Life & Faith

How the fathers walk with angels on Theophany

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a special day for all Christians. And the reason for this is in the greatest of the gift that the Lord gives us through the Church.

Many people are not very familiar with the reason why this feast is called the Theophany, and what is the essence is of these events recalled by the Church. But all of us know that on this day water is blessed in the Church; furthermore, on the feast of the Lord’s Baptism, all the water in the world is sanctified. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the “nature of water” is sanctified on this day, and this sanctified water, in a certain sense, cleanses the whole planet and sanctifies it.

The most important trait of holy water is its incorruptibility, without having any change to its chemical composition. Incorruption belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven, and when we sprinkle something with holy water, we want to impart to it God’s grace, present in the water. And the first place we all want to see sanctified is our home.

The period between the feast of Theophany and the leavetaking of the feast (January 6/19–14/27) has always been used to this aim. The first thing that points to this is the request during the ectenia on the day of the Theophany “for those who draw and take it [holy water] for the sanctification of homes.”

It must be noted that house blessings can be complete or abbreviated. The complete house blessing is only performed once (like the consecration of a church). A complete house blessing can only be repeated in special cases (for example, after desecration, fire, or something of that nature), just as in certain cases a full consecration of a church is performed (for example, in 1923 when St. Hilarion (Troitsky) re-consecrated the cathedral in the Sretensky Monastery after it was defiled by renovationists). A lesser house blessing can be repeated often.

A lesser house blessing does not have a fixed rite, and different priests practice it in different ways. But in every case, there is the singing of the troparion of the feast of Theophany[1] and sprinkling with holy water. Many of the faithful often ask why it is necessary to have a lesser house blessing if the house was previously consecrated according to the complete rite, and if they can bless it themselves.

The first question can be answered in the same way as it would about a church, as noted above. Especially since, during the period of early Christianity, private homes were used as churches for the serving of the sacraments. Even in our own times, confession, Communion, and Unction can be administered in private homes to the ailing, and sometimes even Baptism; therefore the comparison of a home with a church is perfectly appropriate.

So, a church is normally consecrated according to the complete rite only once. However, every time it is appointed to have a lesser blessing of the waters, the inside of the church is sprinkled again (for example, on the day of the icon of the Mother of God “Of the Life-Giving Spring” on Bright Friday; on the feast of the Procession of the Honorable Wood of the Cross of the Lord on August 1/14; and a few other days). On a church’s patronal feast day it is customary to sprinkle the church on the outside as well, during the cross procession around it. On August 1/14, the Typicon appoints the sprinkling not only of the church, but of all the parish or monastery buildings (Typicon for August 1).

Why should this be done if the church or monastery has already been sanctified once and is also continually sanctified by our prayers and the Liturgy?

Let us remember that the grace of a holy person permeates even his clothing and other objects that come into contact with him. Thus, for example, the cloak and belt of the Apostle Paul healed the sick (cf. Acts 19:12). That is why we revere not only the saints’ relics, but also their clothing, household goods (for example St. Seraphim’s iron pot, where the famous dried bread is blessed), or abode. It also happens the other way around. As St. John of Kronstadt wrote, “All of nature, all the elements are constantly defiled and corrupted by human sins and the dark and evil spirits who live in the air, infecting it with various corrupting breaths and sicknesses.” Also, for Adam’s sin the whole earth was cursed (cf. Gen. 3:17), and the Apostle Jude in his epistle calls us to hate even the garment that has been spotted by the flesh (cf. Jude 1:23). And of course, this defilement also touches human habitations, and even God’s churches. Therefore, as righteous John of Kronstadt continues his thought, “There is an urgent need for church sanctification and healing of these elements.”

Now let us answer the question of whether we can sanctify our homes ourselves. Of course, the Church does not forbid this. If it is not possible to invite a priest, you can sing the troparion of the feast and go through the house sprinkling the walls with holy water from the Theophany. But if a priest can bless the house, it is better to do it that way. It is obvious that the prayer of a layperson is not the same as the prayer of a priest, who is a bearer of apostolic grace. Along with the priest, as the troparion in the rite of a house blessing says, holy angels enter the house: “Now here with the entrance of Thy priestly servants and with them Thy holy Angels, grant Thy peace to this house…”

The lesser house blessing is not only done after the feast of Theophany—it can be done any time there is a need. For example, if there has been a protracted sickness in the house.

Not everyone who desires it can have his house blessed. After all, the first condition for being given God’s gift is faith in Christ. It is not possible to bless the house of people living in unrepented mortal sin. For example, it not possible to bless the house of an occultist, drug dealer, sectarian, etc. Often such people have no intention of changing their lives, and blessing their house would be like a blessing on them to continue in their sin. However, it does happen sometimes that within such a family there is believer who suffers from the behavior of the other family members. For instance, I once blessed the apartment of a man whose wife was dabbling in the occult.

Of course, a person who participates in Church life should have his housed blessed according to the complete rite. But there are many places where people never heard of such a thing, and Orthodox Christians in those places have always simply sprinkled holy water in their houses themselves. God sees their simplicity and gives them grace according to their faith. Thus, in one village where I provide spiritual counsel, there was one such case. One of these homes always invited me to sprinkle their abode and pray there. A couple of years ago there was a severe thunderstorm in the village, and ball lightning flew into that parishioner’s house through an open window. It flew through the entire house including the bedroom, where they were sleeping in the bed, and then flew out the window. God preserved them from harm, and there was no fire. The worst that happened was the damage to a few electrical wires. That is how powerful the lesser house blessing is!

Nevertheless, we must all remember that although the Church sanctifies everything around a person—his house, car, and fields—he can defile it all in a day by his behavior. Then the gift of grace will be scorned, and this will become one more cause of his condemnation. Therefore, we must first of all strive to sanctify our heart by prayer and good thoughts, and then the blessing of our external abode will bring benefit and peace to our souls.

Priest Sergei Begiyan

[1] When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest. For the voice of the Father bore witness unto Thee, calling Thee the beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed His word as sure and steadfast. Thou, O Christ Who hast appeared, and enlightened the world, glory to Thee.


The Dawkins Delusion

Alister McGrath, a biochemist and Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, may be Richard Dawkins' most prominent critic. As the author of "Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life," he was interviewed extensively for Dawkins' recent documentary, "The Root of All Evil." Not a frame of these interviews made it into the final edit. Below is a slightly modified version of remarks delivered by McGrath in response to Dawkins' latest book, "The God Delusion."

The First Sunday Of Lent: The Sunday Of Orthodoxy

Lent was in origin the time of final preparation for candidates for baptism at the Easter Vigil, and this is reflected in the readings at the Liturgy, today and on all the Sundays of Lent. But that basic theme came to be subordinated to later themes, which dominated the hymnography of each Sunday. The dominant theme of this Sunday since 843 has been that of the victory of the icons. In that year the iconoclastic controversy, which had raged on and off since 726, was finally laid to rest, and icons and their veneration were restored on the first Sunday in Lent. Ever since, that Sunday been commemorated as the "triumph of Orthodoxy."

Charles Darwin on Religion

What did Darwin have to say about religion? What were his religious, or anti-religious, beliefs? Did he believe that his theory of evolution by natural selection was incompatible with belief in a Creator? Was it his revolutionary science that turned him into an agnostic? These questions have a special urgency in 2009, the year that marks the bicentenary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of his most celebrated book, On the Origin of Species (1859). It is important to answer them in a balanced way because Darwin's authority and example are continually invoked to justify metaphysical and theological claims that go far beyond the details of his evolutionary biology and that of his scientific successors. Darwin's great gift to science was to show how an explanation could be given for what had been described as the mystery of mysteries, the successive appearance of new species discernible in the fossil record. If new species could emerge from pre-existing species by a process of natural selection, it was no longer necessary to suppose there had been what Darwin called independent acts of creation. For atheists and scientific materialists the plausibility of Darwin's theory was a particularly welcome gift because it could be used to dispel the notion of divine intervention in nature and to challenge the long-cherished belief that each species had been separately and meticulously designed by its Creator. Not surprisingly, there was much apprehension and some downright hostility among religious believers, which in ultra-conservative religious circles still continues today. Darwin's theory has certainly proved divisive within Christendom; but a long tradition of assimilation and accommodation suggests that some at least of Darwin's insights have been received as a gift by religious thinkers as well as scientists. As the nineteenth-century Anglican theologian Aubrey Moore put it, under the guise of a foe Darwin had done the work of a friend, liberating Christianity from a false image of the deity in which God was only present in the world when intervening like a deus ex machina.

A Nativity Sermon by Pope St Leo the Great

Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

Nativity Epistle of 1962 By Saint John, Archbishop of Shanghai

"Thou, Who art the God of peace and the Father of compassions, didst send unto us the Angel of Thy great Counsel, granting us peace."

The Angel-Messenger of the pre-eternal Counsel of the Holy Trinity comes to the earth. This is not an ordinary messenger; it is the Only-begotten Son of God Himself. He brings peace to men. "Peace be unto you," he said more than once to His disciples. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you," He says to the apostles at the Mystical Supper, "not as the world giveth, give I unto you." And appearing after His Resurrection, again He says: "Peace be unto you." "For he is our peace," the holy Apostle Paul says concerning Him: "He came to the earth to reconcile man unto God by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. And having come, He preached peace to those afar off and to those near, because through Him we both have access unto the Father."