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January 5, 2015

Clarifications and Guidelines for the Observation of Theophany

By Metropolitan Nikodemos of Patras

1. Is there a difference between the Service of the Great Blessing of the Waters that is performed on the eve of Theophany on January 5th and that which is performed on the day of the feast on January 6th?

The Service of the Great Blessing of the Waters that is performed on the eve of Theophany and on the day of Theophany is exactly the same.

Some believe incorrectly that supposedly on the eve of Theophany the Service of the "Small" Blessing of the Waters is performed while the "Great" Blessing is performed on the day of the feast. In both cases, however, it is the Service of the Great Blessing of the Waters that is performed. The Service of the Small Blessing of the Waters is performed on the first day of every month, as well as in various circumstances requested by Christians (for the blessing of homes, shops, buildings, establishments, etc.). The Service of the Great Blessing of the Waters is performed only twice a year (the 5th and 6th of January) in churches.

2. Where is the Holy Water from the Great Blessing kept and why?

The Holy Water from the Great Blessing is kept in the church throughout the year. It is not kept without reason. And the reason is none other than for the faithful to "partake" of it under certain circumstances and conditions. A common case is for those who are undergoing repentance and are under a penance from their spiritual father which prevents their participation in the Divine Eucharist, for a certain period of time, and Holy Water from the Great Blessing is traditionally given to them as a blessing and consolation. Nothing impedes a person from receiving Holy Water, as long as they are in a state of "repentance and confession".

It must be understood that the Holy Water from the Great Blessing does not substitute or replace the Divine Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, but brings benefit to those who prepare through repentance, to rid themselves of the obstacles of sin and be found worthy for Communion all the sooner.

3. Can the Holy Water from the Great Blessing that is kept in the home be consumed in a time of illness or to prevent the evil eye or any satanic energy?

The answer is affirmative. The sacred text of the Service of the Great Blessing refers to this, saying: "That this water may become a gift for sanctification, redemption for sins, for the healing of soul and body, and for every meet benefit,... That it may drive away all the cunning devices of our enemies, visible and invisible,... For those who drink therefrom and take home for the sanctification of their homes,... That it may be for those who drink and receive there from in faith a purification for their souls and bodies, let us pray to the Lord."

See also the Prayer to be Free of the Evil Eye: "Remove, drive away and banish every diabolical activity, every satanic attack and every plot, evil curiosity and injury, and the evil eye of mischievous and wicked men from your servant."

Without a doubt, the believer should avoid any outlets of manipulation, such as "spells", sorcery and other wiles of the devil, but rather as a conscious member of the Church they should resort to the valid "sanctifications" of the Church, such as the Service of the Great Blessing of the Waters as well as the so-called "Small" Blessing of the Waters, and thus they will become a partaker of divine grace through this medium of sanctification.

This assumes, of course, that in homes where the Holy Water of the Great Blessing is kept, the oil lamp will also be burning and will burn at all times, and there will be reverence from the members of the family, from the spouses and the children, and every cause will be avoided that will repel divine grace (such as blasphemies and other shameful things).

4. What is the relationship between fasting and the Holy Water from the Great Blessing?

The historical origins of the Great Blessing is as follows: In the ancient Church on the eve of Theophany - as well as on the eve of Pascha and Pentecost - the baptism of Catechumens took place, namely those who were becoming new Christians. The Sanctification of the Waters for the baptismal ritual was performed at midnight; this introduced the habit, according to St. John Chrysostom, of Christians taking this sanctified water and to either drink it or take it home with them for a blessing and to preserve it throughout the year. "This is the day on which Christ was baptized and through His baptism sanctified the element of water. Wherefore, at midnight on this feast, all (faithful) draw of the (holy) water and store it in their homes, because on this day the water is consecrated" (Homily on the Baptism of Christ, ΡG 49:366).

Later, however, at a time of liturgical decline, the Service of Sanctification was isolated from that of Baptism, although it retained many of its elements. The habit remained for the faithful to take the sanctified water "for the sanctification of their homes", as it says in the sanctification prayer of the Great Blessing Service.

Early on the habit of keeping a fast remained before the feast of Theophany, for two reasons:

First, the two Great Feasts of Christmas and Theophany in the ancient Church were united together, and they were called Theophany or Epiphany, which was celebrated on January 6th (this is still maintained in the Armenian Church today), but St. John Chrysostom separated these two feasts in the fourth century and appointed the Nativity of Christ to be celebrated on December 25th and the Baptism of Christ with the Manifestation of the Holy Trinity on January 6th. Every Despotic Feast is preceded by a fast for the psychosomatic purification of the faithful. Let us remember that fasting has an element of mourning for sins. So when the two feasts were separated, the fast which preceded them moved for that of Christmas, and this is why the Church appointed only one day of fasting on the eve of Theophany as a preparation for the feast, and not more days because the holy Twelve Days of Christmas are a time of festivity.

Secondly, it was also an ancient habit for those who were about to be baptized to fast, and together with them their sponsors, relatives and other Christians who voluntarily complied to fast "on behalf of the baptismal candidate". Therefore it was not difficult in the minds of the Christians to link the drinking of Holy Water and fasting without any causal relationship between them.

Therefore, to transfer the issue to nowadays, we can say that those who frequently partake of the Holy Mysteries and keep the fasts of our Church, such as that of January 5th, they are ready to drink from the Holy Water of the Great Blessing on January 5th and 6th. Otherwise, there should at least be a fast, as prescribed by one's spiritual father.

Lastly, those who occasionally drink from the Holy Water of the Great Blessing that they keep in their homes, in times of sickness and danger, etc., with or without fasting, let them not abstain from spiritual fasting, that we may "purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).

Source: This was published in the diptychs of 1999. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.