Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Icon of the Theophany – An Explanation

When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest; for the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the certainty of the word. O Christ our God, Who hast appeared and hast enlightened the world, glory be to Thee.

The Feast of the Theophany
The Lord Jesus Christ assumed human nature in its fullness, also including its weaknesses, for the purpose of cleansing it and reconnecting it again directly with the Spring of Life and eternal love. In order to be truly human, His human nature undergoes a natural and gradual growth (“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:52). Having been living a humble and obedient life, at the age of 30 (the age of maturity for Hebrews), the Saviour Christ begins his earthly mission, that is, the work of the salvation of mankind enslaved by sin, not by an extraordinary or miraculous act, but by subjecting Himself to the laws of human condition, through his kenosis. Thus, He comes to St. John in order to be baptized with the baptism of repentance, He Who is sinless and God Himself – the Spring of all purity and holiness. He humbles Himself in His complete obedience to God the Father in order to fulfill “all righteousness” of the old Law, perfecting it through His New Covenant. (“The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” Luke 16:16). Thus, the event of the Lord’s Baptism marks the pinnacle of Christ’s maturity, the fullness of His humanity.
Forerunner, baptizer, but also disciple, Saint John performs Christ’s Baptism in obedience. At the same time, by touching the Son of God, by seeing the Holy Spirit as a dove, and by hearing the gentle voice of the Father, he becomes a true witness, revealing to the world the Divinity of Christ, as at one time the magi and the shepherds did at His Nativity, or the righteous Simeon and prophetess Anna, upon welcoming Him at the Temple in Jerusalem, and others who, like them, recognized Him guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit. This revelation of the Holy Trinity testifies to the meta-historical reality of God: the loving Father begets from eternity His Son, and from the Father the Holy Spirit proceeds, in Whom the Son rests.
The eternal and beloved Son of God, by entering Jordan’s waters, enters inside His own creation, itself subjected to corruption through man’s fall, in order to exorcize it of all the demonic powers and to sanctify it.
The world’s sanctification begins, therefore, through the sanctification of the water that Christ performs at His Own Baptism and through the Baptism “with Spirit and fire” (Matt 3:11), preparing for all of us who believe and unite ourselves with Him in His Church, the entrance into the Kingdom of God.
Until the 4th century, the Lord’s Nativity and Theophany were celebrated on the same day – 6th of January. The Feast of the Lord’s Baptism was celebrated initially by the Christians of the Holy Land. It is mentioned by St. Hippolytus of Rome and Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. St. Gregory the Theologian, St. John Chrysostomos, and St. Ambrose of Milan preached on the occasion of the Feast, proving its generalization across the whole Catholic (Universal) Church.

The Icon of the Theophany – Explanation

 (a) Scripture References
 Matt 3:13-17
 Mark 1:9-11
 Luke 3:21-22
 John 1:29-34

 (b) Icon Description
As in the services of the Feast of the Sanctification of Water, the icon of the Theophany does not focus on the historical setting, but conveys a spiritual understanding, emphasizing three essential aspects of Christian spirituality:
 The Divinity-Humanity of Christ (Theantropos)
 The Theophany or the Revelation of the Holy Trinity
 The restoration of the whole creation
            Left              Centre              Right
Upper Region  - mountainside            -Skyline - Beam - Dove                    - mountainside
Central Region   - St. John                -THE SAVIOUR CHRIST
                                                        in the middle of Jordan River                - ministering angels         
Lower Region - tree and axe - shoreline     - marine creatures-                     - shoreline

(c) Persons, meanings and symbols in the icon of the Lord’s Baptism
Skyline, Beam, Dove
In the upper part of the icon a gray-blue three part hemisphere is represented. It is the iconographic depiction of the heavenly realm, and it represents the heaven opened.
At the same time this hemisphere shows the presence of God, the Holy Trinity, which sometimes is also drawn as a blessing hand. In the case of the icon of the Theophany, this hand signifies the Voice of the Father Who was heard saying: “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”(Matt 17:5)
Out of this hemisphere a beam comes pointing at Christ.
Close to the end of the beam, above the Head of the Saviour, a white dove surrounded by a circular boundary is depicted. It is a representation of the Holy Spirit, Who appears at the time of the Lord’s Baptism “according to [Divine] Economy as having a passing nature” (St. John Chrysostomos).
The Holy Fathers make an analogy between the appearance of the Holy Spirit at the Lord’s Baptism as a dove, and the flood:
“As, at that time the world was cleansed of sin through the waters of the flood, then the dove brought an olive branch to Noah’s Ark announcing the end of the flood, and peace came to the Earth, so, in like manner the Holy Spirit descends as a dove to announce forgiveness of sins and God’s mercy on the world. Then [it was] an olive branch, now it is our Lord’s mercy.” (St. John of Damascus).

He is shown standing, in the middle of Jordan River, as in a “flowing tomb” which engulfs Him on all sides, emphasizing that not only a part but His whole Body was immersed as a sign of His burial, because Baptism signifies the Lord’s death. (“having been buried with Him in the baptism, in which also you were raised with Him through faith in the energy of God, Who raised Him from the dead.” Colossians 2:12)
His Face is gentle and humble being at the same time serious and focused.
Christ the Saviour is shown either naked, or having a white cover around His hips. Older icons portray Him with no clothes at all emphasizing the Divine Economy of His Incarnation:
“Joseph marveled. Jordan River, tell us do: What did you see and were amazed? I saw naked Him whom none can see, and shuddered in fear. And how was I not to shudder at Him and be frightened? The Angels, when they saw Him also shuddered in awe. And heaven was astonished, and astounded was earth. The sea recoiled along with all things both visible and invisible. For Christ appeared in the River Jordan, to sanctify the waters. “ (Kathisma 2, the Feast Orthros).
Thus, the purpose of Incarnation is also presented, because by becoming naked He clothes Adam’s nakedness, and that of the whole of humanity in the cloth of glory and immortality.
Although early icons show Christ naked, today it is more appropriate to present Him covered around the hips in order to emphasize the purity of the One “without sin alone” (this approach is also used in the icon of the Lord’s Crucifixion).

The Jordan River
The widening Jordan River flows between the two tall mountain sides, which are a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
In some icons, the water which Christ entered covers Him up to the shoulders, in others, the flowing water of the river appears on the sides of His Body and under His feet, without covering His Body. The latter representation is used in order not to blur the clear outline of the Body, since clarity is one of the principles employed by iconographers.
But the first representation, with the water covering the Body is more appropriate because it emphasizes the form of the Body. It shows that the Baptism was done through a total immersion in the waters of the Jordan as the Gospels narrate (Matt 3, 16; Mark 1, 10).
The Jordan River is depicted like a dark cave (image of hell in iconography), or of a liquid, flowing tomb, which engulfs the Body of the Saviour (image of burial, reproduced in the Mystery of Baptism through complete immersion).
The cave symbol also appears: (1) in the icon of the Nativity, as the place that shelters the manger with the Baby Christ, (2) in the icon of the Resurrection, under the Cross where the skull of Adam is placed, (3) in the icon of the Pentecost, in the shape of a dark dungeon where an old king appears, and not in the least in the icon of Descent to (or Harrowing of) Hell, which the dark cave represents.
Thus, the presence of the cave shows the permanent contrast between the darkness in which the mankind was trapped until the coming of the Saviour and the Divine Light that comes into the world after His Incarnation.
The theme of water has a special place in the Holy Gospels. Previously an image of death (the flood), now it is a “spring of living water” (Revelation 21:6; John 4:14). Beginning with Christ’s entering the Jordan River, the fallen state of human nature together with the whole creation is changed, being sanctified through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The marine creatures
At the bottom of the icon, at the feet of the Saviour, often, in small dimensions, appear the shapes of two persons – a man and a woman. Both are with the back turned toward Christ and look astonished. The two shapes illustrate texts of the Old Covenant and are prefigurations of the Baptism: “The sea beheld and fled; Jordan turned back” (Psalm 113:3).
The male figure – a person immersed in the river watershed holding a vessel from which water is poured out, is an allegoric representation of the Jordan River. This person turns his face from Christ, being overtaken by astonishment, even dread, the reason as per liturgical texts being: “I saw naked Him whom none can see, and shuddered in fear”. The troparion explains the presence of this figure:
“The River Jordan was once turned back by the mantle of Elisha, when Elijah had been taken up, and the waters were divided hither and thither. And for him the watery path became dry, Truly as a type of baptism, whereby we cross the flowing stream of life. Christ hath appeared in the Jordan to sanctify the waters.” (Prefestal Troparion)
The female figure – a half clothed woman, with a crown on her head and a sceptre in her hand, rushing while riding on one or two fish – is an allegory of the sea and refers to one of the prefigurations of Baptism: the passing of the Hebrew people through the Red Sea.
In some icons Christ is represented standing on two stone blocks arranged as a cross (similar to the gates of hell from the icon of the Decent into Hell) under which there are snakes with their heads risen or sometimes even a dragon appears under His feet. Thus, in this way the icon portrays Christ’s victory over the powers of darkness (the devil and his angels) symbolized through the marine monsters – dragons, snakes, -on the run or crushed-, detail inspired from Psalm 73:14 “...You did crush the heads of the dragons in the water”.
“When You bowed Your head to the Forerunner, You crushed the heads of the dragons; And when You stood in the midst of the stream, You let Your light shine upon all creatures, That they might glorify You, Our Saviour, Who enlighten our souls!” (Lord I Call – Vespers of Theophany)
“The Lord refashions broken Adam in the streams of the Jordan. And He smashes the heads of dragons lurking there. The Lord does this, the King of the ages; for He has been glorified.” (Vigil for the Theophany, First Canon)
Sometimes around Christ there are small fish, even children, but usually too many irrelevant details are to be avoided.
All these aquatic elements belong to the background in order to maintain the proper focus and convey the true understanding of the significance of the Feast.

Saint John
He is portrayed wearing a tunic and cloak or a camel hair garment covering his body, standing, on the shore of the river, at the right of Christ, stepping firmly toward Him. At the same time he bows showing obedience and reverence toward the One Whom he is not “worthy to untie His Sandals”.
St. John’s hesitation at the moment of meeting Christ is emphasized in the service of the Feast:
“In the streams of the Jordan today, the Lord cried to John: Be not afraid to baptize Me, for, I am come to save Adam, the first-fashioned man”. (Pre-festal Kontakion)
St. John identifies Christ as soon as he sees Him: “...Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
With the right hand above the Head of the Saviour, using the specific gesture for the rite of Baptism, St. John expresses the turmoil that overwhelmed him:
“The Baptist became all trembling, and cried aloud, saying: How shall the candlestick illumine the light? How shall a slave lay hands upon his Lord? Sanctify Thou me and these waters, O Saviour, who takest away the sins of the world.” (Hymn from the Blessing of the Waters)
He holds a scroll in his right hand - a symbol of his preaching- or, he has a prayerful posture. At the same time his gaze is directed upward, as proof that he himself touched Christ, he saw the Holy Spirit descending on Him as a dove (John 1:29-34), he heard the Voice of the Heavenly Father: “This is My Son, the Beloved, in Whom I am well pleased .”(Matt 3:17), and then he testified about these things to the world.

The Axe
At the bottom of the icon, at the feet of St. John, a shrub is represented with an axe at its root. The meaning is fearfully sobering, teaching each newly baptized that:
“And even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; therefore every tree which produces not good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you in water toward repentance, but the One Who comes after me is mightier than I, of Whom I am not fit to bear His sandals. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire.” (Matt 3:10-11)

The Angels
Across from St. John, on the other side of the river, there are two, three or even more angels bowing, with the wings low in an attitude of worship, prayer, and obedience.
The angels’ presence is mentioned in the services without specifically describing their role in the event, thus: “The choirs of Angels were amazed with fear and joy” (Ninth Hour Troparion). Regarding their role, there are various representations in the icons of Theophany.
The angels are represented either having their hands covered with their cloaks, as a sign of veneration and obedience to the One being Baptized, or holding towels. The custom of covering the hands is of oriental origin, being adopted at the court in Constantinople. There, the objects handed to or received from the Emperor were held with covered hands as a sign of high esteem.
In some icons, the angels have the role of servants and hold towels, ready to clothe the Body of the Lord when He comes out of the water. This indicates once more that Baptism was performed by complete immersion, thus the need of wiping the body when coming out of the water.
Although the role of the Lord’s servants is not specifically mentioned at the moment of the Baptism, this role is revealed in a further passage, where it is mentioned that:” Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil”, and when the devil left Him:” then the devil left Him and behold, angels drew near and were ministering to Him” (Matt 4:1 and 4:11)
Altogether, the presence of the angels in the icon of Baptism, as well in the other icons such as: the Nativity, the Annunciation, the Resurrection or the Ascension, prove the fact that the angelic hosts were the unseen witnesses of the Lord’s life on Earth, and were longing to grasp the understanding of the “mystery kept secret since the world began” (Rom 10:25);

(d) Detrimental Innovations to the Icon of the Lord’s Baptism
- The work presents numerous characters, angels and people, who are no longer grouped separately as humans and angelic hosts but interact together in a socializing manner.
- In some paintings the characters are engaged in activities foreign to or even independent of the main event, diminishing the magnitude of the event.
- All characters seem to be witnesses of the Theophany, while the Holy Scripture mentions only St. John being the one found worthy of this revelation, and in turn sharing this revelation to the others.
- The Theophany is interpreted in a naturalistic manner, with a theatrical depiction of the opened heavens, which show multitudes of angels among whom there is an old man’s figure, attempting an impossibility: to represent God the Father.
- The beam and the dove have a more sensual appeal, with the purpose of gratifying the senses, reducing the event only to an emotional level, foreign from the Divine Revelation.
- The work presents someone, in an attitude of “too human” humility, unlike the Divine humility of the One Who became man “taking the form of a servant”
- The person does not bless the waters, but holds his arms gathered on his chest, introverted, in a prayer that does not “embrace” the whole world but concerns only himself. In some examples, the prayer itself is transformed into a contemplation broken from communion with God, the gaze being directed toward the ground and not the heavens; thus it becomes an expression of either self-centeredness or hopelessness.
- The Jordan River looks rather like a brook that covers the Lord up to the ankles, no higher than the knees.
- The person performing the baptism is represented half clothed, with an athletic stature (like most of the characters in the composition), thus his body no longer shows the signs of asceticism.
- A shell or a vessel is used for sprinkling, distorting the historical truth according to which the Baptism was a total immersion and not just sprinkling with water.
- The whole composition concerns a horizontal setting, with emphasis on the “earthly” as a result of a sensual perspective, based exclusively on the senses, and thus, contaminated by subjectivity and corruptibility. This is in opposition to the Orthodox perspective in which the vertical axis is emphasized, as an expression of spiritual uplifting and of true understanding which testifies of the magnitude and universal importance of the Lord’s Baptism.

(e) Conclusion
Through His own Baptism, the Lord Christ destroyed the power of the devil who poisoned man by suggesting man not pay heed to God. If, through the sin of our protoparents’ disobedience and hiding from God the curse of estranging the whole creation from God, that is suffering and death, entered the world, then through Christ’s obedience, (Philippians 2:7-8) blessing and eternal life came into the world. Christ came to the baptism of repentance, performed by St. John, on our behalf, to reconcile us to God and also with the whole creation, which we have separated from the Spring of Life and stirred up against ourselves through sin.
According to the Orthodox Church’s teaching, the Lord’s Baptism is not only a Theophany, a thorough Revelation of God - The Trinity, and a revelation of the Saviour Jesus Christ as true God and true man in the presence of the whole creation, but is also an Epiphany of the whole creation, man and nature, in a new state of being. The Lord’s Baptism ushers in a new life, full of light and meaning for the whole world, where the renewed and Christ-glorified man will reside.
If in the beginning “the Spirit of God was Hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2) bringing together His Uncreated Energies and the created energies of the world, at the Lord’s Baptism, the Holy Spirit is again in union with the water and all creation, and thus, prepares the bosom of the Church in which there will be born again “from water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) all the people who believe in Christ.
Adapted from a presentation by Archimandrite Mihail Stanciu

“When our Lord reached thirty years from His physical birth, He began His teaching and salvific work. He Himself signified this "beginning of the beginning" by His Baptism in the Jordan River. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, “The beginning of the world - water; the beginning of the Good News - Jordan." At the time of the Baptism of the Lord in water, that mystery was declared to the world: that mystery which was prophesied in the Old Testament; the mystery about which in ancient Egypt and India was only fabled; i.e., the mystery of the Divine Holy Trinity. The Father was revealed to the sense of hearing; the Spirit was revealed to the sense of sight, and in addition to these, the Son was revealed to the sense of touch. The Father uttered His witness about the Son, the Son was Baptized in the water, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovered above the water. When John the Baptist witnessed and said about Christ, "Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world" (St. John 1:29), and when John immersed and Baptized the Lord in the Jordan, the mission of Christ in the world and the path of our salvation was shown. That is to say: The Lord took upon Himself the sins of mankind and died under them [immersion] and became alive again [the coming out of the water]; and we must die as the old sinful man and become alive again as cleansed, renewed and regenerated. This is the Savior and this is the path of salvation. The Feast [...] is also called the Feast of Illumination. For us, the event in the Jordan River illuminates, by manifesting to us God as Trinity, consubstantial and undivided. That is one way. And, the second: everyone of us through baptism in water is illumined by this, that we become adopted by the Father of Lights through the merits of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit. “

St. Nicholas Velimirović

Περί του Μεγάλου Αγιασμού

του Αρχιμ. Βασιλείου Μπακογιάννη

Γύρω ἀπό τήν χρήση τοῦ Μεγάλου Ἁγιασμοῦ ἐπικρατεῖ στίς ἡμέρες μας μιά σύγχυση. Ἄλλοι λένε, πώς μποροῦμε νά τόν πίνουμε καθημερινά, (ὅπως καί τόν Μικρό Ἁγιασμό) καί ἄλλοι λένε «ὄχι, ἀλλά χρειάζεται προηγουμένως νηστεία». Πῶς καί ποῦ θά βροῦμε τήν σωστή ἀπάντηση; Κοιτώντας πρός τά πίσω· πρός τήν Παράδοση. Τί ὑπῆρχε ἐν ἰσχύϊ στήν Ἐκκλησία μας. Ἔτσι «περπατᾶμε» Ὀρθόδοξα.
Ἀνέκαθεν οἱ χριστιανοί ἀνήμερα τῶν Θεοφανείων ἔπαιρναν Μεγάλο Ἁγιασμό στά σπίτια τους, ράντιζαν τά ὑπάρχοντά τους, καί τόν κρατοῦσαν (στά σπίτια τους) σάν «εὐλογία», «εἰς ἐνιαυτόν ὁλόκληρον φυλάττουσιν»... μᾶς πληροφορεῖ ὁ ἅγιος Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος (P. G. 49, 366). (Περισσότερα: Παν. Τρεμπέλα, «Μικρόν Εὐχολόγιον» τ. Β΄ σελ. 53-57). Μεγάλος Ἁγιασμός γινόταν καί τό ἀπόγευμα τῆς παραμονῆς τῶν Φώτων «ἀποκλειστικώς καί μόνον νά ὑδρευθῶσιν οἱ πιστοί»,(Παν. Τρεμπέλας, Μικρόν Εὐχολόγιον, τ, Β΄σελ.17). Καί ἀπό ὅτι φαίνεται, ἔπιναν (Μεγάλο Ἁγιασμό) καί τήν παραμονή ἑσπέρας, ἐφόσον μέχρι τότε παρέμειναν νηστικοί, γιά νά κοινωνήσουν κατά τήν ἑσπερινή Θ. Λειτουργία. Ὅμως σύν τῷ χρόνῳ ὁ Μ. Ἁγιασμός ἀπό παραμονή ἑσπέρας, «μεταφέρθηκε» παραμονή πρωί. Καί τό ἐρώτημα εἶναι, ἄν καί στήν περίπτωση αὐτή, ἔπιναν Μ. Ἁγιασμό, χωρίς δηλαδή νά ἔχει προηγηθεῖ νηστεία. Δέν ἔχουμε ἐπ’ αὐτοῦ σαφεῖς καί ξεκάθαρες μαρτυρίες.
Ὑποστηρίζεται, πώς ἡ νηστεία παραμονῆς τῶν Φώτων, εἶναι γιά τή γιορτή (τῶν Φώτων) καί ὄχι γιά τή μετάληψη τοῦ Μεγάλου Ἁγιασμοῦ. Ὅμως: Παραμονή τῶν Φώτων γινόταν ἑσπερινή Θ. Λειτουργία, ὁπότε νήστευαν, ὄχι γιά τή γιορτή τῶν Φώτων, ἀλλά γιά τήν ἑσπερινή Θ. Λειτουργία. Παρόλο ὅμως πού ἡ ἑσπερινή Λειτουργία τῆς παραμονῆς ἔγινε πρωϊνή, (τῆς παραμονῆς), ἡ νηστεία, (πού τηρεῖτο γιά τήν ἑσπερινή Λειτουργία), διατηρήθηκε. Γιατί; Γιά τή γιορτή τῶν Θεοφανείων;
Ὁ ἅγιος Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος μᾶς λέει, πώς ἡ νηστεία τῆς Μ. Τεσσαρακοστῆς δέν θεσπίσθηκε πρός «τιμήν τοῦ Πάσχα», ἀλλά ἐπειδή τό Πάσχα θά κοινωνοῦσαν οἱ πιστοί. «Παλιά οἱ χριστιανοί προσέρχονταν στά Μυστήρια χωρίς τήν προετοιμασία, καί μάλιστα στήν ἐποχή πού τά παρέδωσε ὁ Κύριος. Βλέποντες, λοιπόν, οἱ Πατέρες τή ζημία πού προερχόταν ἀπό αὐτό, καθιέρωσαν τίς σαράντα ἡμέρες νηστείας τοῦ Πάσχα». (Κατά Ἰουδαίων, Γ΄, P.G. 48,867)Γιά τόν ἴδιο λοιπόν λόγο καθιερώθηκαν καί οἱ νηστεῖες τῶν Χριστουγέννων, τῆς Παναγίας, τῶν Ἁγίων Ἀποστόλων κ.λ.π. Μέ βάση λοιπόν τήν «θέση» αὐτή τοῦ ἁγίου Ἰωάννου τοῦ Χρυσοστόμου, ἡ νηστεία τῆς παραμονῆς τῶν Φώτων, δέν εἶναι γιά τή γιορτή τῶν Φώτων, ἀλλά (ὅπως θά δοῦμε) γιά τήν μετάληψη τοῦ Μεγάλου Ἁγιασμοῦ. Εἶναι δυνατόν νά ἔχουμε 15 μέρες νηστεία γιά τή γιορτή τῆς Παναγίας, 40 γιά τά Χριστούγεννα (καί κατά τόν ἀείμνηστο κ.Ἰω. Φουντούλη, παλιά νήστευαν ἀκόμα μιά ἑβδομάδα ἐν ὄψει τῶν ἑορτῶν τοῦ «ἁγίου Δημητρίου», τοῦ «Σταυροῦ», τῶν «Ταξιαρχῶν» κ.ἄ.,), καί γιά τή μεγάλη Δεσποτική γιορτή τῶν Θεοφανείων νά ἔχουμε μόνο μία ἡμέρα;
Τό ἐπιχείρημα, ὅτι μεσολαβεῖ ἡ δωδεκαήμερη κατάλυση εἰς πάντα, καί δέν ἦταν δυνατό ἡ νηστεία γιά τά Θεοφάνεια νά γίνει παραπάνω ἀπό μία ἡμέρα, δέν εὐσταθεῖ. Παλαιότερα ἡ κατάλυση εἰς πάντα ἔκλεινε στήν ἀπόδοση τῶν Χριστουγέννων, 31 Δεκεμβρίου, «καί γάρ ὡς αὐτήν τήν ἡμέραν (τῶν Χριστουγέννων) καί ἑτέρας ἕξ διαλύομεν»( Ὅσιος Θεόδωρος ὁ Στουδίτης, P.G. 99, 1697). Ἀκόμα: Παλαιότερα, (μέχρι τόν 12ον αἰώνα) ἡ νηστεία τῶν Χριστουγέννων ἦταν μιά ἑβδομάδα. ( Γ. Ράλλη-Μ.Ποτλῆ, Σύνταγμα..., τ. Δ΄σελ. 488, ΝΕ’ Ἀπόκρισις Θεοδώρου Βαλσαμῶνος). Ὁπότε δέν ἦταν δύσκολο μέ τό κλείσιμο τῆς γιορτῆς τῶν Χριστουγέννων (31 Δεκεμβρίου), νά καθιερωθεῖ μιά λ.χ. πενθήμερη νηστεία γιά τή γιορτή τῶν Θεοφανείων. Ὄχι μόνο δέν ἔγινε, ἀλλά ὅταν αὐξήθηκαν οἱ μέρες τῆς νηστείας τῶν Χριστουγέννων, (ἀπό ἑπτά ἔγιναν σαράντα) αὐξήθηκαν καί οἱ ἡμέρες τῆς καταλύσεως, ἀπό ἑπτά μέρες ἔγιναν δώδεκα. Ἡ νηστεία δηλαδή τῆς παραμονῆς τῶν Θεοφανείων δέν καταλύθηκε οὔτε ἀπό τήν «ἐπιδρομή» τῆς δωδεκαημέρου καταλύσεως! Γιατί;
Ὅλα τά «στοιχεῖα» δείχνουν πώς ἡ μονοήμερη αὐτή νηστεία παρέμεινε γιά τή μετάληψη τοῦ Μ. Ἁγιασμοῦ. Ἀνήμερα τῆς γιορτῆς «κρατοῦσαν» Μεγάλο Ἁγιασμό στά σπίτια τους «εἰς ἐνιαυτόν ὁλόκληρον φυλάττουσιν», μᾶς εἶπε ὁ ἅγιος Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος (P. G. 49, 366). Δέν μᾶς εἶπε, πώς ἔπιναν καθημερινά, (γιατί χρειαζόταν νηστεία), ἀλλά τόν κρατοῦσαν σάν εὐλογία στά σπίτια τους. Εἶχαν ἄλλωστε τότε τέτοια «ψύχωση» μέ τή νηστεία, ὥστε ἔνιωθαν ντροπή (!) νά πᾶνε στήν ἐκκλησία, γιά νά ἀκούσουν κήρυγμα, (Μ. Τεσσαρακοστή ἀπόγευμα), ἐπειδή καί μόνο ἔτυχε νά καταλύσουν λίγο τή νηστεία! ( Ἁγίου Ἰωάννου τοῦ Χρυσοστόμου, ὁμιλ. 9& 10 εἰς Ἀδριάντας). Πόσο μᾶλλον νά πιοῦν Μεγάλο Ἁγιασμό!
Καί αὐτό ἴσχυε μέχρι τελευταῖα στήν πατρίδα μας. «Τό ὕδωρ τοῦτο (τῶν Θεοφανείων) ἐχρησιμοποίουν ὡς καί ἡμεῖς σήμερον», σημειώνει ὁ καθηγητής Πανεπιστημίου Ἀθηνῶν, Ἀρχιμ. Βασ. Στεφανίδης, (Ἐκκλησιαστική Ἱστορία, ἔκδοση Δ΄, σελ. 117). Μέ τό «σήμερον» δέν ἐννοεῖ τό δικό μας «σήμερα», 2011, (πού ἄλλαξαν πράγματα καί καταστάσεις...), ἀλλά τήν ἐποχή, τή δεκαετία τοῦ 1940, πού ὁ καθηγητής συνέγραφε τό βιβλίο του. Καί ἄν ρωτήσουμε τούς παλαιοτέρους, πού ἔζησαν στήν ἐποχή ἐκείνη, θά μᾶς εἰποῦν αὐτό πού ἀναφέρει ὁ ἅγιος Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος: Κρατοῦσαν τόν ἁγιασμό σάν «εὐλογία» στό σπίτι τους, χωρίς νά πίνουν καί νά ραντίζουν, ἐκτός ἀπό τήν ἡμέρα τῶν Θεοφανείων. «Τήν παραμονή ὅλοι νήστευαν, γιά νά πιοῦν ἁγιασμό τό πρωί τῆς γιορτῆς», μᾶς πληροφορεῖ ἡ Μικρασιάτισσα Φιλιώ Χαϊδεμένου). (Τρεῖς αἰῶνες, μιά ζωή», ἐκδόσεις «Λιβάνη» σελ.64). Ἄν ὁ Μεγάλος Ἁγιασμός ἦταν σέ καθημερινή χρήση (μετάληψη, ραντισμός, κ.λ.π.), δέν ὑπῆρχε λόγος νά προκύψει ἀργότερα (8ος μ.Χ. αἰ.), ὁ Μικρός Ἁγιασμός.

Saint John Chrysostom-On Holy Theophany

St. John Chrysostom

We shall now say something about the present feast. Many celebrate the feastdays and know their designations, but the cause for which they were established they know not. Thus concerning this, that the present feast is called Theophany -- everyone knows; but what this is -- Theophany, and whether it be one thing or another, they know not. And this is shameful -- every year to celebrate the feastday and not know its reason.

First of all therefore, it is necessary to say that there is not one Theophany, but two: the one actual, which already has occurred, and the second in future, which will happen with glory at the end of the world. About this one and about the other you will hear today from Paul, who in conversing with Titus, speaks thus about the present: "The grace of God hath revealed itself, having saved all mankind, decreeing, that we reject iniquity and worldly desires, and dwell in the present age in prudence and in righteousness and piety" -- and about the future: "awaiting the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Tit 2:11-13). And a prophet speaks thus about this latter: "the sun shalt turn to darkness, and the moon to blood at first, then shalt come the great and illuminating Day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31). Why is not that day, on which the Lord was born, considered Theophany -- but rather this day on which He was baptised? This present day it is, on which He was baptised and sanctified the nature of water. Because on this day all, having obtained the waters, do carry it home and keep it all year, since today the waters are sanctified; and an obvious phenomenon occurs: these waters in their essence do not spoil with the passage of time, but obtained today, for one whole year and often for two or three years, they remain unharmed and fresh, and afterwards for a long time do not stop being water, just as that obtained from the fountains.

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 baptised. Until this time He was not known to the people. And that the people did not know Him, Who He was, listen about this to John the Baptist, who says: "Amidst you standeth, Him Whom ye know not of" (Jn.1:26). And is it surprising that others did not know Him, when even the Baptist did not know Him until that day? "And I -- said he -- knew Him not: but He that did send me to baptise with water, about This One did tell unto me: over Him that shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding upon Him, This One it is Who baptiseth in the Holy Spirit" (Jn. 1:33). Thus from this it is evident, that -- there are two Theophanies, and why Christ comes at baptism and on whichever baptism He comes, about this it is necessary to say: it is therefore necessary to know both the one and equally the other. And first it is necessary to speak your love about the latter, so that we might learn about the former. There was a Jewish baptism, which cleansed from bodily impurities, but not to remove sins. Thus, whoever committed adultery, or decided on thievery, or who did some other kind of misdeed, it did not free him from guilt. But whoever touched the bones of the dead, whoever tasted food forbidden by the law, whoever approached from contamination, whoever consorted with lepers -- that one washed, and until evening was impure, and then cleansed. "Let one wash his body in pure water -- it says in the Scriptures, -- and he will be unclean until evening, and then he will be clean" (Lev 15:5, 22:4). This was not truly of sins or impurities, but since the Jews lacked perfection, then God, accomplishing it by means of this greater piety, prepared them by their beginnings for a precise observance of important things.

Thus, Jewish cleansings did not free from sins, but only from bodily impurities. Not so with ours: it is far more sublime and it manifests a great grace, whereby it sets free from sin, it cleanses the spirit and bestows the gifts of the Spirit. And the baptism of John was far more sublime than the Jewish, but less so than ours: it was like a bridge between both baptisms, leading across itself from the first to the last. Wherefore John did not give guidance for observance of bodily purifications, but together with them he exhorted and advised to be converted from vice to good deeds and to trust in the hope of salvation and the accomplishing of good deeds, rather than in different washings and purifications by water. John did not say: wash your clothes, wash your body, and ye will be pure, but what? -- "bear ye fruits worthy of repentance" (Mt 3:8). Since it was more than of the Jews, but less than ours: the baptism of John did not impart the Holy Spirit and it did not grant forgiveness by grace: it gave the commandment to repent, but it was powerless to absolve sins. Wherefore John did also say: "I baptise you with water...That One however will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Mt 3:11). Obviously, he did not baptise with the Spirit. But what does this mean: "with the Holy Spirit and with fire?" Call to mind that day, on which for the Apostles "there appeared disparate tongues like fire, and sat over each one of them" (Acts 2:3). And that the baptism of John did not impart the Spirit and remission of sins is evident from the following: Paul "found certain disciples, and said to them: received ye the Holy Spirit since ye have believed? They said to him: but furthermore whether it be of the Holy Spirit, we shall hear. He said to them: into what were ye baptised? They answered: into the baptism of John. Paul then said: John indeed baptised with the baptism of repentance," -- repentance, but not remission of sins; for whom did he baptise? "Having proclaimed to the people, that they should believe in the One coming after him, namely, Christ Jesus. Having heard this, they were baptised in the Name of the Lord Jesus: and Paul laying his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them" (Acts 19:1-6). Do you see, how incomplete was the baptism of John? If the one were not incomplete, would then Paul have baptised them again, and placed his hands on them; having performed also the second, he shew the superiority of the apostolic Baptism and that the baptism of John was far less than his. Thus, from this we recognise the difference of the baptisms.

Now it is necessary to say, for whom was Christ baptised and by which baptism? Neither the former the Jewish, nor the last -- ours. Whence hath He need for remission of sins, how is this possible for Him, Who hath not any sins? "Of sin, -- it says in the Scriptures, -- worked He not, nor was there deceit found in His mouth" (1 Pet 2:22); and further, "who of you convicteth Me of Sin?" (Jn 8:46). And His flesh was privy to the Holy Spirit; how might this be possible, when it in the beginning was fashioned by the Holy Spirit? And so, if His flesh was privy to the Holy Spirit, and He was not subject to sins, then for whom was He baptised? But first of all it is necessary for us to recognise, by which baptism He was baptised, and then it will be clear for us. By which baptism indeed was He baptised? -- Not the Jewish, nor ours, nor John's. For whom, since thou from thine own aspect of baptism dost perceive, that He was baptised not by reason of sin and not having need of the gift of the Spirit; therefore, as we have demonstrated, this baptism was alien to the one and to the other. Hence it is evident, that He came to Jordan not for the forgiveness of sins and not for receiving the gifts of the Spirit. But so that some from those present then should not think, that He came for repentance like others, listen to how John precluded this. What he then spoke to the others then was: "Bear ye fruits worthy of repentance"; but listen what he said to Him: "I have need to be baptised of Thee, and Thou art come to me?" (Mt 3:8, 14). With these words he demonstrated, that Christ came to him not through that need with which people came, and that He was so far from the need to be baptised for this reason -- so much more sublime and perfectly purer than Baptism itself. For whom was He baptised, if this was done not for repentance, nor for the remission of sins, nor for receiving the gifts of the Spirit? Through the other two reasons, of which about the one the disciple speaks, and about the other He Himself spoke to John. Which reason of this baptism did John declare? Namely, that Christ should become known to the people, as Paul also mentions: "John therefore baptised with the baptism of repentance, so that through him they should believe on Him that cometh" (Acts 19:4); this was the consequence of the baptism. If John had gone to the home of each and, standing at the door, had spoken out for Christ and said: "He is the Son of God," such a testimony would have been suspicious, and this deed would have been extremely perplexing. So too, if he in advocating Christ had gone into the synagogues and witnessed to Him, this testimony of his might be suspiciously fabricated. But when all the people thronged out from all the cities to Jordan and remained on the banks of the river, and when He Himself came to be baptised and received the testimony of the Father by a voice from above and by the coming-upon of the Spirit in the form of a dove, then the testimony of John about Him was made beyond all questioning. And since he said: "and I knew Him not" (Jn 1:31), his testimony put forth is trustworthy. They were kindred after the flesh between themselves "wherefore Elizabeth, thy kinswoman, hath also conceived a son" -- said the Angel to Mary about the mother of John (Lk. 1: 36); if however the mothers were relatives, then obviously so also were the children. Thus, since they were kinsmen -- in order that it should not seem that John would testify concerning Christ because of kinship, the grace of the Spirit organised it such, that John spent all his early years in the wilderness, so that it should not seem that John had declared his testimony out of friendship or some similar reason. But John, as he was instructed of God, thus also announced about Him, wherein also he did say: "and I knew Him not." From whence didst thou find out? "He having sent me that sayeth to baptise with water, That One did tell me" What did He tell thee? "Over Him thou shalt see the Spirit descending, like to a dove, and abiding over Him, That One is baptised by the Holy Spirit" (Jn 1:32-33). Dost thou see, that the Holy Spirit did not descend as in a first time then coming down upon Him, but in order to point out that preached by His inspiration -- as though by a finger, it pointed Him out to all. For this reason He came to baptism.

And there is a second reason, about which He Himself spoke -- what exactly is it? When John said: "I have need to be baptised of Thee, and Thou art come to me?" -- He answered thus: "stay now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill every righteousness" (Mt 3:14-15). Dost thou see the meekness of the servant? Dost thou see the humility of the Master? What does He mean: "to fulfill every righteousness?" By righteousness is meant the fulfillment of all the commandments, as is said: "both were righteous, walking faultlessly in the commandments of the Lord" (Lk 1:6). Since fulfilling this righteousness was necessary for all people -- but no one of them kept it or fulfilled it -- Christ came then and fulfilled this righteousness.

And what righteousness is there, someone will say, in being baptised? Obedience for a prophet was righteous. As Christ was circumcised, offered sacrifice, kept the sabbath and observed the Jewish feasts, so also He added this remaining thing, that He was obedient to having been baptised by a prophet. It was the will of God then, that all should be baptised -- about which listen, as John speaks: "He having sent me to baptise with water" (Jn 1:33); so also Christ: "the publicans and the people do justify God, having been baptised with the baptism of John; the pharisees and the lawyers reject the counsel of God concerning themselves, not having been baptised by him" (Lk 7:29-30). Thus, if obedience to God constitutes righteousness, and God sent John to baptise the nation, then Christ has also fulfilled this along with all the other commandments.

Consider, that the commandments of the law is the main point of the two denarii: this -- debt, which our race has needed to pay; but we did not pay it, and we, falling under such an accusation, are embraced by death. Christ came, and finding us afflicted by it -- He paid the debt, fulfilled the necessary and seized from it those, who were not able to pay. Wherefore He does not say: "it is necessary for us to do this or that," but rather "to fulfill every righteousness." "It is for Me, being the Master, -- says He, -- proper to make payment for the needy." Such was the reason for His baptism -- wherefore they should see, that He had fulfilled all the law -- both this reason and also that, about which was spoken of before. Wherefore also the Spirit did descend as a dove: because where there is reconciliation with God -- there also is the dove. So also in the ark of Noah the dove did bring the branch of olive -- a sign of God's love of mankind and of the cessation of the flood. And now in the form of a dove, and not in a body -- this particularly deserves to be noted -- the Spirit descended, announcing the universal mercy of God and showing with it, that the spiritual man needs to be gentle, simple and innocent, as Christ also says: "Except ye be converted and become as children, ye shalt not enter into the Heavenly Kingdom" (Mt 18:3). But that ark, after the cessation of the flood, remained upon the earth; this ark, after the cessation of wrath, is taken to heaven, and now this Immaculate and Imperishable Body is situated at the right hand of the Father.

Having made mention about the Body of the Lord, I shall also say a little about this, and then the conclusion of the talk. Many now will approach the Holy Table on the occasion of the feast. But some approach not with trembling, but shoving, hitting others, blazing with anger, shouting, cursing, roughing it up with their fellows with great confusion. What, tell me, art thou troubled by, my fellow? What disturbeth thee? Do urgent affairs, for certain, summon thee? At this hour art thou particularly aware, that these affairs of thine that thou particularly rememberest, that thou art situated upon the earth, and dost thou think to mix about with people? But is it not with a soul of stone naturally to think, that in such a time thou stand upon the earth, and not exult with the Angels with whom to raise up victorious song to God? For this Christ also did describe us with eagles, saying: "where the corpse is, there are the eagles gathered" (Mt 24:28) -- so that we might have risen to heaven and soared to the heights, having ascended on the wings of the spirit; but we, like snakes, crawl upon the earth and eat dirt. Having been invited to supper, thou, although satiated before others, would not dare to leave before others while others are still reclining. But here, when the sacred doings are going on, thou at the very middle would pass by everything and leave? Is it for a worthy excuse? What excuse might it be? Judas, having communed that last evening on that final night, left hastily then as all the others were still reclining.

Here these also are in imitation of him, who leave before the final blessing! If he had not gone, then he would not have made the betrayal; if he did not leave his co-disciples, then he would not have perished; if he had not removed himself from the flock, then the wolf would not have seized and devoured him alone; if he had separated himself from the Pastor, then he would not have made himself the prey of wild beasts. Wherefore he (Judas) was with the Jews, and those (the apostles) went out with the Lord. Dost thou see, by what manner the final prayer after the offering of the sacrifice is accomplished? We should, beloved, stand forth for this, we should ponder this, fearful of the coming judgement for this. We should approach the Holy Sacrifice with great decorum, with proper piety, so as to merit us more of God's benevolence, to cleanse one's soul and to receive eternal blessings, of which may we all be worthy by the grace and love for mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, to with Whom the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, power, and worship now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
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