two reflections on the Epiphany, known in Eastern Christianity as the Theophany [the Revelation] of Christ to the world, merge
different traditions: the Nativity of Jesus, the visit of the Magi, Jesus’ Baptism by John in the Jordan River, and
Jesus’ presentation to the world as Light, Regenerator, and founder of the Church. In the Christian
Tradition there are three Theophanies, three revelations of the divine reality: the Baptism of Jesus, Jesus’ Transfiguration,
and his resurrection. This feast time celebrates Jesus’ first theophany to the whole world and to
all creation: his stepping into the waters of the Jordan to renew the face of the world and to refashion and renew humankind,
restoring them to the fullness of life given by God in the creation. The theophany celebrates the restoration
of all creation to God’s original plan.
|A Fourth Century Baptistry, Paros, Greece
|Photo by Louis Brem
Five from the Forefeast of the Theophany, the Festal Menaion:
as he watched by night, beheld the light that knows no evening, the light of Your Theophany, O Christ, that came to pass from
tender love for us; and he cried aloud: “O You who are enlightened, come and wash yourselves, make yourselves clean
in soul and body through the divine water and the Spirit.” [Isaiah 1:16]
O Creator, who is the New Adam, You make new those born on earth, and You bring to pass a strange regeneration and
a wonderful restoration by fire and Spirit and water: without destruction or melting pot You renew humankind through the holy
sacrament of baptism.
the Spirit You make souls new and through the water You sanctify our body compounded from the elements, forming human afresh
as a living being. For in wise forethought, as physician alike of bodies and of souls, with profit You
minister the remedies befitting both.
You have come forth from a womb that suffered no pangs of childbirth, You who were begotten of the Father before the
ages; You go to him who was born of a barren mother, and as a human You asked him for baptism. Yet You,
O Savior, by water and through the Spirit, has mystically made the Church, that before was barren, Mother of many children.
Nazianus, Homily on the Nativity of Christ
shortly you will also see the purification of Jesus in the Jordan for my purification; or rather he is cleansed for the purification
of the waters, for he indeed did not need purification, he who takes away the sin of the world . . . . How
many celebrations there are for me corresponding to each of the mysteries of Christ! Yet they all have
one completion, my perfection and refashioning and restoration to the state of the first Adam.
Now welcome for me his conception and leap for joy, if not indeed like John in the womb [Luke 1:41], then like David
when the ark came to rest [2 Samuel 6:14]. Be awed at the census list through which you have been recorded
in heaven, and revere the birth through which you have been released from the bonds of birth, and honor little Bethlehem,
which has brought you back to paradise, and bow before the manager through which you who were without reason have been fed
by the Word. Know, like the ox, your owner – Isaiah exhorts you [Isaiah 1:3] – and like the
ass, know your master’s crib, whether you are among those who are pure and under the law and chew the cud of the Word
and are prepared for sacrifice, or whether up to now you are among impure and unfit for food or sacrifice . . . .
Run after the star, and bring gifts with the Magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a king and a God and one
dead for your sake. With the shepherds give glory, with the angels sing hymns, with the archangels dance.
Let there be a common celebration of the heavenly and earthly powers. For I am persuaded that they
rejoice and celebrate together today, if indeed they love humankind and love God, just as David represents them ascending
with Christ after his Passion as they come to meet him and exhort each other to lift up the gates [Psalm 24:7-10].