by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
“That we may be illumined with the Light of Knowledge and Devotion through the descent of the Holy Spirit; let us pray to the Lord.”
“Light from Light, who came into the world to enlighten it, flood our mind with light by your Holy Spirit.”
You appeared to the world today, and Your light, O Lord, has left its mark upon us. With fuller understanding we sing to You: “You came, You were made manifest, the unapproachable light.”
~ From the Readings & Prayers surrounding Theophany (The Feast of Lights)
As a boy, I used to have a black & white Cocker Spaniel as a pet. Outside of my hours spent in school, he and I were almost inseparable. Surprisingly, one time, that tough little guy even fended off a couple of bullies for me. But he had an insatiable appetite for energetic play. If there was a ball to be found anywhere, he was always excited to spend hours playing fetch with me. Yet, even though I loved that dog immensely, I do have to admit that he wasn’t exactly the brightest. My beloved pal’s poor little doggy brain was, perhaps, a few cells shy of having a full kennel.
Here’s one example. One time I took him out to a field behind my house to play fetch with his favorite, bright, red, ball. However, the grass in the field had grown so tall that when I threw the ball, he instantly lost it. Still, he was so excited about wanting to play ball with me, that he started running back and forth in front of the tall grass, whining and jumping up in the air to try to see over the top of the grass. Since I knew where I’d thrown the ball, I thought I’d help my beloved dog by simply pointing in the direction of where it went. Nevertheless, he failed to understand and only became more agitated…still darting back and forth and jumping up and down and whining even louder. So, I crouched down low on the ground, at his level, to make sure that my dog could see and understand that I was pointing in a certain direction. And do you know what my genius dog did at that moment? Instead of going in the direction that I was pointing, he came up and merely sniffed and began licking my finger. There I was, trying to enlighten him…trying to give Him a sign…trying to reveal where to find the object of his deepest desire, and instead of following where that sign was pointing, he became fixated upon the sign itself.
For us Orthodox, it’s easy for us to become similarly doggy-brained—so obsessed with the sign, that we forget that it’s not the object we seek…and thus, we utterly miss the life-transforming point of what that sign is revealing to us.
Throughout the services of Theophany, we are constantly being reminded of the fact that, not only is Christ revealed as God, but also, that God (as Trinity) is being revealed to the people present at Christ’s baptism. Correspondingly, throughout the services, we continually ask God to reveal Himself to us…so that our blindness may be healed; so that we may be given wisdom, understanding and awe; so that the eyes of our minds and hearts and souls may be illumined—flooded with the heavenly perspective of God’s intimate connection with His creation. When such sight is given to us—where God reveals Himself to us—it’s a marvelous consequence of God’s grace.
Why is this sight so important to us? It’s important because our salvation, actually, depends upon it. You see, we hope to become so intimately connected with God—so closely unified with His pouring out the grace of His vision in and through our lives—that as we observe all of creation from our Lord’s eternal perspective… we begin to see all things finding their sum-fulfillment in Christ. Thus, we begin with water at this Feast of Enlightenment. We ask God to reveal Himself in it. From the very beginning of creation, at Genesis 1:2, there is water. “The Spirit of God lingered over the face of the waters”—like a mother hen hovering over, hatching and nurturing her chicks into life. Water was then, and still is, the most elemental, vital part of creation… essential to all life. We all know that. But God wants us to see that the life in this element must be intimately connected to Him for it to be what God intended it to be. Thus, we bless water, purposely setting it apart in holiness to Him, for His purposes, asking God in His grace to open our eyes to His presence in it…to see it for what it was created to be…showing that He is ultimately the one who is life-giving…and that water finds its sum-fulfillment in Him. As we come to see His presence in that water, then we bless each of our Church members with it, hoping that God will also open our eyes to the fact that He is being revealed in the persons around us. Then we bless our homes and our cars and our possessions with it, hoping that we will be healed of our everyday blindness and given the sight—the grace of enlightening wisdom, having the eyes of our hearts, minds and souls flooded with light by the Holy Spirit, so that we will begin to see each of the things we have as intimately connected to God…finding their true purpose in Him.
So, as we bless our homes and our cars and our icons and the various other objects in our life and as we allow ourselves to be blessed by the partaking of this Holy Water, let’s ask God for renewal…that by His grace we may begin to see ourselves and all other things around us from the enlightened perspective of His grace. Let’s ask God to reveal to us how all things are meant to be intimately connected to Him and how we have been given care over them for His sake…to be used for the building up of His Kingdom.
As we and our homes and possessions are being blessed with this water, may God give us greater insight to see Christ living within us, as the Apostle Paul reminds, “It’s no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). This must become our spiritual condition. We’re not merely clothed with Christ and the Holy Spirit as an outer garment, but (according to St Photios the Great) our hearts and thoughts and faces must also be filled with the grace of God’s light. We must begin to see everything we are and have, filled with…and for the sake of…His Heavenly Kingdom. This is the way we live in the atmosphere of Theophany continually…along with the angels and the saints…repeating and confessing together, “we have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true Faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity” (the hymn we sing every time we partake of the Eucharist). What are the implications of that hymn? Have you seen the true Light yet? Have you begun to see that Light in the entire world around you and in everything you own? Do you really believe the words of this hymn you’ve been singing all this time? Since, currently, all of us only see God’s light through obscured and dim reflections (1 Corinthians 13:12), let’s enter into the prayers of this Theophany season, becoming blessed and blessing our homes and possessions…asking God to reveal Himself and His will for us in them.