Scenes from Theophany in Russia

On Theophany, the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, the Church celebrates the manifestation of God as Holy Trinity: Christ, the Son of God, the Voice of the Father speaking, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” and the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Across the world, Orthodox Churches will complete this celebration with the Great blessing of waters, carrying the good news of Christ’s victory to the waters of the world, and to all of creation.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





8 responses to “Scenes from Theophany in Russia”

  1. Mark A Hershberger Avatar

    Next year, I may have to find a service that happens at a large body of water.

    It occurs to me, watching the parishioners in this video, that this feast really celebrates the blessedness (holiness?) of all creation. The incarnation blessed all of creation. The priest blessing a body of water (instead of an urn of water like our church’s indoor service), followed by the people gathering the water really brings home, for me, the reality of the incarnation.

  2. -C Avatar

    Wonderful and moving.

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    Stricktly speaking, the services surrounding Theophany call for two (2) blessings of the Water. The first is after the Vesperal Liturgy (normally) on the Eve of Theophany, when the blessing is supposed to be indoors and blesses water for the faithful and their use at home. I just finished this service and came home to eat and go back for tonights Vigil (Compline and Matins)

    The second occurs on the next Day, the Feast itself, and goes directly from the liturgy indoors, to a body of water, or to a well or spring, outside and does the “Great” blessing of the waters.

    Frequently faithful will also take water up from this large source to carry home for blessings.

    It is not an unusual custom in Orthodox homes, to keep Holy water at ones Prayer Corner, and to use it for various things. Some have a sip with their prayers each morning (before breakfast). Some take home the prosphora bread (Slavic tradition – these are the “little breads” that people send into the altar for the priest to remove particles for those whose names have been given him by a family – they are returned to the faithful after the service. These loaves are not consecrated as Eucharistic elements, but particles from them have been on the Discos on the Altar along with the Lamb which is consecrated). They use the holy water and dip a small piece of the prosphora into the water and eat some each morning to begin the day. It is a strong tie and remembrace of the Eucharist.

    As I have said, it is all a very seamless garment. Wouldn’t miss a moment of it. Our service this afternoon lasted 3 hours, with a Vigil tonight that will be another 2. All this before tomorrow major feast.

    God is worth it!

  4. d.burns Avatar

    Watching the video Fr., whats with the guy going swimming in the lake after the service? I’m assuming he’s already baptised as there was no priest in the middle of the lake with him.

  5. Richard Collins Avatar


    Blessed feast to you!

    Today was my first ever experience of Theopany and it was great. We marched around the quad of the college in which the parish meets and sang the Troparion over and over.

    My priest blessed some water which had been put into a large bath-like container and then proceeded to drench everyone with a large shavingbrush-type thing!

    I now have a large bottle of water from the service and am wondering what exactly to do with it. Is it right that one can ‘top it up’ and still consider it blessed water?

    The service day was around 4 hours for our priest (he also had a Chrismation to do) so my thoughts are with you following the marathon yesterday. As you say, God is indeed worth it!


  6. Fatherstephen Avatar

    d. burns,

    Good question. In many Orthodox lands, the waters having just been blessed, are deeply valued as holy water. In Greece, young men will dive for the cross that has been tossed in the water – the young person who brings the cross back up is considred to have gained a great blessing.

    In northern climes, men may strip down as in the video, and enter and dip themselves in the water. Sometimes this is done with a particular intention (for health, or healing or some other matter). It is not an official Church action, nor one that has the sanction of the Church, but has the sanction of ancient custom.

    In this video, it is a cold way to get a blessing. I’ve seen pictures from Siberia, where my oldest daughter lived for a year, with a cross shaped hole carved in the ice. People waited till after the service to dive into the waters (this is the Yenesey River that runs through the heart of Siberia – the ice was three feet thick).

    I’ve heard that the Orthodox in Alaska follow this Russian custom as well.

    In Oak Ridge, our water is cold (because it flows from the bottom of a tall dam and is thus about 43 degrees.) I have the cross tied to a string and wil toss it in three times. I’ve also heard of places where the children toss the cross into the waters.

    There is great joy in this feast – the Church takes the gospel of Jesus Christ into the heart of creation and proclaims the good news for all. According to Romans 8, all of creations awaits the manifestation of the Sons of God (our resurrection) and that it groans and travails like a woman in childbirth. It is a reminder to Christians that the “earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” It has profound implications to us as well for how the environment should be cared for. Everything in creation is finally a place for encountering God if we had eyes to see. The trees will clap their hands, the rocks will sing (true rock music) everything will proclaim the goodness of God and the wonder of God’s salvation for us all.

    Interestingly, the present Patriarch of Constantinople (Bartholomew) is known as the “green” Patriarch because of his emphasis on this doctrine. It’s about time people understood that the Christian gospel is good news for everyone and everything, and even good news to the demons, though they hate the news.

    On the feast!

  7. Lillian Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, I met your parents today at Liturgy. They are so sweet. The R family also came up (1) for the service and (2) because J had to fly out for a business trip. Too bad you couldn’t be in on the family reunion!

    The Orthodox churches in the area were all meeting after Liturgy at a river downtown to bless the water. Since I am recovering from being sick, I thought it would not be a good idea to stand outdoors for any length of time, so I didn’t go. It’s a wonderful service and makes quite a statement to the public (we’ve done it before, and once or twice had newspaper reporters there).

  8. fatherstephen Avatar


    How great to hear news of Theophany in Columbia and to know that my parents were able to make it to Church! Their health is a great hurdle these days. The kindness of friends and strangers will mean so much to them. Columbia is not they’re original home and so to have others of the family around them – such as the R family is an encouragement. May God bless you with the feast!

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