Epiphany – a feast of renewal
On January 19th, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Epiphany.
Epiphany is one of the main Christian holidays, one of twelve, which is celebrated and has been since the first ages of Christianity. On this day, Our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized in the River Jordan.
The Gospels say that St. John the Baptist, also known as John the Forerunner, who started the practice of baptizing people, received a revelation that the Savior of mankind would come to him to be baptized. Several days later, Jesus Christ came to him. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit in the image of a dove descended on Him, and John heard the voice of God the Father: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased”.
“Christ’s mission was to deify man’s nature – and to sanctify the whole world. By receiving baptism in the River Jordan, He sanctified the water element – and thus the whole of nature,” said Archbishop of Egoryevsk Marc.
“On Epiphany’s eve, the Orthodox Church performs a ceremony of sanctifying water. On Epiphany, many people try to dip into ice holes. The paradoxical thing about Christianity is that man’s deification is achieved by God’s humbling of Himself. One of the canticles which are sung in churches on Epiphany has the following lines: “At His receiving baptism, God disrobed Himself, so that man’s nature, disrobed by Adam’s sin, might receive the robes of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
The feast of Epiphany has always been especially loved by Christians. In the earlier ages of Christianity, the Church baptized people only on Epiphany, thus the feast was celebrated for several days. Today, the ceremony of baptism is performed all year long.
Diverse Orthodox countries have different traditions of celebrating Epiphany. For example, in Greece, Bulgaria and some other countries a cross is thrown into the sea. It is believed that the one who gets it back will receive God’s blessings.
Russian Orthodox believers observe strict fasting on Epiphany’s Eve. In the morning of January 19, a ceremony of sanctifying water is performed in the churches. Drinking sanctified water is believed to bring corporal and spiritual health. This water is also used for sanctifying houses and offices.
From year to year, the number of those who dare to dip in the icy water on Epiphany is growing – despite the fact that this day in Russia is usually marked by severe frost. In Russia, this custom was established with the coming of Christianity in the late 10th century. On the feast’s eve, ice holes in the form of a cross are made on rivers and lakes. This ice hole is called Iordan – from the name of the River Jordan. Last year, over 60 thousand people dipped into water on Epiphany in Moscow. This year, the city’s authorities have made over 70 ice holes.