Questions about Theophany


When is Theophany celebrated? What does it commemorate? What is another name for this feast?







The feast of Theophany is Jan 6 (Jan 19 on the civil calendar).

It commemorates the baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ, and much more, as its name implies. The word "Theophany" means a "manifestation of God". This is similar to another word by which this feast is known, "Epiphany", which just means "manifestation.

We celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ as a Theophany because the Holy Trinity was made manifest after His baptism (when He came out of the water).

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: {17} And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Mat 3:16-17)



Retell the story of the baptism of Christ. Which Evangelists report it?







All four Evangelists report the baptism of Christ, and its precursor, the preaching and baptizing of the Holy Prophet and Forerunner and Baptist John. The actual event of the baptism of our Lord is reported very laconically in St John's gospel, and is only alluded to.

Ministry of St John the Baptist: Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:1-8, Luke 3:1-20, John 1:19-34
Baptism of Christ: Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29-34

The story is actually very simple. The Holy Prophet and Forerunner and Baptist John was preaching repentance and baptizing in the Jordan. His ministry was preparing the hearts of the people for Christ. Jesus came upon him one day and asked to be baptized. The Holy Prophet was filled with fear and in humility told that Lord that it was he that needed to be baptized, and not Jesus. Jesus told John to "suffer it to be so now, to fulfill all righteousness." The Lord was then baptized (immersed) in the waters of the Jordan, and upon coming out of the water, He saw the "heavens opened", and a voice was heard from heaven, which said, "Thou art my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased", and a dove descended upon Him.



Why was Christ baptized?







Our Lord answers this question: "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." (Matthew 3:15)

Jesus has no need for the baptism of John, which was a baptism of repentance. (Matthew 3:11, and elsewhere). Neither did he have need for Christian baptism, which is the renewal of man and the making of a new creature. The God-man is totally sinless, and in no need of renewal.

The Holy Fathers tell us that "Righteousness" means the law. Christians are not forgiven the requirements of the law, since Jesus Christ came to fulfil the law, and not to destroy it. (Matt 5:17). The beginning we can have if we are to be perfect, as we are called to be (Matt 5:48, not an option!), is to have our nature renewed. Baptism delivers human nature from the curse, and we are made able to reach God, to know Him, and to become like Him in moral purity. (See Bl. Theophylact, commentary on Matt 3:15)

Our Lord was baptized as an example for us, to point out the necessity of baptism for man. There is no requirement that He has made for us that He did not fulfill Himself, including baptism. He did everything as a man that He requires of us, as men. He who endured smiting and spitting, and torment for our salvation demands of us that we turn the other cheek when we are smitten by our enemy. He Who prayed with fervor in the depth of the night demands of us that we pray without ceasing. He Who brought all things before His Father, and even the horrible specter of His impending death demands us to ask concerning all our needs. He Who submitted in all things to His Father demands of us that we pray, "Thy will be done" concerning all things in our life. He Who submitted Himself to baptism demands of us that we be born again, of water and the spirit.

"With the servants the Lord, with the criminals the Judge, cometh to be baptized. But be not thou troubled; for in these humiliations His exaltation doth most shine forth. For He who vouchsafed to be borne so long in a Virgin's womb, and to come forth thence with our nature, and to be smitten with rods, and crucified, and to suffer all the rest which He suffered; --why marvellest thou if He vouchsafed also to be baptized, and to come with the rest to His servant. For the amazement lay in that one thing, that being God, He would be made Man; but the rest afar this all follows in course of reason." (St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily 22, Matthew 3:11)

"For righteousness is the fulfilling of the commandments "Since then we have performed all the rest of the commandments," saith He, "and this alone remains, it also must be added: because I am come to do away the curse that is appointed for the transgression of the law. I must therefore first fulfill it all, and having delivered you from its condemnation, in this way bring it to an end. It becometh me therefore to fulfill the whole law, by the same rule that it becometh me to do away the curse that is written against you in the law: this being the very purpose of my assuming flesh, and coming hither." (Ibid.)



What happened immediately after the Lord's baptism? What can we infer from this?







"And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: {17} And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Mat 3:16-17)

The heavens were opened to show us that our baptism will open the heavens for us. God is made accessible to us. We can know the Unknowable. We can be changed. A good work is begun in us, and we have the means to have the promise fulfilled in us: "... He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6)

We can only appropriate this promise, if we look up, unto heavenly things, and leave off earthly and corruptible things. "Wherefore were the heavens opened? To inform thee that at thy baptism also this is done, God calling thee to thy country on high, and persuading thee to have nothing to do with earth." (St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, op. cit.)

The Holy Spirit descended to show that He Who is baptized is greater than he who baptized. He it is Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, and with fire. (Matthew 3:11) When the voice came from heaven, the presence of the dove over Christ made it clear that the words were applied to the God-man, and not to His servant, John. "... The Spirit came in form of a dove, drawing the voice towards Jesus, and making it evident to all, that this was not spoken of John that baptized, but of Jesus Who was baptized." (St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, op. cit.)

(See also Bl Theophylact, Commentary of Matthew)



Where did the Lord go after His baptism? What happened? What may we infer from this? Another significant event happened while the Lord was away. What was it?







After the Lord was baptized, "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." (Mat 4:1). He was gone forty days and nights, during which time, He fasted. After this, the devil came to Him to tempt Him, offering Him three great temptations, which He easily overcame. It was also during this time that the Holy Prophet and Forerunner and Baptist John was put in prison, fulfilling the prophecy of John himself: "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)

What are we to learn from the Lord's temptations, which followed immediately after His baptism? After our baptism, we must expect temptations. Our baptism begins our battle, and we must never rest. We must never think of the Christian life in an intellectual way, and must not be surprised when we encounter bitter temptations. No man can ascend unto dispassion and the knowledge of God with without temptations. Can we really expect to be left with no difficulties in this life, when the Lord Himself was troubled and buffeted? Our Lord warned us: "For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" (Luke 23:31)

Let us endure our temptations, and ascend, unto our destiny and purpose. " My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; {3} Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. {4} But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." (James 1:2-4)

"For since with a view to our instruction He both did and underwent all things; He endures also to be led up thither, and to wrestle against the devil: in order that each of those who are baptized, if after his baptism he have to endure greater temptations may not be troubled as if the result were unexpected, but may continue to endure all nobly, as though it were happening in the natural course of things. " (St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily 23, Matthew 4:1)



Why did St John the Baptist baptize?







The Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John's whole ministry was to point towards Christ. He himself tells us why he baptized: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" (Mat 3:11)



What major event in Israel points to baptism? Are there others?







The passage of the children of Israel through the Red Sea is a type of baptism.

Baptism is also alluded to in the magnificent event of the taking up of the Holy Prophet Elias in the chariot:

"The river Jordan was once turned back by the mantle of Elisseus when Elias had been taken up, and the waters were divided hither and thither. And for him the watery path became dry, verily as a type of baptism, whereby we cross the flowing stream of life. Christ hath appeared in the Jordan to sanctify the waters." (Troparion of the Forefeast of Theophany. Tone 4)

"And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. {10} And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so. {11} And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. {12} And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. {13} He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; {14} And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over." (2 Kings 2:9-14)



Name at least five Theophanies in the Old Testament and one besides the baptism of the Lord in the NT







  1. The Angel in the Furnace.
  2. The Three Angels who met Abraham.
  3. Moses seeing the "back parts" of God.
  4. Moses and the burning bush.
  5. Jacob wrestling the angel.
  6. Elias in the cave and the "still small voice".

The Transfiguration of Christ



The pastor visits the homes of all his parishioners and the days shortly following. Why? How should one make ready for this visit?







It is a long-standing tradition in Holy Orthodoxy that the homes of all the faithful be blessed yearly, after the blessed feast of Theophany. The power of water to sanctify and transform is amply demonstrated in baptism, and we believe that God chooses to bless us through holy objects and actions, such as the relics of those who have pleased God, holy icons, oil and water.

The priest usually prays a short service of supplication and then blessed all living areas of the house with water, while singing the troparion for Theophany. In this way, the home of a Christian is "marked" and sanctified.

When the priest arrives, the home should be very clean, and picked up. The doors to all rooms except the bathrooms should be open. It is good to have a small table set up, with a cloth on it, and a candle. If the family has an icon of the Theophany, it can be placed there, along with any other icons that are well loved in the family. The best place to put this table is before the family's icon corner.



What is the fasting typicon for every day from Nativity up to and including Theophany?







The Nativity of the Savior is such a joyous feast that all foods are allowed on the day of the feast and all days following, until the day before Theophany, which is a strict fast (if this day is Saturday or Sunday, wine and oil are allowed). On Theophany itself, of course, all foods are allowed.


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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas