Wednesday, 6 January 2010


“Prayers go up and blessings come down.” – Yiddish Proverb

Today is the Feast Day of the Epiphany. The Epiphany (also called Theophany = manifestation of God) celebrates three important events in the Christian calendar.  The first is the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem and the adoration of the Christ Child; the second is the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist; the third the miracle at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine, when there was no more wine for the guests at the wedding Jesus was invited to.  In the Western churches, the adoration of the Magi is the most important of these celebrations while in Eastern churches, Christ’s baptism is the most important.  The word “epiphania” in Greek means “manifestation” and refers to the appearance of the Christ child to the Magi. The winter jasmine (yellow jasmine), Jasminum nudiflorum, is a flower symbolic of the Epiphany and is also an attribute of the Virgin Mary.

In Greece this Feast Day of Christ’s baptism is celebrated with brilliance and there is a traditional blessing of the waters. There is an early morning liturgy in church, which is bedecked with greenery. The priest followed by the congregation then makes his way to a body of water (typically the sea, but it can also be a lake or a river, or even a swimming pool) in order to bless the waters in commemoration of Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan. The priest chants the blessing and throws a cross into the water. Young swimmers dive into the water to retrieve the cross. The person who brings back the cross to the priest kisses his hand, receives his blessing and a religious gift (in the past it used to be a gold cross to wear on a chain around the neck).

The priest has also blessed a large basin of water, which becomes “holy water” (ayiasmos), which is distributed to the faithful to take back home in order to bless the house. Whoever has fasted for three days before this blessing may drink three gulps of the “holy water” which will protect them from disease and evil. The fast is then broken at lunchtime and traditionally roast pork with celery and leeks is eaten on this day. Here is the Greek Carol of the Epiphany.

Κάλαντα Φώτων

Σήμερα τα Φώτα κι ο φωτισμός,
Η χαρά μεγάλη κι ο αγιασμός.

Κάτω στον Ιορδάνη, τον ποταμό,
Κάθεται η Κυρά μας, η Παναγιά.
Όργανο βαστάει και κερί κρατεί
Και τον Άϊ Γιάννη παρακαλεί:

“Άϊ Γιάννη αφέντη και βαπτιστή,
Βάπτισε κι εμένα, Θεού παιδί.
Ν’ ανέβω επάνω στον ουρανό
Να μαζέψω ρόδα και λίβανο.”

Καλημέρα, καλημέρα,
Καλή σου μέρ’ αφέντη με την κυρά!

Greek Epiphany Carol

Today is the Epiphany and the enlightenment,
Great joys of blessing and the Holy Water.

Down by the Jordan River,
Sits Our Lady, the Virgin Mary,
Holding a lute and a lit candle,
And She asks St John the Baptist:

“St John, Master and Baptist,
Baptise me as well, a child of God.
So that I may rise up to Heaven
And pick roses and incense.”

A good day, a good day,
A good day to you Master, and to the Mistress too!


  1. I had an epifanny when a girl named Typhanny manifested before me in Bacchus Marsh.
    You'll get no Comfort from my reassurance she exists, nor from my story of a Marketing Lecturer at Ballarat University who said he had never heard of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
    despite their full-page ads in every glossy business magazine. At least
    Louis is 'picking roses and incense'.

  2. I thin that we humans thrive on rite and ritual, it's part of our psyche, isn't it? Religion provides a means for ritualising our existence and these different feast days with their rich traditions colour the year with all means of events that dress up our lives.

    I think that as we move away from these traditions and as religion becomes "unfashionable" we are losing so much of the richness of this heritage and also we lack these rites and rituals in our lives. Nothing worse than each day being identical and the only rite and ritual we adhere to is a trip to the mall to shop.

  3. I'm sure I have seen this blessing of the water ritual, but I am sure it was Russian church not Greek.

    As a child I remember I became an "honorary catholic" because I had a friend who always was involved in pageants and church rituals and fetes and what appeared to be glamorous do's.

  4. Julia, the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox faith are essentially the same, hence the similarity in ritual.

  5. I didn't know about the ritual, though understand that water is used in various religious celebrations, such as christenings, etc.

    I think the children would enjoy the ducking and diving about in the water for the cross ( just so long as they don't fight over it ) :D