Sunday, 4 January 2015

epiphany, theophany

The feast of the Epiphany—or Dreikönigstag as it is known in German, celebrates the arrival of the Magi to greet the infant Jesus and marks the twelfth day of Christmastide. On the eve of the holiday, priests bless frankincense (Weihrauch), gold that decorates the church and the chalk used to inscribe the initials of the Three Wisemens over the thresholds of the community, the names Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar also being an abbreviation for Christus mansionem benedicat—“may Christ bless this house.” One of the original purposes behind this pageant was to publicise the date of Easter and thus the liturgical schedule of the new year, before the availability of calendars. Eastern traditions also observe a similar feast on 6 January—though the Julian calendar in the present century is thirteen days ahead of the Gregorian one, though it is called Theophany, which is closer to the Greek source word meaning God’s shining forth.
Among other solemnities, which include priests making the rounds to homes of parishioners, the Orthodox priest will also bless a special batch of holy water that’s known as the Waters of Theophany and shared from the fount by the faithful. A greater ablution will take place afterwards, with a procession proceeding to the nearest natural reservoir, a lake, a harbour, and a cross will be cast into the water. In Greece particularly, this is done to calm the waters and make it safe for sea-travel after the stormy winter months and disperse the gremlins called καλικάντζαροι that bedevil ships. Parishioners will dive in to retrieve the cross and return it to the priest for a special blessing.