Could Philip Larkin have intuited something that he did not personally encounter, about faith and life? The images he presents in the poem below evoke the reality of the ancient and present sacramental church I know, which doesn’t need to be constructed, because it was born at Pentecost by a sousing of the Holy Spirit Himself.
I’ve kept Larkin’s poem in my drafts for months, hoping to collect a few thoughts and sentences that would properly introduce it on the occasion of Theophany, that wonderful commemoration of water and light and the Incarnation. Here we are at the feast, so let’s just go to the poem:
If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.
Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;
My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,
And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.
I will not be able to commemorate the Feast of Theophany in the usual way this year,
but I want to remember the importance of the event and the celebration,
with the help of St. Nikolai.
Most of the Prologue of Ohrid for this day:
THE EPIPHANY [THEOPHANY] OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST
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 of the Epiphany [Theophany in Greek] 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: every one 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.
HYMN OF PRAISE
THE HOLY TRINITY
O, Holy Lord, holy in creating,
All that You create by Your Word, by Your Spirit You consecrate.
O, Mighty Lord, mighty in suffering,
For the world You walk to Your death; for the world, You resurrect.
Immortal Lord, in voice, we praise You;
Father, Son, Holy Spirit – God, have mercy on us!
The Father, Who appeared over Jordan as a Voice,
The Spirit, Who as a White Dove hovered,
The Son, Who by the Prophet John was baptized,
Three rays of light, one light shown,
The Trinity manifested, we praise You in voice:
Father, Son, Holy Spirit – God, have mercy on us!
At one time, the fables of the heretics plagued the Church of God and now the Church is plagued by the fables of the apostates from God. By perseverance in the Faith, by diligence in prayer, by confession of the Faith and even martyrdom for the Faith, the Church remained undefeated until now. Only by these methods will these neo-plagues be defeated. The Church of God, the Vessel of Divine Truth will triumph in the end, “The enemies are ruined completely forever” (Psalm 9:7).
Blessed Clement of Alexandria said about heretics who left the Church, “He who has fallen into heresy travels through an arid desert, abandoning the One True God. Alienated from God, he seeks water in dry places, he gathers barren fruit with his hands and enters into an uninhabited and thirsty land.” This also can be said today about the many hypothecators and theoreticians who are led by their imaginations and not by the truth of God.
About the mystery of [Heavenly] Divine Trinity:
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit and the water and the blood: and these three are together”(I John 5: 7-8).
When we read Holy Scripture, we should be alert to keep an eye on every word. To the rapid reader, for example, this distinction which the Evangelist draws between the Heavenly Trinity and the earthly trinity will not become apparent. Concerning the Heavenly Trinity, he says, “And these three are one;” and concerning the earthly trinity, he says, “And these three are together.”
There is an enormous difference between “being one” and “being together.” The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are One, whereas the spirit, water and blood are only together and are not one. Even enemies could be together as one, but are not one. All the people on earth are together, but they are not one.
Water and blood constitute the body and the spirit is the spirit. “For the flesh has desires against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17). However, they are not one, but they are still together. When man dies the union is broken apart and ceases to exist. Blood and water go to one side and the spirit goes to another side. Whereas the [Heavenly] Divine Trinity in the heavens not only are they together but they are also one.
There is also another trinity in the inner heaven of man which should be, not only a unity, but a oneness so that man could be blessed in this world and in the other world. That is the union of the mind, heart and will. As long as these three are only in togetherness, man will be at war with himself and with the Heavenly Trinity.
However, when these three become one, so that neither one rules and that neither one is enslaved, then man becomes filled with “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), man’s every word, every explanation, every fear and every sorrow. Then the small heaven in man begins to resemble that great heaven of God, and the “image and likeness of God” becomes apparent in man.
O Triune God, help us to resemble, at least, those who resemble You.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
I can’t let Theophany pass without posting something. The poetry and the glory are truly over-the-top, on this feast that is second only to Pascha in conveying the fullness of our salvation, the marvelous works of the Lord.
At Royal Hours on Monday, and today on the feast itself, I kept taking out my little notebook to scribble down a few phrases that I could use to do research at home, with the idea that I could find prayers and hymns in their entirety on the Internet, for later meditation and writing. But I find that not everything is online.
And most of my scribblings turned out to be almost identical to the phrases that had caught my attention last year. That’s okay. It was good for me to read last year’s post, and probably some of you didn’t see it then or would enjoy it again as well, so here is the link: “We are watered by mystical streams.”
The very earth of our neighborhoods has recently been well watered by rains that we acknowledge to be gifts of God, so it seemed this week that all of nature was participating in our celebration of the baptism of Christ.
Water itself is a basic element of the cosmos and is fundamental in the the Creation story: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” When Jesus came to him for baptism, John was baptizing people in the Jordan River, the same river their ancestors had crossed on their entrance to the Promised Land, and in the homily today we heard that he was calling the people to come back to that event, to their beginnings, to their first love.
The Spirit of God also appeared at Christ’s baptism to affirm that He is the bearer of God’s Spirit. It’s all about the renewal of the Spirit in our lives, as at Theophany we are reminded of our own baptism and pray again that the Holy Spirit would revive and refresh us, as the showers of life-giving rain water the plants and make them fruitful.
We celebrated Divine Liturgy in our “big church” and then processed singing to the small church — the rain kindly letting up so that we didn’t have to carry umbrellas along with our banners — where water was blessed and sprinkled all around. While some of us filled our bottles with holy water others processed all over the property and ended with blessing the bells.
The many celebrations I’ve been part of at church since Christmas have watered my soul immeasurably. Theophany (and the splashing of water on my head!) is like the final drenching of this season, so that I feel wet through with the love of God and His Church, with the joy spoken of in Isaiah 51 (and mentioned in my title here). I want to go on day by day and find His mercies that are new every morning. If I follow the counsel of my priest I’m sure I will. He said that we shouldn’t bother with New Year’s resolutions, except perhaps to imitate St. Herman of Alaska who encouraged a constant repentance, saying, “From this day, from this moment, let us love God above all.”
Church fathers tell us that the love of God warms the soul. Hell and sin are cold. So this photo, so striking in its whiteness and cultural drama, also is highly symbolic of Christ’s incarnation and salvation of the world.
I begin to grasp what Fr. Stephen writes, (link from yesterday) how the tradition of the Church “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.’ ”
These Christians are blessing the waters on Theophany as Christ blessed and baptized a cold and needy Creation when He went down into the Jordan.