As a cradle Byzantine, my memories of church when I was a young boy are spotty. They touch only those aspects that somehow grasped my attention. One of these was the blessing of the water on Theophany: the solemn prayer, the priest lifting up the trikirion and thrusting it into the water, the going up to receive the holy water for our home. I don’t remember how much I understood, but this was a very powerful part of our faith.
The Christian faith does not depend on exotic substances, in magical elixirs, in secret formulas, but the Christian faith is the transformation of simple gifts of life – of water, of bread, of wine, of oil. Our water is no longer ordinary water, but it has been touched by the feet of God incarnate. Merely to see this day, merely to drink this water, merely to pray to Jesus baptized by a human hand transforms us. We need water to live, to drink it for nourishment, to wash with it to be kept clean, and now to be baptized with it for the life and cleansing of our souls as well as our bodies. The prayer for the consecration of water on Theophany may be said to be thrilling. We use words in ways we do not usually use them. The words come to the water, and all creation is transformed.
And so the priest prays: “By your will you brought forth all things from nothingness into being; by your might you control creation, and by your providence you govern the world. You created all things from four elements, and crowned the cycle of the year with four seasons. The spiritual powers tremble before you. The sun praises you, the moon glorifies you, the stars serve you. Light obeys you, the depths tremble before you, and the springs adore you. You spread out the heavens like a tent. You established the earth upon the waters. You fringed the seas with beaches of sand. You poured forth air for breathing. The angelic powers serve you; the ranks of archangels worship you; the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim stand before you or hover over you, yet they dare not gaze at your unapproachable glory. Although you are God, boundless, indescribable, and without beginning, you came upon earth, and taking the likeness of a servant, became like one of us.”
Theophany – God is manifest! Nothing will ever be the same again, and it is in all these created elements that are free and available to us all.
No wonder Isaiah the Prophet invites us in today’s reading: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, buy grain and eat; Come, buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what does not satisfy? Only listen to me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Pay attention and come to me; listen, that you may have life” (Isaiah 55:1-2). The prophet Isaiah also tells us what our response must be: “With joy you will draw water from the fountains of salvation, and you will say on that day: give thanks to the Lord, acclaim his name; Among the nations make known his deeds, proclaim how exalted is his name” (Isaiah 12:3-4).
There is no better day to be a Christian.
Meditation by Archpriest David Petras