Holy Epiphany and the Blessing of the Waters

 
A Major Sacred Feast Day in the Greek Orthodox Calendar

 Many of Greece's traditional events and celebrations, inherited throughout history, have remained festive occasions of great meaning and beauty to this day. One of these is the Orthodox Christian Feast of Epiphany also known as the ”Ta Fota” (the Feast of Lights), or ”Theophany” (the Revelation of God), held annually on January 6. According to tradition, Epiphany, together with the Day of St. John the Baptist celebrated the next day, ends symbolically and festively the cycle of the 12 days of winter holidays that begins on Christmas Eve.

 Epiphany is the second major sacred feast day in the Greek Orthodox Calendar after the Feast of Resurrection. In the Greek Orthodox Church, like in the entire Eastern Church, Epiphany celebrates the solemn Blessing of the Waters, in commemoration of the Baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist. The name "Epiphany" or "Theophany" has an ancient origin and signifies the manifestation of the Godhead as Holy Trinity - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - during the Baptism of Christ. As the evangelists describe this biblical episode, the Heavenly Father's voice was heard saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," revealing the divine nature of Christ, and the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, a symbol of purity and innocence.  In the Orthodox Church, this is the day when all of creation is illuminated by the sanctifying presence of God, hence the name ”Ta Fota”, the Lights.

The Sanctification of the Waters and the Ritual of Casting the Cross into the Sea

 The actual day, and its eve, are marked in a variety of ways, and many joyous and spectacular ceremonies are held throughout Greece and Crete.  Celebrations begin on the Eve of Epiphany, the 5th with children singing Fota kalanda (carols) and taking the message of Jesus’ baptism from house to house in their neighborhoods. At churches, the service of ”Mikros Agiasmos” (”the Small Sanctification of Water”) is celebrated.  The faithful are blessed by the Priests holding the Holy Cross in hand and dipping basil branches into the Holy Water and then sprinkling it on the forehead of each. The priests then bring holy water to their community, visiting and blessing all the Greek orthodox homes. 

 The actual celebration begins with the service of the Holy Mass in the churches. Then, from the churches, the processions comprised of clergy, local authorities, and worshipers head to the nearest large body of water  - sea, lake, river– where the sacred ceremony of ”Megalos Agiasmos” (”Great Sanctification of Water”) is held, at a dock or promenade. On this day, as Jesus Christ blessed the waters of the river Jordan by his baptism, the Orthodox priests bless all waters. Of course, in Crete, this ceremony takes place in most cases, on the seashore. In the ports of the big cities, there are special preparations for a really impressive show, which includes the marching band and the military guard.

 The most epic part of the tradition is at the end of the sanctification ceremony, when a priest, surrounded by brave young men and boys, casts a cross into the sea, not once, but three times – for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - thus blessing the waters. The brave swimmers dive into the cold water to retrieve the cross. Those who recover it and return it to the priest receive a special blessing, which is believed to bring good luck and health for the coming year. Also, during the ceremony, one or more white doves are released, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, as was present at the baptism of Christ. After the sanctification of the waters, the local fishermen bring their boats to be blessed by the priest, as well. 

 In the end, the procession of parishioners returns to the church to receive the priest's blessing with the bundle of basil damp with holy water. Before leaving home, they stop to fill the bottles with Holy Water from the large vessels in the churchyard. The tradition from the elders is that every Christian should have a vessel with the Holy Water in the house, keep it in a clean place, and taste it with reverence in the days of fasting or in times of trouble, need, or suffering.

 Winter is a wonderful time to visit Crete, and you can choose any city to enjoy the season's great events and feasts. For instance, by experiencing the Feast of Epiphany at Agios Titos Cathedral in the city of Heraklion and the ritual of blessing the waters in the old Venetian port, you will connect authentically and profoundly with the locals, their traditions, and their way of life and will add spiritual wealth to your journey.

 We are delighted to share with you a video and some photos from the Blessing of the Waters Ceremonies in the ports of Agios Nikolaos and Heraklion!

Xronia Polla! Kala Theophania!


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