A HAPPY AND HOLY THEOPHANY TO YOU ALL (Jan. 19th in our calendar)
By Sergei V. Bulgakov
Theophany is understood as a feast in which the event of the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan1 is commemorated and glorified (Mt. 3:13-17. Mk. 1:9-11. Lk. 3:21-22). This feast is called Theophany because during the baptism of the Lord the Divine All-Holy Trinity was revealed: God the Father spoke from heaven about the Son, the Son of God was baptized by John and was witnessed by God the Father, and the Holy Spirit descended on the Son in the form of a dove.2 This explanation of the feast is given by the Holy Church in its Troparion: "When Thou, O Lord, was baptized in the Jordan...."3
Since ancient times this feast also was known as the day of illumination and the feast of lights, because God is the Light and reveals Himself to illumine "those who sat in darkness and the shadow of death" (Mt. 4:16) and to save according to grace, Who has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior" (2 Tim. 1:9-10), and because on the Eve of Theophany it was the custom to baptize the catechumens, which actually is spiritual illumination and during which many lamps are lit. Besides this, the ancient Church on this day also remembered other events in which the divine worthiness and representation of Jesus Christ was expressed both during His birth, and during His introduction to preach in public after baptism, namely: 1) the worship of the magi as a revelation of Jesus Christ to the pagan world by means of a wonderful star;4 from this commemoration the very feast of Epiphany in the Western Church received the name of the Feast of the Three Kings (Festum trium regum); in the Eastern Church though it was part of the feast, it was not expressed in the character of the feast; 2) The manifestation of the divine power of Jesus Christ in His first miracle at the marriage in Cana of Galilee when the Lord “created the beginning of signs”; and 3) (in the African Church) the appearance of the divine power in Jesus Christ in the wonderful feeding of the more than 5000 persons by Him with five breads in the desert, from which even the feast is called the Phagiphania.
The beginning of the feast of Theophany arose in apostolic times. It is mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions and in the 2nd century the witness of Clement of Alexandria about the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord and doing the night vigil spent reading Holy Scripture before this feast; in the 3rd century the Holy Martyr Hippolytus and Gregory of Neocaesarea; in the 4th century the Holy Fathers of the Church: Gregory the Theologian, Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom, Augustine and many others talked about the event of Holy Theophany during the divine service for this feast; the Fathers of the Church of the 5th century: Anatolius of Constantinople; of the 7th century: Andrew and Sophronius of Jerusalem; of the 8th century: Cosmas of Maium, John of Damascus and Germanus of Constantinople; of the 9th century, Joseph the Studite, Theophanes and Byzas deposited many church hymns for this feast, that up to now are sung by the Church.5
The Lord, according to the teaching of St. John of Damascus, was baptized not because He Himself needed cleansing, but rather, having taken our cleansing upon Himself, to destroy the heads of the serpents in the water, “to bury human sin through water” and all of the old Adam, to fulfill the law, to reveal the mystery of the Trinity and, finally, to consecrate “the essence of water” and to grant us a paradigm and an example of baptism. Therefore the Holy Church, celebrating the baptism of the Lord, confirms our faith in the highest, incomprehensible mystery of the Three Persons in one Godhead and teaches us with equal honor to profess and glorify the Holy Trinity, One in Essence and Undivided; it accuses and destroys the errors of the ancient false teachers: Patripassians or Sabellians, Arians, Macedonians and others who rejected the triunity of Persons in one Godhead, together with those false teachers who taught the human nature of the Son of God was a phantom; it shows the necessity of baptism for the believers in Christ; it inspires in us feelings of boundless gratitude to the Enlightener and the Cleanser of our sinful nature; it teaches that our purification and salvation from sin is only by the power of grace of the Holy Spirit; it specifies the necessity of the worthy use the gifts of the grace of baptism and the protection in purity of those precious garments of which we are reminded on the feast of the Baptism by the words: “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27); and it commands us towards the purification of our souls and hearts in order to be worthy of the blessed life.6
Alexander Ogorodnikov with the parish priest of the Russian Orthodox parish in Amsterdam. Photo by Jim Forest
Alexander Ogorodnikov was born in 1950. At age 17, he was a lathe operator at a clock factory. Three years later he began philosophy studies at the University of the Urals in Sverdlovsk, only to be expelled in 1971 for “a dissident way of thinking incompatible with the title of the Komsomol member and student.” He then went to Moscow where he studied at the Institute of Cinematography. He founded the Christian Seminar in 1974. From 1978 until 1987 he was a prisoner, finally released at the order of Gorbachev. Since his return to Moscow, he founded the Christian-Democratic Union of Russia and the Christian Mercy Society, a group assisting the hungry and homeless with a special concern for children and adolescents. The following conversation with him was recorded in Amsterdam on 25 April 1999 following the Liturgy at St. Nicholas of Myra Russian Orthodox Church. Alexander began by recalling his time as a prisoner at Perm 36.
Perm 36 was one of the worst prisons in the Soviet Union. Quite a number of famous prisoners were there, Anatoly Schiransky for example.
Why were you regarded as so dangerous?
It goes back to starting the Christian Seminar in the 70's. Now there is a fresh interest in what happened at that time — last year there was a television program about it. They united participants of the seminary from 20 years ago, when I was jailed and the Seminar was crushed after five years of life. The television producers wanted to see what had happened to us after 20 years — were we still loyal to the ideals of that time? Sadly, we see that many participants got lost in heresy and left the Church. Listening to my old friends, I realize freshly how difficult it is to get rid of the Communist system. Although 1991 was the official end of the Soviet Union, from the moral point of view it still has not ended. I compare it to a corpse which is decomposing and the poison it creates is everywhere. We carry it in ourselves. It is very important to stress this fact because people tend to underestimate it, and to underestimate the tragedy of Russia in this century.
When the Bolsheviks took over, they fought the Church not only because it was an institution of the Czarist regime, but because the Church was storming heaven and they were at war with heaven. Did you know that in 1923 there was really a trial — a revolutionary tribunal that brought God to court? God Himself was tried! Lunacharsky and Trotsky were the two commissars who led the process, and during this process they sentenced God to death. This was not a carnival — it was absolutely serious. God and the Church had to be crushed. In many of his letters Lenin stressed the importance of getting rid of priests. The whole fight against the church and religion was carefully planned and very fierce. In 1932 there was the 17th party congress which not only produced a five-year plan for the economy but a five-year plan for achieving an atheist society. The plan was that by 1935 the last Church would be shut down, and that by 1936 even the word “God” would have disappeared from the language!
I won’t describe for you all the horrors and all the tortures, and how many bishops, priests, monks and ordinary believers were buried alive or killed in other ways. What I want to stress is that to a great extent the Communists succeeded in converting Russia to Communism. And yet for all their success, hundreds of thousands of people defended the Church and became martyrs and the Church was not destroyed. The Church displayed a unique, quiet belief. Many priests went underground. In the 30's, there were only three bishops still not in prison. Probably in the whole Soviet Union in the 30's, just before the war, only 50 churches were still open. Thanks to this war, the fate of the Church shifted. People returned to belief. Stalin invited Patriarch Sergei to come from his small house on the edge of Moscow to live in the former embassy of the German Ambassador — one day in a log cabin with no telephone, the next in a mansion in the heart of Moscow. Many churches were re-opened, and two theological schools.
Still, though the church had survived, when I was a boy we had no living contact whatsoever with the church. None. Most of our generation came from atheistic families. One of my grandfathers was a commissar who died for the ideals of the revolution. My other grandfather has a little different story, a different fate. He was an officer in the Czarist army during the First World War. His orderly converted him to Protestantism — it was a kind of very primitive protest belief against the official Orthodox state Church. Later in his life, when he was 37, they tried to arrest my grandfather. By then he was a school director. He was warned by a KGB member and fled into the woods. For two years my mother went into the woods to bring him food unnoticed. Because of that, he survived. Nonetheless, I was raised as a normal Soviet child.
Where was that?
I was born in 1950 in Christopol, a town in the former Kazan government. We were raised in such a way that by the time we were 14 or 15 years old, we were ready to give our lives for Communist ideals. We were convinced that all these churches, which were only attended by old women, would sooner or later disappear together with their babushkas. Yet finally, in our search for true belief — true Truth — we began to understand that Marxism was a lie.
How did you go from being ready to give your life for Communism to seeing Marxism as a lie?
In our school, there was a map of the world with flags marking every new country converted to Communism. We were singing revolutionary Cuban songs, and we were ready to die for Cuba or for any of these countries. How we moved from that attitude to understanding that the Marxist ideology was a lie is something of a mystery. In the beginning it was just a kind of clash with reality, because we looked at real life and saw it didn’t match all those high ideals we were taught. First we thought, “Well, we live in the provinces — maybe it takes a little longer for all these ideals to reach us,” though later, in Moscow, I could see the very same problems. Finally I was expelled from university because of my growing doubts about materialistic ideology.
So little by little people like me became critics of Marxism and of the Soviet system. Protest became a way of life and also a way of survival in the system of lies. Also little by little, through irony and criticism, we ended up in a kind of vacuum — with only criticism and irony, you end up with denying everything. We didn’t actually have any other choice because we hardly had any information. We were boiling in our own soup. Russian literature offered a kind of revelation for us when we came to know it. However you have to understand that the way Russian literature was taught in the schools was so perverted that you came to hate it. But thanks at last to Russian literature, we finally got a little, not understanding, but a feeling that somewhere there is God. Through our searching, we understood that God exists. This literary understanding of God was more abstract, like as creator or creative force or power, a bag of ideas. We had far to go from this abstract idea of the existence of God to finally reach the living Christ.
By the time I had been expelled from the university I was attending in the Urals, I managed to get to Moscow and enter the film institute. It was a kind of miracle that I was accepted. In that period one of my fellow students gave me a copy of the Gospels, though for a long time I didn’t read it. I couldn’t even touch it. The guy I shared my room with kept his money hidden in the Bible because it was a book that nobody dared to touch.
One day, as part of our lessons, we were invited to a hidden place where forbidden films were kept by the film institute. You had to go train to get there.
By this time the New Testament was the only book I possessed I hadn’t read, but that day I had it with me. There on the train and I opened the book and started reading. Immediately I had this very strange feeling. On one side my mind knew or told me that this is just a legend or fairy tale. But from my heart there arose a different feeling that became stronger and stronger that this is actually the truth. I couldn’t rationally understand that feeling. At that moment the conductor came into our carriage. Of course we didn’t have a ticket. We were all protesting students — the film school was more or less the only place where dissent was tolerated. The way we dealt with these situations when we didn’t have a ticket usually was to start arguing with the man, saying things like, “Don’t touch the guy because he is in Nirvana, and if you touch him he will die, and you will be responsible.”
For the first time I did something that rationally I couldn’t understand. I took out my money and wanted to pay. And wanted to pay also the fine for all of us. It was very strange, but I understood that the Gospels had done this to me.
At last we arrived and we walked through the woods towards the restricted cinema, first passing through several security posts. The first film we were shown was “The Gospel According to Saint Matthew.” It was real shock for me. It helped me overcome all my irony and to accept the Savior, Jesus Christ. The background of the film was that Passolini, an Italian Communist, had who stayed some night in some hotel, had the Bible on the bed next to him, read St. Matthew’s Gospel, and decided he wanted to make a film that would simply show every scene from this Gospel. He decided not to use professional actors. He found people on the streets. Jesus Christ was played by a Spanish student he happened to meet. After seeing this film, I couldn’t he silent. I started preaching to my colleagues. They were amazed because I had been such a cynical man, and here I was promoting the film as being the truth.
Thanks to this film, I became a Christian and searched for a Christian way of life. I was a Christian outside the Church. I didn’t know what the Church was. I took my Bible with me and went to look for people thinking similar thoughts. The people I met became the core of that Christian Seminary. This was the summer of 1973. We felt that we were missing something, that there was a mystery hidden somewhere, but we couldn’t touch it. The Church was far from everything we knew, but finally I made a big effort and went to church.
It was a big church near the center of Moscow. I was amazed it was so crowded. It amazed me that so many of those attending the Liturgy were from the intelligencia. Despite there being so many people, I was able to walk toward the altar right through the crowd. A saw a bishop was celebrating. I didn’t understand what exactly was going on. Almost everyone was crying. I couldn’t understand why, but I was also crying. And when the bishop came out to serve communion, a certain power pulled me toward the chalice. It so happens, without thinking about fasting, I hadn’t eaten the whole day. Even the days before, it so happens, I had been fasting. It was by accident. And I received Communion. After that I found out that it was Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, the bishop in London, who gave me communion. He happened to be in Moscow at that moment.
Were you already baptized?
My grandmother had arranged my baptism secretly when I as a child. My father, a Communist, didn’t know.
What happened after your first communion that day in Moscow?
My friends also started going to church and participating in church life. But we encountered a new problem. It seemed to us that the church as an institution was not ready to accept us. The priests were afraid of us, and not only the priests. I went to a church in Kazan and when I entered, an old babushka tried to push me out. She thought that since I was a young man, I must be a representative of the government or the Konsomol [the young Communist association] who had come to provoke them in order to shut down the Church. At that time young people did not go to Church. She was protecting their church against me, or my kind. It was not easy to stay! But when the old women saw that I went to confession and I received communion, they all cried. At the end they all came and they wanted to kiss me and thank me. It was a powerful experience — they saw a new generation coming into the church.
We young people found ourselves in a very complex situation. It was difficult to find a place for ourselves inside the church. There was no living community, and no education. We were trying to find out what were the possibilities, what could we do in this world as Christians, as Orthodox Christians.
In this kind of schizophrenic situation, we could only pray while we were in church, and then it was like leaving our belief in a kind of waiting room. It was difficult for us to understand because the reason we came to church was because it was the truth, but outside the church we had to go on living as Soviet citizens. This being torn apart was very difficult. We came to church because here was the True Light. That’s why we started the Christian Seminar, because we couldn’t live with this church which was silent.
the submerged mystical city of Kitezh
The Seminar helped us to start a living Christian community, and also to educate us in Orthodox belief. Then we started to travel all over Russia in what we called our search for the invisible town of Kitezh. Kitezh is a fabled place miraculously preserved under the waters of the Svetloyar Lake where the old way of life and worship has continued without pause. According to the legend, occasionally Kitezh rises from the water and appears to the devout. To “search for Kitezh” is a way of speaking in metaphors about the search for holiness. Little by little we were discovering the spiritual life in Russia. It was hidden, but it started to open to us. We didn’t want to remain just a small intellectual circle of Orthodox youth. We found monks and nuns who helped us. Now today we can openly talk about this, how in the Ukraine, at the Pachaiev monastery, they hid us from KGB at a time when the KGB was looking for us. And they helped us with other ways. They gave us money and helped us buy a house for the Seminar. We declared that house to be a kind of free territory, not part of the Soviet Union, a liberated territory. Of course the authorities paid us back and they declared us to be a forbidden zone. We were actually provoked, persecuted.
One day I was called to Moscow by the KGB. Five strong men from the KGB put me in a car and driven out of the city. The car stopped in the middle of the forest and I was thrown out of the car. They put me against the car, and encircled me, holding guns in their hands. At that moment, someone in a black suit came toward us out of the forest, walking in our direction very slowly. And the KGB men opened their circle and stood to the side. The man in black said, “You are free.” But when I tried to get through the circle of the KGB men, they wouldn’t let me pass. So I said to the man in black, “I can’t go, I can’t get out.” He made a gesture, and then I was able to force my way out with my shoulders. And I walked away, all the time waiting for a shot in my back. I didn’t know where I was — a very dark wood.
Then behind me I heard footsteps. The KGB men again surrounded me, one on the left, one on the right, one in front, one in back. They said, me “Now we will look for a place where we can shoot you.” I understood that this is the blind force of evil, which in this world you can never hide from. They brought me to a certain place, then one of them took out his gun and said, “Get down on your knees.” I responded, “I kneel only in front of God.” Then he fired a shot, but over my head. After that he said, “We don’t want any new martyrs.”
After this incident, for a certain time they left the Christian Seminar in peace, but before long once again they were looking for ways to frighten us. There were times when we had to flee over roofs. We had to invent all kinds of conspiracies, not because we were hiding guns or narcotics, but spiritual literature. So we were actually forced to behave in that way.
Yet all this time we were living with the constant feeling of the presence of God. There were many miracles that saved us. But finally there came a moment when I was arrested and was brought to Lubianka, the KGB headquarters in Moscow. They told me, “It is time you put an end to behaving as a hero. You have one month, we give you the possibility to leave, get out.” I said “Why should I leave my country? I was born here, why should I leave?” They started shouting at me, “We give you one month. If you don’t emigrate in that one month, then we will arrest you and you will never get out again, you will die in prison. You will die forgotten and deserted by all.”
In those years it was almost impossible to emigrate. Only 1,500 Jews emigrated in one year. What we understood is that once you were willing to speak, you had to be willing to pay the price. We had to prove that Christianity is not an abstract idea, but that it was real life. And so we decided that I would go to prison. After me 13 others were arrested. There was a kind of systematic arrest of every new leader that came after me. I must say that all of us behaved very bravely in prison. Nobody surrendered.
Before I was imprisoned, I knew that I would have a difficult time in prison — I liked being free, I liked good food, I liked all these things. I was afraid. I thought I would not be able to lead a worthy life in prison. In prison you have constantly to fight for your own rights and for the rights of the other prisoners. But finally when I was imprisoned, I discovered my own depths, and not only inside of myself, but in every man. This was such an elevation, it lifted me spiritually, but also it gave me strength. There are many stories I could tell you, but I’ll tell just one.
This was during my stay at the Habarosk prison. I was being held in a large cell shared with many others. It was the plan of the KGB on this occasion to break me with the help of the real criminals. The door was closed. I heard the lock slam in place, leaving me with about forty men, half naked, all with tattoos.
As I entered the cell, I said, “Peace be with you.” It was strange for them to hear these words — they looked at me in amazement. At that time I did not wear prison clothing — I still had my own clothes. And they said, “Take your clothes off,” and they threw some old rags at my feet, which I had to put on.
I answered, “I can give away my own clothes only to those who really need them, not if you force me to.” They started yelling at me, and they were at the point of violence. The leader of this group, a man sitting on a top bunk, said, “You will be sleeping near the toilets” — the place where the worst criminals sleep, the pederasts. You find this pecking order in every prison. The pederasts are considered subhuman. Most of them are not real criminals, but victims themselves. What happens to them is that they are violated, used sexually as a punishment.
The men in the cell were getting ready to attack me. Then one of them asked me, “You said ‘Peace be with you.’ Are you a Christian?” And I said, “Yes.” He replied, “We heard that if a Christian prays to his God, then a miracle occurs. So please prove to us that you are a Christian and not just somebody trying to make an impression.” In prison it is very important that you take responsibility for everything you say. And I accepted this challenge.
They answered, “We are the scum of the earth, everything is negative as far as we are concerned. We have nothing, not even cigarettes to smoke. And our ears have become thick because of not smoking. So if you really are a Christian, please pray to your God that we get something. Pray to your God that He will bring us something and then we will believe that He exists.”
I said, “I’m convinced that the miracle will happen, but for this we have to pray all together.” That was my condition. I went into the center, or in the middle of the room. And I made them all get up from their beds, because it is our tradition to stand in front of God as a sign of respect. And they all got up. They were all smiling and they thought it was a kind of game, and they would beat me up in the end. So I said, “Please listen carefully to the words of the prayer. And those who are able to, repeat them. And the other who was not able to repeat the words, just listen.” And I started to pray.
After one minute I started to feel by the skin of my back that something was going on. You have to realize that in this atmosphere of hatred and cynicism, and neglect, for the first time these high words of prayer were heard. A devout atmosphere of silence came into the room. And when I ended the prayer, the smiles from their faces had gone, and they were full with a new feeling. It was the first time in their lives that they heard these words, and it probably had touched their hearts. And in this complete silence I showed them with my hands that they could sit down. And at that exact moment, a small window in the door was opened, and cigarettes were thrown through the hole in the door.
Who would believe God can show Himself with cigarettes.
We don’t know His ways. Before the prayer I had told them smoking is a sin, but that God will show this miracle to show His love. Their Creator loves them despite their sins, and because of this love, He will show his miracle even in this way, not withstanding that the behavior is sinful.
I tell you this story just so you will know how my heart was burning when I was in prison. I understood it was not an ordinary imprisonment — it was a kind of mission. And I tried to make something out of this. Finally, when the KGB or authorities understood how dangerous it was to keep me together with other prisoners, I was isolated completely. And then too I understood how wise that was. Because while I was living in the world, my prayer was not strong enough, and I did not have the peace to think. I was very much involved fighting the system, and in a certain sense this influenced my spiritual life. And I understood it was necessary for me to be in isolation. Of course it was very difficult for me — I had no contact with priests, I couldn’t receive communion.
When you say it was necessary, do you mean it was God’s will?
Yes. For instance one day I felt that I absolutely needed to confess, and I started to pray to several saints, and when I directed my words to St. Seraphim, I had this physical feeling that an epitrachelion was touching my head. And literally this heavy feeling was lifted from my heart, and I felt as if I was born again. And I think that I had the strongest experience of gratitude I had during isolation. And that is the reason why sometimes I long to be in isolation again.
(thanks for this to Jim Forest)
* * *
translation from Russian: Kathi Hansen-Love; transcription of the tape: Mitchell Goodman.
Martin Luther King
MEET HATE WITH LOVE (click)
THE THEOPHANY (continued)
his source, click here
The Feast of Theophany is one of the twelve major feasts. It has 4 days of Forefeast and 8 days of Afterfeast. The Leavetaking is on January 14. It is celebrated in many respects similar to the feast of the Nativity of Christ. The All-night Vigil for the feast of the Baptism always begins with the Great Compline, therefore the Great Vespers on that day is done earlier. If the feast falls on Sunday or Monday, the Liturgy is that of St. Basil the Great. If the feast falls on other days of the week, the Liturgy is that of St. John Chrysostom. In the Liturgy, instead of "the Trisagion Hymn" sing "As many as have been baptized into Christ...", in commemoration of the ancient custom to do the solemn baptism of catechumens on this feast. Instead of the "Hymn to the Theotokos" sing the Irmos of the 9th ode of the Canon.
On January 6, after the Liturgy is finished, usually, at the springs, rivers and lakes, or ponds and wells, "The Order of the Great Sanctification of Holy Theophany", i.e. the great sanctification of water in commemoration of the baptism of the Lord is also done the same, as in the Compline of the feast.7 For this sanctification of water there is a solemn procession with the cross, the Gospel, lamps and banners to the water, during the ringing of the bell and while singing the Troparion: "The voice of the Lord upon the waters...", etc. The return procession is done while singing: "When Thou, O Lord, was baptized in the Jordan..."; at the very entrance of the temple we sing the Ideomelon: "Let us sing, O faithful".
1. In the past, on the shore of the Jordan, that place where, according to tradition, the Savior was baptized, there was a hermitage of the Holy Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord John. Sorrowfully, at the present time, the once glorious hermitage presents itself as a heap of sad ruins scattered on the coastal hills of the sacred river.
2. The Holy Spirit was revealed as a dove because this image most resembled both the Holy Spirit and Christ the Lord. According to the teaching of St. John Chrysostom, "the dove is a gentle and pure being and like the Holy Spirit is a spirit of meekness, that He also was revealed with the same image"; "in the form of a dove the Spirit descended as the depiction of Christ's humanity as pure, sinless and true". According to the explanation of Cyril of Jerusalem, "as then during Noah's time the dove announced the end of the flood bringing an olive branch, and now the Holy Spirit as a dove announces the remission of sins; there, an olive branch, here, the mercy of our God". Explaining the descent of the Holy Spirit, Who was before one in essence with Christ, St. Athanasius the Great says: "let anyone not understanding that Christ received, not having Him before, for He sent the Spirit from above as God, and He received Him below as man". St. John Chrysostom explains: "The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus not as if at this time it was the first time bestowed ,but to reveal the Preacher".
3. The feast is established on the 6th day of January, agreeing with tradition, according to which it says that this day was made a festal event, and also according to the witness of the Gospel, which announces that Jesus Christ on the day of His baptism, was "about 30 years of age" (Lk.3:23); therefore it follows He was baptized near the day of His Nativity.
4. Roman Catholics even now places the worship of the magi as the main object of the feast on January 6; Theophany as the baptism of the Savior is celebrated on January 13; and on the Sunday following the Baptism Theophany is celebrated in the changing of water into wine.
5. In these hymns, by the way, the tradition that Jesus Christ was baptized through immersion is clearly expressed. Thus, for example, the expressions about Him: "He is covered by the waters of the Jordan", "He is clothed with the waters of the Jordan". In the Octoechos service for Tuesday, Tone 1 Matins, the Canon directly says that John the Baptist "has plunged the head of Christ in the waters". The evangelists (Mt. 3:16, Mk. 1:10) definitely speak about "the ascent of the Savior from the water" that naturally followed the descent into the water. All this, taken together, is the precise idea that at the baptism of the Savior, all of His body and His head, went through immersion in the Jordan.
6. The people know this feast as the "Jordani" because the church processions to the rivers for the blessing of water are like going to the Jordan River. In the some places this feast is called "Vodoshchi" that is "baptized water" (vodokreshchi), from the blessing of water.
According to the weather on the day of Theophany the people build conjectures about the future situation of crops and weather: if on Theophany it snows, there will be a harvest; if it is a clear day, there will be a poor harvest. If on Theophany the day is warm, the grain will be dark (thick). If on the day of the Baptism there are blue clouds at midday, there will be a harvest; if on the Baptism there is a snow storm, and on the Saint's day there is a snow storm; if the Jordan ice-hole is full of water, the overflow will be big; bitter cold foretells a bumper crop year.
In some places there is a custom on this day to bathe in the rivers (they bathe in particular so that for the Saints they are disguised, their fortunes told and so forth, attributing to this bathing cleansing power from these sins). Such a custom cannot be justified as a desire to imitate the example of immersing the Savior in the water, and nor to the example of pilgrims to Palestine, bathing in the Jordan River in all seasons. In the East it is safe for pilgrims, because there is no such cold and frost there, as it is for us. For the benefit of this custom one cannot speak with conviction on the healing and cleansing power of the water blessed by the Church on the day of the baptism of the Savior, because to bathe in winter either means to demand a miracle from God, or complete scorn for one's life and health.
If one is to believe the newspaper articles that in the Sukhumi area there is a custom that the holy cross is plunged into the water during the blessing of waters, which one of the laymen present offers to take it from water as a payment to somebody (Sunday (Nedelia) 1892). In the seaside cities of the Taurian Province the custom of throwing the cross into the sea is observed among the Russian population. This custom is generally brought from Greece where there are always seekers to retrieve the thrown cross during which in a single year does not manage the act without murders and accidents (see Riazanskiia Eparchialjniia Vedomosti (Riazan Diocesan News) 1894, 5). In our Southern seacoast population this custom is brought by colonists and that after the blessing of water, a big wooden cross is thrown into the waves, for which some people even swim, sitting on their boats, hardly covered with an overcoat; then the latter quickly dives in and all wishing to get the cross quickly swim to it; after having retrieved the cross they follow him to the city, collecting gifts for the retrieval; thus, in one of the places part of money goes to the poor, a part to the parish church and a part for the benefit of the retrieved cross; in other places all the collected money of the retrieved cross is spent for a little feast. One cannot be tolerant of and should destroy these customs in themselves and those that similarly describe customs breaking the sacredness of the observed celebrations and contradicting the spirit of true Christianity.
7. The rite of the Great Blessing of Water arose from the custom to baptize Catechumens on the Eve of Theophany. The prayers of the Theophany Sanctification of Water are taken from the rite of Baptism and there is no other, as the latest of its processing. Therefore the oldest known date for the rite of the Theophany blessing of water is for the evening and night on the eve of this feast, instead of on the day of Theophany. This custom of the one time blessing of water on the eve of Theophany was kept up until the XI-XII century and, then, under the influence of the Jerusalem Typicon (Ustav), conceded to the two times blessing of water, in which the blessing of water was done on both the eve and on the day of Theophany. The latter custom, gradually strengthening, eventually received positive meaning in the Greek Typicon of the Jerusalem branch and in its service books from the same source. In the Slavonic Typicons (Ustavi) of the Jerusalem edition it speaks about the two, and then about the one blessing of water. Maximus the Greek who lived on Mount Athos bore witness that during his time in the East and, often, on Mount Athos there was the custom of the two blessings of water and there even was written a special letter for the protection of this custom. The question on this custom was posed by Arsenius Sukhanov (made on his 1651-1652 travel to the East) for a decision by the patriarch, and was solved positively. (See the details in The Church Typicon (Ustav), J. Mansvetov, pp. 156 - 9). Patriarch Nikon, entered into the error of one Greek book (where he found evidence of Evodus, Patriarch of Constantinople, that the blessing of water on Theophany should be done only once, and in the Compline of the feast, and not in church, but at the river), not seeing that until then both among us and in the East there was the custom to bless the waters twice (in Compline in the church and on the day of the feast at the river), and also not at all seeing the conviction of the Antiochian Patriarch Macarius not to back off from this custom, decided to back off, and at a little council called by him in 1655, it was postulated: "On the day of Theophany do not proceed to the baptismal font and do not do the blessing of water". (History of the Russian Church by Macarius, Metropolitan of Moscow, volume XII, pp.199-200). But the Great Moscow Council of 1666-1667 decided: "By command and an oath, which Nikon, who was the Patriarch, injudiciously laid down to do the blessing of waters on Holy Theophany one time, only in Compline, we resolve and we remand and we impute it as nothing. We rule and bless to do according to the ancient custom of the Holy Eastern Churches and according to the tradition of the Holy and God-bearing Fathers: to do the blessing of holy waters in Compline in the churches, and after Matins at the river, for all church typicons also say prayers and do the action" (Materials for the History of the Schism (Raskol), vol. 2, part 2, pages 237-8; refer to page 362 in the same place). In past times in our printed typicons (for example 1695, 1733, 1791) a special article about the two great blessings of water was located. A publication of the Synodal printing house in 1795 "the Order of the Church Servers and Rites, observed in the Great Dormition Cathedral" (in Moscow), orders the bishops to do the great blessing of water twice: in Compline and on the day of Theophany; thus it speaks of the time of the fulfillment of the blessing of water: "in the year 190 (i.e. 1681) the great Lord, the Most Holy Joachim, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia specified this action to take place after the liturgy, but the liturgy is served early, having counseled with his sons, with the most reverend metropolitans, archbishops and bishops" (page 5). The contemporary Typicon, ordering to do the great blessing of water on the eve of Theophany, passes in silence about doing this blessing of water on the day of Theophany. As if the existing church practice everywhere in the cities, on January 6, after the liturgy, from the cathedral temples, with the participation of city parish clergy, we have a solemn cross procession to the so-called "Jordan", arranged,ordinarily, at the river, for the fulfillment there of the great blessing of water. Also in the villages as far as it is known to us, at the appointed time there is a cross procession to the river, and other water reservoirs, for the fulfillment there of the great blessing of water. If there is no cross procession to the river or other water reservoirs where these water places are situated too far from the parish temple; but all in all even in such districts, ordinarily, near the temple the great blessing of water is done also in deliberately prepared vats or tubs. However, perhaps, where at the appointed time they do not do the blessing of water at all, or instead of the great they do the lesser blessing of water. But this is wrong, because, according to the above-stated data, on the day of Theophany, as well as in the Compline of this feast, one must do the Great Blessing of Water.my source: Mystagogy
his source, click here
JANUARY 6TH: THE GOSPEL AND HOMILY AT THE PAPAL CELEBRATION OF THE EPIPHANY
RUSSIANS BATHE IN ICEY WATER ON THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY