Theophany, “Epiphany” or the “Festival of Lights” as it is known to most Christians, underlines the triunal nature of our Orthodox faith and celebrates the manifestation of the three aspects of the Holy Trinity in one substance, in the one and only God. Theophany (Epiphany) is truly special within the calendar of Christian feast days, celebrating the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, an event which represents both repentance and the appearance of God on earth.
The traditions and rituals of Epiphany
On Theophany morning, both children and adults in rural towns and villages sing the Epiphany carols as a way to announce this blessed event. This festival is celebrated with great joy throughout the eastern Church and is marked by age-old religious rites and rituals, which take place both within and outside the churches – always close to the water: by the open sea, by lakes, harbors, in urban cisterns or by the running waters of mountain rivers and streams. Two of the most important of these rituals are the blessing of the Holy Water inside the church and the Blessing of the Waters and the immersion of the True Cross outside – an event attended by all of the religious and political leaders. In most regions of the country people of all ages (usually men and boys, but occasionally girls as well) dive into the cold waters after the cross is thrown in by the priest, and the one who retrieves the cross is considered to have gained good luck for the rest of the year. In some rural villages, moreover, the lucky person carries the cross through the town from house to house, giving and receiving blessings along the way.
Theophany in Athens and Piraeus
The most impressive celebration of Theophany takes place at the largest harbor in Greece – in Piraeus, in front of the Church of St. Spyridon. The Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece usually presides, accompanied by the Bishop of Piraeus, the city’s Mayor and thousands of priests, politicians and the civilian faithful, who throng the crowded piers of the harbor or watch from boats floating nearby. The moment the cross hits the water, all the boats in the harbor sound their sirens and bells, and this joyful sound carries for miles. And if you want to take part in this celebration, you should find a place on the pier around 10 a.m. – while the plunge for the cross takes place at around 11 a.m.
In Athens itself the Blessing of the Waters takes place in the Kolonaki neighborhood, at the foot of Mt. Lykabettus at Dexameni (The Old Cistern) as well as at the swimming pool of the National Gymnastics Association at #6 Vas. Olgas Street between the old marble stadium and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. These two events are held about an hour apart, so with a little careful planning (and a very pleasant walk), one could attend both. The Church service for the Theophany in Athens is held at the Church of St. Dionysios Areopagus on Skoufa Street in Kolonaki. For the Athens celebration of the Blessing of the Waters, it is best to be at Dexameni Square by 10 a.m.