The Feast of the Theophany

Part VI: Divine Liturgy

Introduction - Arrangement of Services - Vespers - Great Compline - Matins - Divine Liturgy - Great Blessing of Water

The Divine Liturgy of the Theophany is the fulfillment of the Theophany services. Since the feast of the Circumcision on January 1, we have looked forward to this feast, recalling the ministry of John the Baptist, and the prophecies of a Savior appearing to his people. In the evening and nighttime services we see how the prophecies were fulfilled. Now, during the morning service of Theophany, we express our thanksgiving to him in the sacrament of the Eucharist

This page describes the order, hymns and readings of the daytime Divine Liturgy for the feast of Theophany, as given in the liturgical books. For information about the prostopinije chant of the service, along with practical suggestions and commentary, see Singing the Theophany Divine Liturgy.

The Antiphons of the Divine Liturgy

The Theophany Divine Liturgy begins with three festive antiphons which are proper to this day. The First Antiphon is taken from Psalm 113:

Why is it, O sea, that you fled; O Jordan, that you turned back?

We have heard this psalm several times already in the services for Theophany; the image is that of the waters of the Jordan retreating obediently to allow the Israelites to cross over to the Promised Land. This is clearer if all four of the antiphon verses appointed in the liturgical books are chanted:

V. When Israel came forth from Egypt, Jacob's sons from an alien people
V. Judah became the Lord's temple, Israel became his kingdom.
V. The sea saw and fled; Jordan was turned back.
V. Why is it, O sea, that you fled; O Jordan, that you turned back?

As is often the case, the Second Antiphon is taken from the next psalm in sequence (in this case, Psalm 114), and expresses our thanksgiving to God for the salvation he is giving us:

I love Lord because he will hear my voice in supplication.
R. O Son of God, baptized by John in the Jordan, save us who sing to you. Alleluia!

The Third Antiphon (from Psalm 117) continues this thanksgiving:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endures forever.

The additional verses given in the Apostol show how far this thanksgiving spreads:

V. Let the sons of Israel say:"His love endures forever."
V. Let the sons of Aaron say:"His love endures forever."
V. Let those who fear the Lord say:"His love endures forever."

Each verse of the third antiphon is followed by the singing of the troparion of Theophany:

At your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, worship of the Trinity was revealed;
for the Father's voice bore witness to you, calling you his beloved Son,
and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words.
O Christ God, you appeared and enlightened the world. Glory to you!

As the clergy enter the altar, the people sing another verse from Psalm 117:

Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord;
we bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God and has revealed himself to us.

This last line is sung every day at the beginning of Matins; but here, on the feast of Theophany, it is especially meaningful: today the Lord has revealed his divinity, and all three persons of the Trinity, to us.

The office of antiphons concludes with the singing once more of the Theophany troparion, along with the Theophany kontakion. Once more, revelation and light come to the fore.

You have revealed yourself to the world today;
and your light, O Lord, has set its seal on us.
We recognize you and exclaim to you:
You have come and revealed yourself, O Unapproachable Light.

The "seal" set on us is our own baptism - the mark that we belong to God.

The Trisagion

In place of the usual trisagion ("Holy God, Holy and Mighty"), we sing the following in the same manner:

All you who have been baptized into Christ has been clothed with Christ. Alleluia!

This hymn is sung on the ancient baptismal days of the Church, including the feast of Theophany.

The readings

The prokeimenon that precedes the apostolic reading echoes the Third Antiphon:

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. The Lord is God and has revealed himself to us.
V. Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his mercy endures forever.

The relevance of the Epistle reading (Titus 2: 11-15, 3: 4-7) comes in the very first line:

The grace of God has appeared, offering salvation to all men.

Saint Paul proceeds to connect this appearance with the Paschal mystery, and with baptism:

It was he who sacrificed himself for us, to redeem us from all unrighteousness and to cleanse for himself a people of his own, eager to do that is right... But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us; not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the baptism of new birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew (3:13-17) recounts once more the baptism of the Lord. In Saint Matthew's account, we hear something that has up till now been emphasized in the hymns of the feast: the reluctance of John to baptize his Master, and the Lord's response: "Give in for now. We must do this if we would fulfill all of God's demands."

The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom (or under certain circumstances the Liturgy of Saint Basil) continues from this point. As usual, we see that the central part of the Eucharist varies little from one feast to the next; the same primary mysteries of our salvation are recalled and made present. Our Lord comes to us under the appearances of the bread and wine we have offered at the hands of the priest.

After the consecration, at the commemoration of the departed, the hymn to the Theotokos, "It is truly proper", is replaced with the magnification and irmos from the ninth ode of the canon at Theophany matins:

Extol, O my soul, Christ the King, baptized in the Jordan.

Every tongue is at a loss to fittingly acclaim you;
and even a supernatural mind is overwhelmed when it glorifies you, O Theotokos.
But in your goodness accept our faith, since you recognize our godly love.
You are the intercessor for Christians, and we extol you.

(In line 2, the word "supernatural" refers not to ghosts, but to angels; remember from the Akathist hymn how confounded the archangel Gabriel was when carrying God's message to the Virgin Mary.)

When the time comes for the faithful to receive that same body in Holy Communion, the Communion Hymn recalls to us the true meaning of the feast:

The saving grace of God has appeared to all. Alleluia! Aleluia! Alleluia!

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