Theophany Feast Day: Living in the World But Not of the World, Part I
“They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world” (John 17:16).
Although the Orthodox calendar year begins in September, I would like to connect to the general audience by bringing my first post to you in January – for the modern New Year. How much more relevant could it be to living in the world but not of the world than to discuss Church traditions, which fall on dates associated with the secular new year, but that have no relevance otherwise?
For those new to Orthodox theology, bear with some of the initial abstract content; soak in what you can; you should find part two of this post especially relevant, as I will relate the more in depth content to the world that you live in at that time. But, as I will be doing throughout my feast blogs, I will first start out with a bit of background information into the feast day itself, which in its own way is also linked to living in the world but not of the world.
Part I: A Reflection into Theophany
January 6th, Theophany Feast Day, caps off the twelve days of Christmas as the first major feast day that I am writing for. And, despite it being the end of the “Christmas season,” it is really only the end of the very beginning. For Orthodox Christians, we had been fasting with prayer for forty days prior to the celebration of Christ’s birth, and then again today, January 5th. In fact, twelve days later what we have is a “segway,” if you will, from the mystery of the child, which mankind had attempted to behold, into what became a substantial revelation of the Trinity to the disciples. This, during the baptism of our Lord in the river Jordan, is beyond symbolic: it is one of the most significant events during the life of Christ, save His Resurrection. The voice of God, Christ incarnate and the Spirit in the form of a dove each culminate into a tangible view into the personhood of God. Where there was any doubt as to the actual person of Christ, it was suddenly very real to those who witnessed this miracle. This was clearly a gift to the human race, as without our senses we are blind in this world. And for one to have been able to use his or her ears and eyes catch a glimpse into Christ’s being! Hearing the voice of God, as well as seeing the Spirit – in the form of a dove – descending during His Baptism, presents our first real ability to consider how the hypostatic – mystical – union is something real; a union that identifies the link between God and man, and in Jesus Christ we then partake in this mystery as the image of God, and hope to live forever in his likeness.
And so, through the revelation of the Trinity to the Disciples on earth, in our own world we now view how God is omnipresent and not something only to reflect on perhaps once or twice a week. It is instead necessary to imbue Him into everything we do during life. In my first novel, Parables of the 24th Elder: The Prophecy of the Sacred Cross, the protagonist’s best friend realizes something profound through charity, which is a virtue of the likeness of God indeed, and ponders, “…if the daily life one lived was contradictory to the most basic foundations of where his or her faith came from then what was anyone trying to prove?” And how true this is. We have been given the necessary tools, and through the Church the Truth has been passed down to us. Without Him as our central focus in everything we do then what does our faith mean? The temptations of this world would have us disregard that question, subjecting ourselves to simply eat, drink and be merry Christians. “Do good works and you will be saved,” one may say to you. I would argue, however, that good works come naturally from being a Christian, not the other way around. Was not Jesus our Lord and Savior first, regardless of when he performed the good deeds on earth?
Thus we come to the Church. What base in Him would the majority have otherwise? She carries Theophany, in addition to all else that we celebrate, to us through tradition year after year. Through the Church the communicants can be especially connected to Him so that they may live in – but not of – the world. This concept, as with the sacraments, is a mystery and reminds of why He is the center of our life. A reminder of why we are here on earth and what our mission really consists of. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Romans 12:2 implores us. Again, Theophany is more than a symbolic story but rather a miracle that explains how He is related to us and also us in Him.
In my attempt to live as a Christian, I find that the Orthodox Church gives me a distinct advantage to peer into the real meaning of the feast days, with Theophany being the current example. What a gift of stability and refuge from difficult times our faith brings to us; one that is a very tangible outlet away from the secular world, and yet gives us the strength to continue with His love in the world through prayer, kindness and compassion. The world is still ours to rule over and care for, and is not to be neglected.
Before I begin with the second part of this blog post, Rules, Tools and Consumerism, I would like to again pose to you this one question: why believe if Him if He is not the center of our life? Alright, a second question: what does our faith, or anything else, really mean if we are not always realizing the full potential of our life in a journey toward His likeness? The answer to that question can be attained in part by considering the history of the Church and how, as many moved away from tradition to conform to the “change in times,” we soon lost sight of the central focus of our mission. For many, what is most important is hidden from the senses and so one can be left with an emptiness just waiting to be once again filled. With Orthodoxy, however, we find a way of life – and as Orthodoxy is ever evolving but never changing, we are able to adapt to the times and live in, but not of, the world.
Come back tomorrow, January 6th, for Part II: Tools, Rules and Consumerism, on Theophany Feast Day.
Peter Silas: About & Mission