Epiphany and creation
Religion & Liberty Online

Epiphany and creation

Today, Orthodox Christians all over the world are celebrating Epiphany, one of the great feast days of the Eastern Church.

Epiphany is, for the Orthodox, the manifestation of the Lord’s divinity and the mystery of the Trinity, the inauguration of the sacrament of baptism, and the beginning of the preaching of the Kingdom of Heaven. For the Orthodox, Epiphany is also a profoundly ecological moment. Churches hold Blessing of the Waters services which commemorate Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River, an event that transformed not just earthly Creation, but the entire cosmos.

In a 1991 article, Bishop Irineos Pop of the Romanian Orthodox Church wrote, “The blessing of the waters shows us the sanctifying and redemptive power given to an element of creation through the invocation of the Holy Spirit by the Church. What is important for us, however, is that the baptismal water represents the matter of the cosmos, the world as life of man. And its blessing at the beginning of the baptismal rite acquires thus a truly cosmic and redemptive significance. God created the world and blessed it and gave it to us as our food and life, as the means of communion with him. The blessing of water signifies the return or redemption of matter to this initial and essential meaning. By accepting the baptism of John, Christ sanctified the water – made it the water of purification and reconciliation with God. It was then, as Christ was coming out of the water, that the Epiphany – the new and redemptive manifestation of God – took place, and the Spirit of God, who at the beginning of creation “moved upon the face of the waters”, made water – that is, the world – again into what He made it at the beginning.”

The Armenian Orthodox writer Vigen Guroian observes that “the Orthodox rites of blessing show how closely ecology is related to the theological notion of oikonomia in Eastern theology. The object of the divine economy is the oikoumene — the whole inhabited Earth. For, as the Psalmist says, “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world, and those who dwell therein (Ps. 24:1, RSV). Orthodox theology founds this cosmic scope of the divine nurture and restoration and renewal of creation in the Incarnation.”

His All-Holiness Ecumencial Patriarch Bartholomew is in Tarpon Springs, Fla., today to celebrate Epiphany. Information about his visit, including a live Webcast of the Partriarchal Liturgy, is linked here.

Today the grace of the Holy Spirit, hallowing the water, becomes co-worker (with Christ our God).

Today the heavens gaily bedew from above with the dew of grace, and today shone forth on us the sun inextinguishable, and all the world is radiant with light.

Today the moon beams forth with a great light, and withal the world is filled with splendor.

Today the light-clad luminaries work hearty good unto all that dwell on earth.

— From the Armenian prayer for Epiphany

John Couretas

is a writer and editor based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.