The Glorious Feast of the Epiphany

14-01-2012 12:54 PM


Father Matthew of St George’s church in Kensington, Sydney









Father Matthew of St George’s church in Kensington, Sydney



On Friday 20 January our Church celebrates the Glorious Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This Feast is also known as ‘Feast of Light’, for in Baptism we obtain spiritual illumination.  The Lord’s pure light casts out Satan’s darkness.

 In his homily on this great Feast in the year 381, St. Gregory Nazianzen (or the Theologian) mentioned five types of Baptism:

 

1.    The Baptism of Moses

St Gregory first says, “Moses baptised but it was in water, and before that in the cloud and in the sea…” When Moses and the children of Israel escaped their slavery in Egypt, they passed through the Red Sea (Exodus 14, 15).  The Church has always seen this symbol of baptism.  St Paul wrote, “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”  (1 Cor 10:1,2).  As Israel escaped the bondage of Pharaoh by crossing the sea, we also escape the slavery of Satan and death and corruption by entering the waters of baptism.  Also, as Israel started its wilderness journey toward the Promised Land, baptism marks the start of a new life, a new spiritual journey towards heaven.

 

2.    The Baptism of Saint John the Baptist

St Gregory continues, “John also baptised; but this was not only in water, but also ‘unto repentance’.  St John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord saying, “I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.  He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  (Matt 3:11).

 

3.    The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ

St Gregory says, “Jesus also baptised but in the Spirit.  This is the perfect baptism.”  While St John baptised with water unto repentance, the ‘perfect baptism’ was by water and the Spirit (John 3: 5).  On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and disciples as tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-4).  He has since guided the Church and is received by all her members after baptism through the Mystery of Chrismation.  As our Lord came out of the baptismal waters with the Holy Spirit alighting upon Him in the form of a dove (Matt 3:16), we too, after baptism, are anointed with the oil of Holy Chrism (Myroun) and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

4.    The Baptism of Martyrdom

St Gregory says, “I know also a fourth Baptism—that by Martyrdom and blood, which also Christ Himself underwent—and this one is far more august than all the others, inasmuch as it cannot be defiled by after-stains.”  If baptism is sharing in the death of Christ, then martyrdom seems the ultimate form of baptism.  St Gregory calls this far more ‘august’, more majestic and admirable.  Unlike the person who struggles against sin after baptism, the martyr receives the heavenly crown and cannot commit any sins thereafter.

 

5.    The Baptism of Tears

Finally, St Gregory says, “Yes, and I know of a fifth also, which is that of tears, and is much more laborious, received by him who washes his bed every night and his couch with tears…”  As much as we might wish for a clean slate and a new baptism every time we sin, the Church only administers this sacrament once for each of her members.  However, we can regularly experience baptism through the work of tears and repentance.  When our Lord Jesus Christ washed the feet of His disciples, He said to them, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean.”  (John 13:10).  As we continue walking in this life, we do not need to rewash the entire body, but only the members that become filthy as a consequence of this difficult trek; namely, washing the ‘feet’, through the work of repentance.



In baptism, we put on Christ (Gal 3:27), but we tarnish our spiritual garment whenever we sin.  The baptism of tears and repentance makes it beautiful again.  We can only find inner comfort and spiritual rest in constantly fleeing to Christ in repentance and confession.  To ask for His mercy and to have a part with Him once again (John 13:8) is to find perfect peace and joy.

 

The Church teaches us to fast the Baramoun, that is the Preparation for the Feast, then celebrate the Eve of the Feast of the Epiphany.

 

The Liturgy of the Feast starts with the Laqan Service in which we pray and read passages from Scripture thereby sanctifying the waters.  The Trisagion changes from “Holy God… who was born…who was crucified… who arose” to “He who was baptised in the Jordan, have mercy upon us”.

 

We pray in the Laqan Service as follows:

 

•         Sanctify this water and grant it the blessings of the Jordan.  Amen.

•         Water for purity.  Amen.

•         Water filled with power of the Angels.  Amen.

•         Water for purity of Body, Soul and Spirit.  Amen.

•         Water for healing.  Amen.

•         Water for beneficial growth.  Amen.

•         Water a well of blessings.  Amen.

 

The Fathers anoint the forehead with this water and many take home bottles of water for blessings.  Thereafter we commence the Liturgy of the Oblation and conclude by receiving Holy Communion.

 

 

May we hear God’s gentle voice saying to us, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.


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