Category Archives: Theophany

Last images of Christmas…

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Tonight is the eve of Theophany/Epiphany, the beginning of the feast. According to some traditions, the wise men will arrive tomorrow, so this will be the last night I have my star in the upstairs window. I wanted to keep it up at least until this day — last year’s burnt out before, I think, and the picture is of the new one that isn’t as clear a signal, but at least it lets the neighbors know that we keep Chrisstar 2014tmas here.

I baked cookies this year, but when the 25th dawned I’d only made five kinds, instead of my usual dozen or so. After Kate arrived on the Second Day of Christmas I made another three batches, and now those are mostly eaten or given away, too. This is the second collection. Clockwise from the left, Chocolate Black Pepper, Peanut Brickle Bars, Apricot Macaroons, Ginger Spice, Walnut Coffee Cookies, and above them, Bizcochitos. The Peanut Brickle Bars were a completely new kind, and everyone loved them, so I made a second batch to replenish the stores.

cookies 2014 2nd batch

We ate cookies and opened presents in various groupings over the course of a week. During one of the opening sessions Liam cozied up the couch next to me by piling u bears GJ 14p my Christmas bears there; then he settled in. We got to see eight of the twelve grandchildren this Christmas, which was one the best parts.

Soldier and Joy made several beautiful wood-burned signs for gifts; this one below Mr. Glad and I received and put up on the wall right away. Everyone who saw it could join in the feeling it conveyed, and admire the handiwork.

 

Christmas Joy 14

tree 14 crp

Our Christmas tree this year was such a beautiful tapered shape, thick with branches whose fat needles didn’t dry out. Unfortunately its trunk did not taper, but stayed thick to the top, which made it weigh a ton, and I pulled muscles and sinews in various places just helping Mr. Glad get the tree in and up. We are procrastinating the undoing of that project. I know, it looks like many other Christmas trees, and you can’t see all around it to know what I’m talking about, but I want its picture here anyway. It has so many branches down low, I have had to crawl under every night to water it, and that makes me love it even more.

Pippin often gives me a bird for the tree. This year’s cloisonne edition looks like it should be the king of all, so royally dressed, articulated and brilliant.

cloisonne 14 xmas

At church soicon evergreen decor 14me icons had been decorated with soft conifer branches, making a sort of tent over the image. And my city still had its decorations up last night; the fire department hangs these lights on the coast redwood trees that line the main boulevard. We’ve enjoyed them for 20 years or more, but this is the first year I’ve managed to stop and take their picture.P1120148

Epiphany in the west focuses on the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and I think everywhere it is about Light, too. Quoting from this website, “From ancient times this Feast was called the Day of Illumination and the Feast of Lights, since God is Light and has appeared to illumine ‘those who sat in darkness,’ and ‘in the region of the shadow of death’ (Mt.4:16), and to save the fallen race of mankind by grace.”

In the Orthodox Church we commemorate the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan by John the Baptist, when not only was Christ shown to be the Light of the World and the Son of God, but the Holy Trinity was revealed, as our hymn for the feast reminds us with rejoicing:

When You, O Lord were baptized in the Jordan
The worship of the Trinity was made manifest
For the voice of the Father bore witness to You
And called You His beloved Son.
And the Spirit, in the form of a dove,
Confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ, our God, You have revealed Yourself
And have enlightened the world, glory to You!

Thirsty in January

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 2014. 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.

I’m jumping in with joy.

blessing-creek1

It’s the Feast of Theophany! How can I not post something on this day when there is blessing abounding to the degree that people want to jump into icy waters over it? I am caught between the impulse to spread the riches around, and the awareness of the extreme limitations of my mind when the meaning of Christ’s baptism is set before me. There is a lot to take in and try to absorb at Theophany, regarding the Baptism of Our Lord.

Orthodox Christians celebrate Theophany in various ways around the world. Some release doves as a symbol of the Holy Spirit while others toss crosses into water in remembrance of Christ’s baptism. Young boys or men often dive into the water to retrieve the cross. I know what I’ll do — I’ll post a link to Father Stephen Freeman’s recent blog on the subject. An excerpt:

St. John himself does not seem to understand the purpose of Christ’s Baptism. He is told that “whomever you see the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain” is the Messiah – but he is given little information beyond that. Witnessing Christ’s Baptism and the Spirit resting upon Him, he hears the voice, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew, Mark and Luke all bear witness to the voice).  The Church later celebrates this manifestation of the Trinity (Christ in the water, the Spirit descending, the Voice of the Father – hence the title “Theophany”).

But with the text alone, on its literal level, we are left with a mystery, without context or meaning. The Tradition of the Church, however, sees the Baptism of Christ in the context of Pascha (Easter) as it sees everything in the context of Christ’s Pascha. Christ’s Baptism is a foreshadowing (and on more than a literary level) of His crucifixion and descent into Hades (just as our own Baptism is seen by St. Paul as a Baptism into Christ’s “death and resurrection”).

When he goes on to explain that in the workings of God in the world, the literal is not all there is, he quotes Fr. Andrew Louth:

Allegory is a way of entering the ‘margin of silence’ that surrounds the articulate message of the Scriptures, it is a way of glimpsing the living depths of tradition from the perspective of the letter of the Scriptures.

There is so much to think about, even if you aren’t part of the Orthodox Tradition in which we will be participating on the praxis level by blessing urns of water, creeks and lakes and oceans of water. In parishes everywhere priests will be blessing houses as my rector described in our newsletter, so as to bring “the joy of the feast of the manifestation of the Holy Trinity to each and every dwelling. Think of the house blessing as a renewal of God’s grace in your home.”

How could we not be welcoming of that? I won’t be jumping into any frozen streams, I hope ever, but I will certainly have the joy of the feast.

O Christ our God,
 Who hast revealed Thyself,
And enlightened the world,
Glory to Thee.

Theophany Worship and Doctrine

Today the Orthodox Church celebrates Theophany, about which I have posted a time or two in the past. This year I found a blog by a young woman in Greece who has posted a rich mix of photos, videos and accounts describing the celebration of this feast around the world, and its meaning for us.

It all well illustrates the message of this short quote from the newsletter of my parish:

WORSHIP AND DOCTRINE:

“In the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, doctrine and worship are inseparable. Worship is, in a certain sense, doctrinal testimony, reference to the events of Revelation. Thus, ‘dogmas are not abstract ideas in and for themselves but revealed and saving truths and realities intended to bring mankind into communion with God.’ One could say without hesitation that, according to Orthodox understanding, the fullness of theological thought is found in the worship of the Church.

This is why the term Orthodoxy is understood by many not as ‘right opinion,’ but as ‘right doxology,’ [that is,] ‘right worship.’”

—Archimandrite Zacharias, Ecclesial Being, pg. 88.

Those movies of people diving into icy waters make me consider in a more bracing way the scriptural exhortation to “present your bodies a living sacrifice….”

Some friends of ours celebrated Theophany at our Northern California beach last year, where the current brings chilly water from Alaska, giving the children who dove for that cross a bit of the experience of their fellow Orthodox in colder climates.

To all who celebrate in worship and truth, a most blessed feast!

Mosaic from Ss. Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church
Colorado Springs, Colorado