Category Archives: Theophany

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Christmas and Epiphany (part 3 of 7)

This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!

The feasts of the Nativity (simply called ‘Christmas’ in “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church”) and Theophany (referred to as ‘Epiphany’ in that same book) fall within days of each other, regardless of the calendar being followed. Christmas falls on Dec. 25 (or January 7), and Theophany follows on its heels, on January 6 (or 19). For many of us, local culture offers multiple traditions related to Christmas, but few (or even none) related to Theophany. The monk who wrote the book encourages his readers to think beyond our culture’s interpretations (or perhaps misinterpretations?) of these feasts, and embrace them in a truly Orthodox manner.

The monk notes that most of the western church, “officially assigns a place to Epiphany which is not inferior to that of Christmas; but the devotion of the faithful has definitely concentrated on this last feast; it would even seem that, for the majority… Christmas has become more important than Easter. However, being faithful to the early tradition, we consider Epiphany to be the highest and most complete celebration of the coming of our Lord amongst men.” (p. 66) He goes on to encourage his fellow Orthodox Christians to “consider the period which lasts from Christmas to Epiphany as an indivisible feast, of which Christmas is the starting point and Epiphany the culmination.” (p. 66-67)

His meditation on the Nativity reminds us that in our hymns, we sing of Christ as the Dayspring from on high, and we mention that those of us who were in shadow and darkness have found the truth. The monk continues by pointing out that the Eastern Church thinks of Christ in terms of light. “Byzantine Christians certainly do not forget that the Word became a small child who was laid in a manger; but, while Western Christians seem, since the middle ages, to cling with pleasure to this flesh and blood child, the East sees above all in the Incarnation the coming of light, its triumph over darkness, and our own conversion from the night of sin to the divine radiance.” (p. 67-68) He concludes that the spiritualization of Christmas found in the Eastern Church is a different mindset than the west. May we approach the Nativity of our Lord with the mindset of celebrating the coming of the Light into our world, and live in such a way that Our Lord can shine in our lives, driving out the darkness.

The monk’s meditation on Theophany reminds us that “Epiphany is the first public manifestation of Christ. At the time of His birth, our Lord was revealed to a few privileged people. Today, all those who surround John… witness a more solemn manifestation of Jesus Christ. What does this manifestation consist of? …On the one hand, there is the aspect of humility represented by the baptism to which our Lord submits: on the other hand, there is the aspect of glory represented by the human witness that the Precursor bears to Jesus, and, on an infinitely higher plane, the divine witness which the Father and the Spirit bear to the Son.” (p. 82) As we celebrate this important feast, may we honor Our Lord’s humility while also being awed by His glory.

So, let us take some time to learn more about what the Church teaches and practices with regard to both the feasts of the Nativity and of Theophany. Let us teach our students what we have learned. In this way, all of us together can better celebrate these blessed feasts!

 

Purchase your own copy of “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” by a monk of the Eastern Church, here: https://www.svspress.com/year-of-grace-of-the-lord-the/.This book, quoted above, will be an excellent resource for you throughout the Church year.

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the Nativity and Theophany:

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This link offers quotes from saints, excerpts from books, festal music upon which to meditate, and homilies from recent bishops all focused on the Nativity of our Lord: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/great-feast

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Read about Middle Eastern traditions for Theophany, such as “baptizing” dough in water and letting it hang outside to dry for a few days, then using the dough to make donuts at Theophany; and leaving a window in the home open so the Holy Spirit can enter; in the article “Holiday = Holy Day” by Natalie Ashanin, in “Feasts,” Issue #31 of Little Falcons magazine. This issue is still available here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf)

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“The Treasured Traditions and Customs of the Orthodox Churches” by Mary Paloumpis Hallick offers a variety of Christmas traditions from different Orthodox jurisdictions. It would be interesting to study the different customs as a class! From Serbians saving a piece of Christmas bread for the first visitor to their home; to the 12-dish Carpatho-Rusyn “Holy Supper” served over straw or hay on Christmas Eve; to the youngest Ukranian child watching through the window for the first evening star to appear before the Christmas Eve feast can begin; to the Russian babouschka offering gifts to children in attempt to make up for not offering food or shelter to the Magi; to the Greek sweet Christmas bread called “Christopsomo”; to the Romanian children caroling through their neighborhood while carrying a pole topped with a large wooden star bedecked with ribbons and bells… There are so many different traditions, and all of them are interesting. Consider sharing some of these traditions with your students over the course of a class or several class periods in a row, and be sure to invite them to share their family’s Christmas traditions, as well! Find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Treasured-Traditions-Customs-Orthodox-Church/dp/1880971690

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Check out the AODCE’s nativity board on Pinterest for inspiration if you need ideas for teaching your students about the Nativity of Our Lord! https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/nativity/

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Help your Sunday Church School students learn about the Nativity of our Lord! You may want to include some of the ideas we posted in this blog: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/on-the-feast-of-the-nativity-dec-25jan-7/

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There are many educational activity ideas for helping students of varying ages to learn about the Nativity in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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Find some ideas of ways to teach your students about Theophany in our blog post about the feast: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/08/on-theophany/

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Find a few links that can help you learn more about Theophany so that you are better prepared to teach your students about this feast here: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/post-feast

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In the fall 2002 “Handmaiden” magazine (sadly, now a no-longer-published magazine for Orthodox Christian women), Heather Zydek wrote an article called “Baptizing the Waters of America: the Theophany Traditions of the American Orthodox Church.” If you are able to locate a copy, read this article to find the variety of Theophany traditions that Orthodox churches across the United States employ in their celebrations of the feast! These traditions vary from region to region, as well as jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It is very interesting to read how our brothers and sisters celebrate the feast! Perhaps studying these traditions will help our students better appreciate our own traditions by helping them see the reasoning behind each tradition.

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Time for House Blessings

Theophany has already passed for those of us following the new calendar. The waters have been blessed. Our souls have been cleansed and refreshed by the drinking/sprinkling thereof. So now it’s time to help our Sunday Church School students learn about house blessings to ensure that they are prepared when the priest arrives to bless their home.

We should teach our students that the house blessing has been part of Orthodox Christian practice for centuries. They should also learn that although the house blessing is not a sacrament, it is an important part of helping Orthodox Christians to live the Faith at home. We also should teach our students (or at least refresh their memory) about the house blessing service itself: First, we can teach them about the service – the order of service, the prayers, and the hymn. Talk together with your class about the prayers, which request God’s sanctification of the home, and what they mean. Together sing the troparion to remind the students of how it goes; and then discuss the words in the troparion. Consider how special it is that they will have time to spend with the parish priest. Remind them that every member of the family can participate in and help with the house blessing, and that the entire family will benefit from the house blessing.

A little education will help our students and their parents to be ready for their house blessing. By teaching them about the house blessing itself, and helping them know what to do to help during the blessing, we will thereby also help our priest! So, let us do all that we can to prepare our students so that they can help to ready their home and their hearts for this special time of blessing!

Here is a useful printable that can help us teach our students about Theophany and house blessings. It also provides a checklist that we can go over together to be sure that we have everything ready! http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/Antiochian_Theophany.pdf

Here are a few other links and ideas that can help you as you prepare to teach your students about house blessings:

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The house blessing service can be found in its entirety here: http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/home_bless

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“If the priest comes to bless the home when the children are present, they have the opportunity to see the parish priest in a different and personal situation. If the priest permits, they can lead the way through the house, or hold a candle. They can show him their rooms or pets or favorite toys. They receive a blessing with water. For children, the house blessing shows the connection of the Church to the home.” ~ Phillys Onest, from http://www.antiochian.org/content/why-do-we-have-our-homes-blessed  (used by permission)

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“…By sanctifying our home, we extend the grace of God to the neighbors.” ~ from an Indonesian Orthodox house blessing video found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJm2S5qeDns
Teachers of older students can watch this video with their students. After watching, initiate a conversation about how our Orthodox brothers and sisters around the world worship. What is the same in an Indonesian house blessing as in your own? What is different?

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Help your Sunday Church School students prepare for their house blessing ahead of time: brainstorm, and then as a class come up with a list of things they can do to help.
Perhaps they can help to clean the house. They could also prepare the prayer corner and/or gather the items needed for the house blessing. (Find details about the service itself, as well as a list of needed items here: http://www.orthodox.net/10things/theophany-house-blessings.html.)

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One item needed for a house blessing is a candle. You could make special rolled-beeswax candles like these (http://www.thecreativesalad.com/2011/11/21/rolling-beeswax-candles/)
with your students, which they could then use at their house blessing.

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Another item needed for a house blessing is an icon of Theophany. In case your students’ families do not yet have this icon, the children could prepare one in class, and take it home to have on hand when the priest comes to bless their house. Younger students can color their own copy of the icon, which can be found here and printed: http://i1.wp.com/www.edmontoneparchy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Colouring-Theophany-copy-copy.png.
Older students could adhere a color copy of the Theophany icon onto a pre-painted or stained piece of  wood, using Mod Podge as suggested in this blog post: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2014/11/18/family-classroom-project-major-feast-days/.

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Although it is not on the list of things needed for a house blessing, encourage your students to write a thank you note for the priest as suggested in this blog post: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/02/16/feast-days-epiphany/. Help them to think of how many times Father does this service (and yet he never complains – he even is happy to be at our house!), how tired his voice must feel from singing the troparion over and over in each house he visits (which is why it is important that we help him by learning it and singing along!), how special it is that he traveled all the way to our house and took time for our family, etc. After talking through all of these things, give the students time to write a thank you note to give to the priest when he comes to their home to bless it. Be sure to send these notes home in case anyone has their blessing this week!

On Theophany

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/