The cosmic theme of the feast of the Theophany

Celebrating the unity of man and the world as God's creations

January 18, 2022

Theophany

On the great feast of the Theophany, we commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan. As John the Forerunner is calling on all the people to take baptism for the forgiveness of their sins, He comes to him, without sin, asking to be baptised. Humbly, he descends into the waters of the Jordan, and His Truth is revealed to all humanity. The people hear it in the voice from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased." They see it in the spirit of God that descended like a dove and alighted on Him.

In the ancient Church, Theophany was called the feast of lights. It is still a celebration of the light of God's truth, as proclaimed in the hymns of the Church. “Today Your Light, O Inaccessible Light, has shone upon us,” goes the Troparion of the feast. Likewise, the Kontakion of the day says, "on this day, the worship of the Holy Trinity was revealed."

ice-cold water

Speaking of the Theophany as the feast of God's luminous truths, we cannot afford to neglect the truth about the sanctity of man and nature as creations of God. As we are reminded in the hymns of the Church, Christ came to the Jordan not just to renew the fallen nature of man, but also to bless His entire creation by sanctifying the water. Being the crown of God’s creation and its highest form, man carries the stamp of sinfulness, contaminating with his sin all things with which he comes in touch. He passes on his sin to the natural world. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time,” writes Apostle Paul (Romans 8: 22). Yet, as Saint John Chrysostom taught, nature returns to sanctity in the mystery of the Theophany in the Lord's renewal of its earth and air.

Our secular mindsets cause us to view ourselves as separate from the world of nature. We have grown accustomed to treating the world as our workshop, a limitless depository of resources for our material world-being. Already, we are dealing with the sad consequences of this view - the different forms of decay and destruction to our environment, such as global warming, desertification, air and water pollution and much else. We recognise the urgency of these problems, but continue to seek out their earthly solutions, in full conformity with Leo Tolstoy's advice: "Hold on to the earth, and it will never let you down". And so we experiment with new international climate treaties, and innovative market-based and regulatory mechanisms…

feast of the Theophany

Yet, with the feast of the Theophany, the Lord shows us a different way to find harmony with our world. He calls us to recognise and celebrate our inextricable link with it in the goodness and wisdom of our Creator. He touches our hearts with the beauty of our world. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalms 19: 2). The Lord awakens us to the world's marvel with His Gospel, the sight of the flickering stars and the soft music of snowfall. He teaches us to see miracles in the multiplication of the wheat, but also in the germination of seed, and the growth of the ears of wheat. He wants us to see depth, mystery and wonder in every moment of our existence.

The sanctity of man and nature as God's creations is visible in our co-working with the Lord. As the author of the masterpiece of His creation, He made us in His image and implanted in us the talent for creativity. Some grow to become great artists, others genius writers and still others achieve mastery in embroidery. Some find joy in using their talent as parents, raising wonderful children. Others design beautiful buildings. But all of us without exception are called to be the artisans of our souls, to refine and add beauty to it, to let it grow in the spirit of repentance, love, joy and peace.

baptism of Jesus Christ

On the feast of the Theophany, we perform in our churches the order of the Great Blessing of the Water and bathe ourselves in ice-cold water. These rituals bring us to reflect on our connectedness with our visible and invisible world.  As the feast of the Theophany is one of our renewal and return to purity through repentance, let it also be the day that would bring us closer to a new relationship between us and our natural world. Let us celebrate our unity with the world, as all are God's creations; let us read the will and providence of God in its beauty, and make our world pure by seeking peace and purity in our souls.

By Alexander Piskunov

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