On January 6 (January 19 for those following the old calendar) Orthodox Christians celebrate(d) Theophany. What exactly does the term “Theophany” mean? In case you didn’t know, Theophany means “the manifestation of God.” It is the perfect name for this day: for, indeed, Christ was revealed to the world at His baptism.
Why is Theophany so important? (It is the third greatest feast, after Pascha and Pentecost, even greater than the Nativity Feast!) It is significant for several reasons. First, it is the day in human history that marks when our Lord was baptized by John in the Jordan. More importantly, Theophany marks the point in our theological history when the Holy Trinity was revealed to the world. On Theophany, God’s voice was heard as He spoke, the Incarnate Word (Christ) was seen in the flesh as He was baptized, and the Holy Spirit was present in the form of a dove as He descended from Heaven. St. John of Damascus adds the following reasons for Theophany’s significance: “… the Lord was baptized, not because He Himself had need of cleansing, but to bury sin by water; to fulfill the Law, to reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and finally, to sanctify the nature of water and offer us the form and example of Baptism.”
How can we help our students to learn more about Theophany? First and foremost, we can encourage them to experience it for themselves by attending the services! The Divine Liturgy is celebrated, and afterwards, the service of the blessing of the waters. Note for future years: If we help our students to learn the troparion ahead of time, they can even sing along during the water blessing service. Many children enjoy this service because they love to watch their priest fling water on the icons and walls of the church, to feel the splash of Holy Water as it lands on them, and to taste the water for themselves after the service! We can also teach our students that the whole day of Theophany should contain delicious foods and a festive atmosphere, as well: it is a great Feast of the Church! Let us teach our Sunday Church School students about this feast, attend the services with them, and together celebrate with joy!
Christ is baptized! In the Jordan! We hope that you had a blessed Theophany!
Here are additional ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn about Theophany:
Print this stand-up centerpiece,one copy per student, to be the focus of attention on their home dining table during Theophany. It has a lineart copy of the icon, a simple explanation of the feast, and the troparion on the other side! It is a great way to decorate our table while focusing on the importance of this feast:http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/aae2368f6b752c8cba042e21917405cc.pdf
Here’s a printable bulletin called “The Children’s Word,” completely dedicated to Theophany. Print it and share it with your students to help them learn more about this great feast! http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Childrens-Word-99.pdf
Find great ways to teach your Sunday Church School students about Theophany, including an activity with pictures from the icon, here: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2015/01/kali-fotisi-wishes-to-you-for-good.html
Teach your class about Theophany using the definitions, links to icons (even one to color!), and other suggestions found here:http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/feasts/01-06.htm
Send a Theophany activity e-card to your Sunday Church School students, here: http://www.hamatoura.com/GreetingCard/Greetings.php?subject=Theophany%20of%20Jesus%20Christ&link=07JesusTheophany-En
If your Sunday Church School students enjoy crafts, consider having them decorate their own holy water bottles, with small new plastic bottles, permanent markers, and other decor (such as appropriate stickers, adhesive rhinestones, etc.). The children can take these bottles to have them filled with holy water, then they can take the holy water home and partake of as needed. (Perhaps they can keep the holy water bottle in their icon corner in their room, or at the family icon corner! Here is one idea of how to decorate a holy water bottle: http://www.catholicicing.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/holy-water-bottle-craft.jpg
To learn more about Theophany before you teach about it, consider listening to this podcast by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory: https://orthodoxword.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/theophany-the-radiant-shining-forth.mp3
or read this blog by Elissa Bjeletich: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/teaching-theophany/