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Brooklyn Cathedral Celebration of Theophany

January 19, 2020

Following the Orthodox Church Calendar, on January 19 believers celebrated the feast of Theophany (also known as the Epiphany) or the Baptism of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This holiday celebrates one of the central events of the New Testament, the Baptism of Christ by the Prophet John the Forerunner in the waters of Jordan River. The special significance of this for Orthodox Christians is that the Holy Trinity was first revealed to the world at the Lord’s Baptism. The evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe the event in their gospels (Matthew 3: 13-17; Mark 1: 9-11; Luke 3: 21-22). Regarding Jesus’ Baptism the Apostle Matthew wrote, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He came up from the water, and behold, the Heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him.” And behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” In this way God manifested Himself to the world in three Persons, therefore the holiday is called the Theophany. The feast was first mentioned at the turn of the Second- Third centuries. The first of the surviving Theophany sermons of the Church Fathers as Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Ambrose of Milan, and others belong to the Fourth Century.

On the feast day the Cathedral of St. John the Forerunner & Baptist in Brooklyn conducted the Divine Liturgy. The service was led by the Rector of the Cathedral Archpriest Alexander Belya, who concelebrated with the clergymen Archpriest Vasiliy Deyak, Protodeacon Rostislav Zadorozhnyy and Deacon George Hero. The spiritual atmosphere and festivity of the celebration was enhanced by the singing of the Cathedral choir. The Epistle was read in English by Fr. George and in Slavonic by Warden/ Sub Deacon Ivan. The feast was attended by a huge crowd of believers, the majority of which partook of the Eucharist which was distributed from two chalices.

 The Divine Liturgy was followed by the traditional Great Blessing of the Waters.

Church consecration of water on Theophany was practiced since the very first centuries of Christianity, but the final order of the service was completed only in the Sixth- Seventh centuries under the Patriarch of Jerusalem St. Sophronius (+638). The blessed water is called “Great Agiasmo”, which means “very holy” in Greek. According to Ancient Christian tradition, the Great Blessing of Water is only performed twice a year on the day before Theophany and on the feast itself. The order of the Great Blessing of the Waters includes the reading of of prophecies about the Baptism of the Lord, an Epistle, and a Gospel account of the event followed by an invocation of God’s blessing on waters and the triple immersion of the Cross.

Several years ago a unique receptacle for the blessing of the holy water in the shape of an Orthodox Cross was manufactured specially for the Brooklyn Cathedral. For convenience six faucets were installed, which allows many people to take consecrated water at same time limiting having to waiting in line.

At the end of the service Archpriest Alexander congratulated all the parishioners on the feast indicating how happy he was to see so many attending, especially students, who had received Communion the day before during the Liturgy on Theophany eve. In his sermon, which was dedicated to the meaning of the feast, Father Alexander reminded the believers that salvation and deliverance from sin occur only by the grace of Holy Spirit, that is why every Christian has to properly respect the gracious gifts which they received at baptism.