Category Archives: Theophany

The glory of wetness and a black mark.

“It is a bleak sort of day, but I’m glad to be out walking.” Something like that was my thought as I set out on my creek path this morning. A white shape caught my eye, silently winging down the creek, and within two seconds it passed by me close enough to see that it was egret. Then, gone behind the trees.

I had read a poem by Wendell Berry about mud in January, and I looked at the muddy creek, stirred up and deep from recent rains. It wasn’t photogenic, but it was briefly captivating. Flowing streams are good to look at for a few minutes, but there is too much busyness there, and I get restless.

When I pulled my eyes away and to other things, I found an unusual depth to even the neutral colors, from all the leaves and bark and needles being entirely wetted. I have walked by these trees for almost 30 years now ! but this is the first time I noticed their massiveness. As I studied the chunky patterns on their trunks of pines, it took me a long time to notice another design style in the spider’s web.

I ran across a wide road to get nearer the fields, and on the faraway other side of those hayfields and pastures whiter clouds hung in drifts on the hillsides, below the gray sky. This is a day between rainy days; those clouds may be forming into bringers of rain by now, but then they were waiting and still…

Wherever redwood trees towered above me on the path, thousands of their little cones littered my path. How many are lying on the ground just in this neighborhood? And each one a wonder. I stuffed my pockets with them.

After my camera battery was spent, I watched fat robins bathing in the creek’s muddy overflow, their wings fluttering and splashing. Today some Orthodox are celebrating the Nativity of Christ, and yesterday was our (new calendar) feast of the Baptism of Christ. Water is the joyous theme, as it is a fundamental substance of our life, and a fitting symbol for all of creation. Christ baptizes the earth with His baptism, sanctifying it, filling it with Himself. The days on this earth can only be bleak inasmuch as I am not noticing the glory. Why do I forget this reality? I can’t remember ever finding a bleak day out of doors; even when my mood is low, the glory lifts it and comforts me.

This evening, water was sprinkled all over my house, as we walked around singing about our Lord’s baptism, by which he revealed Himself and the entire Holy Trinity. At the end, my priest surprised me when he reached up with the snuffed-out candle and painted a waxy cross on the ceiling near the front door. I had never seen this done before! It feels like a resurrectional form of the Israelites marking their lintels with blood. I am in awe.

The day has been a complete blessing.

As a man to that river.

The voice of the Lord cries over the waters, saying:
Come all ye, receive the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of understanding,
the Spirit of the fear of God, even Christ who is made manifest.

Today the nature of water is sanctified.
Jordan is divided in two, and turns back the stream of its waters,
beholding the Master being baptized.

As a man Thou didst come to that river, O Christ our King,
and dost hasten O Good One, to receive the baptism of a servant
at the hands of the Forerunner, because of our sins, O Lover of Man.

-Hymn of the Great Blessing of Waters

Receive the joyous sprinkling.

theophany-annapolis-md
Annapolis, Maryland

In the Orthodox Church we have been celebrating the glorious Feast of Theophany, remembering the baptism of Christ and all that happened when the Son took on our humanity.

Every year when this commemoration comes around I find myself maxed-out with meaning, because who can fathom it, what God has done for us? and I usually try to meditate on something to do with the symbolism of water as the basic element of Creation. It’s so tactile and material, and when my mind is overwhelmed I can simply stand in church and receive the joyous sprinkling and be happy.

This year a more particular aspect of our sacramental life was the focus of my thoughts. As Christ was baptized, so have I been baptized, and as the scripture and hymn tell me, “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

After we’ve had a few days of trying to improve ourselves by means of resolutions of will, the Church gives us again the solution to our emptiness and weakness, and it comes in Theophany hymns such as this:

“The voice of the Lord upon the waters cries aloud saying: “Come ye all, and receive the Spirit of Wisdom, the Spirit of understanding, the Spirit of the Fear of God, from Christ who is made manifest.”

And this:

Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,
Ye that have no money, come ye buy and eat.

And:

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree,
And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree.

All of this sounds so much more vital and thrilling and real than my paltry goals for the coming year. If I would only live each day renewing the God-breath of my baptism, remembering that I have put on Christ….

But Christ Himself, when he came out of the waters of baptism, went into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days. I am tempted and begin to fall as soon as I walk out of the church. All I can do is pray to be more resolute to pray more, which I think will work better than resolving to pray more, and it gets to the point faster. Lord, give me that Water of Life that You are.

theophany-fig-13

I re-posted this from 2014. If you are new to my blog and are unfamiliar with this feast, you might be interested in my other writings about Theophany:

2010-Water and Light

2011 – Waters of the World and Blessing the Waters

2013-Jumping In

2015-Mystical Streams

2016-Everlasting Joy

We are watered by mystical streams.

“Today the whole creation is watered by mystical streams.”THP1120160crp

This was one of the lines from the rich 7th-century composition of Patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem, which was among the readings of Theophany and the Great Blessing of Water that we heard yesterday. More than ever before, I experienced the feast as a shining of The Light of the World and the refreshment of The Living Water, partly because of words like this in the service.

The quantity of verbal expression of various aspects of our faith is really overwhelming, and I can only process what seems to be a small fragment, each time when the different feasts roll around again.

First we celebrated Divine Liturgy in our “big church.” I had the same experience as last week, in the way the morning sun streamed down through a high window and hit me in the face. This time I wasn’t completely blinded; if I squinted just so, the candles and lamps flickering around the church appeared, for those few minutes, as they might outdoors on a foggy night, perhaps carried by worshipers in a procession of the “Feast of Lights.”

It happens that a photo was posted to our parish Facebook page, taken by someone who was there that day last week, and it shows the church with the bright beam that angled across the altar and nave and fell on me. Mr. Glad said, “You need to find another place to stand,” and I answered, “Oh, no, I like it when that happens.” Actually, I don’t often get to be in that place.TH ray of sunlight 1-2-15crp Both times I was on the left in front of a pillar. On Theophany, when the light was coming in the chandeliers were also being set swinging nearby; we were singing a hymn, and the sweetest incense was beautifying the air to honor the Lord.

After Liturgy we processed to the “little church” for The Blessing of Water, accompanied by the bells and singing together. The service opens with:

THP1120222light and water 15“The voice of the Lord upon the waters cries out, saying, ‘Come all of you, receive the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of understanding, the Spirit of the fear of God, of Christ who has appeared.’”

We heard multiple readings from Isaiah such as, “Ho, everyone that thirsts: come ye to the water.”

And more images from the exuberant service of blessing:

The land and the sea have divided between them the joy of the Lord….

King of all, you accepted also to be baptized in the Jordan by the hand of a servant, so that, having sanctified the nature of the waters, you, the sinless one, might make a way for our rebirth through water and Spirit and re-establish us in our original freedom.

The Jordan turned back and the mountains leapt as they saw God in thetheophany light and water pouring 15 flesh, and the clouds uttered their voice, marveling at what had come to pass, seeing Light from Light, true God from true God, the Master’s festival today in Jordan; seeing him drowning the death from disobedience, the goad of error and the bond of Hell in Jordan and granting the Baptism of salvation to the world.

On the home front, Theophany was the day Mr. Glad wanted to take down the Christmas tree. I resisted that idea for a long time, though I tried not to reveal my stubbornness. We had an easier time getting it out than we’d had installing it.

This morning coming downstairs I was startled by the bare space where the tree had been, but I quickly thought of how we have entered the season of house blessings, when by prayer and faith we will receive much more than we have lost — indeed, a different order of gifts, the “mystical streams” that are so hard to capture in words but impart the very Light of Christ Himself.

Christ Himself told us about these realities, as we read in the Gospel of John, when he said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’….whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

This is the best way to enter a new year.