Epiphany is celebrated on Jan 6th, and it commemorates the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17). Epiphany is one of the major feasts of the Liturgical Year. During this service the Parish Priest blesses the Holy Water for the year, which is used to bless the homes of the people in the congregation. Let’s learn some more about Epiphany, the Blessing of the Water, and House Blessings.
The meaning of Epiphany
The doctrine of the Trinity is revealed in the Gospel reading of Christ’s Baptism, which reads:
And Jesus, when He had been baptised, came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.’
In this way, mystically, the Holy Trinity appeared before all the people at the Baptism of Christ: the voice of God the Father was heard witnessing to God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove upon the Saviour of the world. That is why this feast day is called the Epiphany (or Theophany — the manifestation of God to man). In this Epiphany God revealed Himself as Trinity. This is a very important part of the Feast, but there is more to it than this.
When Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan, He was not the one Who was purified, because He is without sin and has never needed to be purified. Rather, it was the water that was transfigured and illumined. Water, which was believed to be transparent and purifying, was in fact polluted and inhabited by evil spirits. Through entering into the water of the river Jordan for His Baptism, Jesus purified the elements, sanctified matter, and freed the cosmos from the powers of evil. Material creation once again became “very good” as it was in the beginning.
As a result of “the Fall” everything in the world has been spoiled, including us. God had to bless His world again so that it would be the way that He wants it to be. This is why He sent His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit to the world: to bless everyone and everything that He made and to make all things good again.
The Blessing of the Water
During the Epiphany service, the Priest has a large pot of water that he prays over and blesses, making it Holy Water. He then takes a bunch of basil and some of that water, and uses the basil to sprinkle the water onto the congregation, blessing them. Here are some prayers from the Liturgy of the Greater Blessing of Water that is done each year at Epiphany:
O, King who loves mankind, be present now by the descent of Your Holy Spirit, and sanctify this water. Amen. (Three times)
And grant it the grace of redemption and the blessing of the Jordan. Make it a source of incorruption, a gift of sanctification, a remission of sins, a protection against disease, a destruction of demons, unapproachable by the adverse powers and filled with angelic strength: so that to all who drink therefrom and receive thereof it may be for the sanctification of their souls and bodies, for the healing of their passions, for the sanctification of their homes, and for every purpose that is expedient. For you are our God who drowned sin in the Water at the time of Noah, You are our God who, through the waters of the sea, at Moses’ hand set free the Hebrew nation from the bondage of Pharaoh. You are our God who cleaved the rock in the wilderness, so that the waters gushed out and the streams overflowed and you have satisfied your thirsty people. You are our God who by fire and water delivered Israel from the error of Baal at the hands of Elijah.
Wherefore, O Master sanctify this water by your Holy Spirit. (Three times)
Grant to all those who touch it and who are anointed by it and who drink from it, sanctification, blessing, cleansing and health.
Incline your ear and hear us, O Lord, who sanctified water when you consented to be baptised in the Jordan. Bless us all who, by the bowing of our heads, outwardly show you our servitude, and count us worthy to be filled with your sanctification through partaking of this water and being sprinkled with it, and may it bring us, O Lord, health of soul and body.
Once we have attended the Liturgy for the Feast of the Epiphany, the main way in which we join in the commemoration of God’s sanctification and purification of all things through His Baptism in the River Jordan, is by having our homes blessed with the sprinkling of newly blessed water.
The Blessing of Water takes place at the end of the Liturgy on the Feast day. Since our homes cannot be brought to the Church, the Church, through the Priest, goes to the homes of every parishioner. There the sprinkling of newly sanctified water finishes the service of blessing that began in the Parish Church. The blessing of our homes by this holy water maintains the spiritual connection between the “home church” and the Parish Church. By this annual blessing of the places where we live, the grace of God is extended to our individual homes and families.
The house blessing is also a good way to show younger children the connection of the Church to the home. If the children are present when the Priest comes to bless the home, they have an opportunity to see him in a different and personal situation. If time permits they can show him their rooms or pets or favourite toys and they can receive a blessing with water.
In addition to having our homes blessed, we are also encouraged to take home some newly blessed water from the “Great blessing of the Water” service to use throughout the year. It can be used to bless our homes, to drink when we are ill or even to use as part of our daily prayer life. There are many occasions in family life when a sip of holy water can help to remind us of the blessing that was given “to bestow sanctification,” “for healing of soul and body,” and “to be a fountain welling forth for life eternal,” as the Priest prays in the Litany of the Feast of the Epiphany.
When the Priest comes to bless our homes, he asks God to have mercy on the house, to rid it of every evil and to fill it with every blessing.
- Theophany and the River Gods by Fr. Stephen de Young
- The Leave-taking of Theophany by Edith M. Humphrey
- Theophany shows the World to be the World by Fr. Stephen Freeman