasmos). In the Southern Hemisphere the ceremony takes place in summer, but in the Northern Hemisphere in winter. In either case, it is a traditional and joyful ceremony that affirms Orthodox Christian identity.
The ceremony of the Holy Water is conducted inside the church but if possible, across the world, it mostly takes place near open bodies of water: a river, a lake or by the sea. As a sign of blessing just as Christ blessed the waters of the Jordan, Holy Water is poured into a body of water (a lake, river, pond or stream) and a cross is plunged into the water being retrieved later by divers who in this way are blessed.
This year only one diver in our tiny harbor was brave enough to jump into the chilly waters. Holy Water blessed at the Feast of Theophany is given to the faithful to drink for health, and for the blessing of the body. In the weeks following Theophany, the clergy may visit the home of the faithful and conduct a ceremony of blessing using the Holy Water that was blessed at Theophany.