"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


The feast of the Epiphany is one of my favourite feasts; but, paradoxically, if I want to express what the feast means to me as a Catholic, I tend to use Orthodox texts as the least inadequate means of doing so, especially when I want to wish a "happy feast" to both Catholics and Orthodox.  That explains my choice of texts for today.  Tomorrow, January 7, is the feast of Christmas for Byzantine Christians:  May God fill you with blessings, wherever you are!!  

A few years ago, I had the privilege of celebrating Christmas on January 7 with Ukrainian Catholics in their parish in Gloucester (UK).  I think they are marvellous people.   It was even more realistic because relatives from the Ukraine came to celebrate Christmas with them - short, broad shouldered people with lined, not too handsome, but with kindly eyes.   They sang the liturgy from memory, emphasising to me afterwards that they had nothing written down, but that they had sung the different parts of the liturgy from their use.   They really enjoyed singing the texts of the Mass in a way I had never experienced since I had heard Bavarian peasants savouring Mozart during a Christmas Mass in Ottobeuron in the early sixties.   It was a lesson in what it really means to participate in the liturgy.

Hence, I was not prepared for the incident that took place during the celebrations after the Mass.   There was food and drink, and some short plays or sketches in Ukrainian, all about the Christmas story, but told in a manner that did not need the presence of Mary or the Christ child.   As it was all in Ukrainian, I did not understand a word; but I understood and appreciated the mood.  It was a Christmas mood, a jovial mood, a mood worth going from Hereford to Gloucester to share. 

When all was over and we were chatting; at least, they were, in Ukrainian, and I was happily talking to those who spoke English, an incident occurred which cast a shadow over everything, at least for me.   There was a young Russian girl present.   It seems that they were chatting about Russia in such a way that she became upset and began to cry.   What they said I have no idea, but she was crying; and all they did was laugh.   It was Christmas Day, and she was alone in an alien world, and had come to celebrate the Divine Liturgy with them as the nearest haven that she could find, and they laughed.  I am not taking from this the idea that they were less wonderful than I believed them to be: only that, however wonderful we are, we are limited beings and, until the divine life transforms us into instruments of God's universal love, our human limitations remain, and we can contradict what we celebrate within minutes of celebrating it.   May God have mercy on us.   I have never suffered like many of them have suffered and can find it easy to pontificate because it costs me nothing. May God have mercy on us.   I was given a cold shower of human reality.

Unlike Cameron and the European Union, I am neither Ukrainian nor Russian, and do not know the rights and wrongs of the conflict.  I suspect that there is spiritual blindness on both sides, and can only urge both sides to look at the cross rather than to their history to find a solution.
The sixth of January is the feast of the Epiphany. Originally it was the one Christian feast of the “shining forth” of God to the world in the human form of Jesus of Nazareth. It included the celebration of Christ’s birth, the adoration of the Wisemen, and all of the childhood events of Christ such as his circumcision and presentation to the temple as well as his baptism by John in the Jordan. There seems to be little doubt that this feast, like Easter and Pentecost, was understood as the fulfillment of a previous Jewish festival, in this case the Feast of Lights.

Epiphany means shining forth or manifestation. The feast is often called, as it is in the Orthodox service books, Theophany, which means the shining forth and manifestation of God. The emphasis in the present day celebration is on the appearance of Jesus as the human Messiah of Israel and the divine Son of God, One of the Holy Trinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Thus, in the baptism by John in the Jordan, Jesus identifies himself with sinners as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), the “Beloved” of the Father whose messianic task it is to redeem men from their sins (Lk 3:21, Mk 1:35). And he is revealed as well as One of the Divine Trinity, testified to by the voice of the Father, and by the Spirit in the form of a dove. This is the central epiphany glorified in the main hymns of the feast:

When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan the worship of the Trinity was made manifest! For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee his Beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of his Word. O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee (Troparion).

Today Thou hast appeared to the universe, and Thy Light, O Lord, has shone on us, who with understanding praise Thee: Thou hast come and revealed Thyself, O Light Unapproachable! (Kontakion).

The services of Epiphany are set up exactly as those of Christmas, although historically it was most certainly Christmas which was made to imitate Epiphany since it was established later. Once again the Royal Hours and the Liturgy of Saint Basil are celebrated together with Vespers on the eve of the feast; and the Vigil is made up of Great Compline and Matins. The prophecies of Epiphany repeat the God is with Us from Isaiah and stress the foretelling of the Messiah as well as the coming of his forerunner, John the Baptist:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Is 40:3-5; Lk 3:4-6).

Once more special psalms are sung to begin the Divine Liturgy of the feast, and the baptismal line of Galatians 3:27 replaces the song of the Thrice-Holy. The gospel readings of all the Epiphany services tell of the Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan River. The epistle reading of the Divine Liturgy tells of the consequences of the Lord’s appearing which is the divine epiphany.

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11-14).

The main feature of the feast of the Epiphany is the Great Blessing of Water. It is prescribed to follow both the Divine Liturgy of the eve of the feast and the Divine Liturgy of the day itself. Usually it is done just once in parish churches at the time when most people can be present. It begins with the singing of special hymns and the censing of the water which has been placed in the center of the church building. Surrounded by candles and flowers, this water stands for the beautiful world of God’s original creation and ultimate glorification by Christ in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes this service of blessing is done out of doors at a place where the water is flowing naturally.

The voice of the Lord cries over the waters, saying: Come all ye, receive the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of understanding, the Spirit of the fear of God, even Christ who is made manifest.

Today the nature of water is sanctified. Jordan is divided in two, and turns back the stream of its waters, beholding the Master being baptized.

As a man Thou didst come to that river, O Christ our King, and dost hasten O Good One, to receive the baptism of a servant at the hands of the Forerunner (John), because of our sins, O Lover of Man (Hymns of the Great Blessing of Waters).

Following are three readings from the Prophecy of Isaiah concerning the messianic age:

Let the thirsty wilderness be glad, let the desert rejoice, let it blossom as a rose, let it blossom abundantly, let everything rejoice… (Is 35: 1-10)

Go to that water, O you who thirst, and as many as have no money, let them eat and drink without price, both wine and fat… (Is 55:1-13)

With joy draw the water out of the wells of salvation. And in that day shall you say: Confess ye unto the Lord and call upon his Name; declare his glorious deeds… his Name is exalted… Hymn the Name of the Lord… Rejoice and exult… (Is 12:3.6).

After the epistle (1 Cor 1:10-14) and the gospel reading (Mk 1:9-11) the special great litany is chanted invoking the grace of the Holy Spirit upon the water and upon those who will partake of it. It ends with the great prayer of the cosmic glorification of God in which Christ is called upon to sanctify the water, and all men and all creation, by the manifestation of his saving and sanctifying divine presence by the indwelling of the Holy and Good and Life-creating Spirit.

As the troparion of the feast is sung, the celebrant immerses the Cross into the water three times and then proceeds to sprinkle the water in the four directions of the world. He then blesses the people and their homes with the sanctified water which stands for the salvation of all men and all creation which Christ has effected by his “epiphany” in the flesh for the life of the world.

Sometimes people think that the blessing of water and the practice of drinking it and sprinkling it over everyone and everything is a “paganism” which has falsely entered the Christian Church. We know, however, that this ritual was practiced by the People of God in the Old Testament, and that in the Christian Church it has a very special and important significance.

It is the faith of Christians that since the Son of God has taken human flesh and has been immersed in the streams of the Jordan, all matter is sanctified and made pure in him, purged of its death-dealing qualities inherited from the devil and the wickedness of men. In the Lord’s epiphany all creation becomes good again, indeed “very good,” the way that God himself made it and proclaimed it to be in the beginning when “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2) and when the “Breath of Life” was breathing in man and in everything that God made (Gen 1:30; 2:7).

The world and everything in it is indeed “very good” (Gen 1:31) and when it becomes polluted, corrupted and dead, God saves it once more by effecting the “new creation” in Christ, his divine Son and our Lord by the grace of the Holy Spirit (Gal 6:15). This is what is celebrated on Epiphany, particularly in the Great Blessing of Water. The consecration of the waters on this feast places the entire world—through its “prime element” of watering the perspective of the cosmic creation, sanctification, and glorification of the Kingdom of God in Christ arid the Spirit. It tells us that man and the world were indeed created and saved in order to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19), the “fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22). It tells us that Christ, in who in “the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily,” is and shall be truly “all, and in all” (Col 2:9, 3:11). It tells us as well that the “new heavens and the new earth” which God has promised through his prophets and apostles (Is 66:2; 2 Peter 3:13, Rev 21:1) are truly “with us” already now in the, mystery of Christ and his Church.

Thus, the sanctification and sprinkling of the Epiphany water is no pagan ritual. It is the expression of the most central fact of the Christian vision of man, his life and his world. It is the liturgical testimony that the vocation and destiny of creation is to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19)

The Mystical Supper, fresco from the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos (http://modeoflife.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/vatoped_the_last_supper_sm.jpg)
Every Divine Liturgy is Theophany by Elder Sophrony of Essex 
We Orthodox live Christ in the Divine Liturgy, or better yet, Christ lives within us in through the duration of the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is a work of God. We say: “It is the time for the Lord to act” (Psalm 119:126). Among other things, this means that now is the time for God to work. Christ liturgizes, we live together with Christ.

The Divine Liturgy is the way that we come to know God, and the way that God comes to know us.

Christ accomplished the Divine Liturgy once, and this has passed unto eternity. He overcame corrupted human nature in the Divine Liturgy. We come to know Christ specifically in the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy that we celebrate is the same Divine Liturgy which Christ worked on Holy Thursday at the Mystical Supper.

Chapters 14-17 of the Gospel of St. John are a Divine Liturgy. Thus we understand the Holy Scriptures in the Divine Liturgy.

The first Church lived without the New Testament, however, not without the Divine Liturgy. The first forms, hymns, scriptures exist within the Divine Liturgy.

In the Divine Liturgy we live Christ, and we understand His word.

As Christ cleansed His Disciples with His work and told them: “Now you are clean by the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3), and He cleansed the feet of the Disciples with water during the Holy Niptir, thus the first part of the Divine Liturgy cleanses us that we might later sit at the Table of love. The purpose of the Divine Liturgy is for us to partake of Christ.

The Divine Liturgy teaches us an ethos, the ethos of humility. As Christ was sacrificed, thus we must sacrifice. The form of the Divine Liturgy is the form of He Who became poor for us. In the Divine Liturgy we try to humble ourselves, because we have the sense that there exists a humble God.

Every Divine Liturgy is Theophany [The Revealing of God]. The Body of Christ is revealed. Every member of the Church is an icon of the Kingdom of God.

After the Divine Liturgy we must try to continue to depict (iconify) the Kingdom of God, keeping His commandments. The glory of Christ is that every one of His members might bear fruit. Thus His word explains: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)
(http://apantaortodoxias.blogspot.com/2012/08/blog- post_9227.html

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