“Diving” into Greek Festival of the Epiphany

Fla-town-hosts-hemispheres-largest-epiphany-event-RFPMSUQ-x-largeI’m not going to say that my brother Jim’s Epiphany Jeopardy! game is my sole reason for posting, but events surrounding this holy day have inspired a great deal of thought, curiosity, and research.

Today, Roger pointed to the photo in The Washington Post of a Greek youth in Piraeus (near Athens) holding aloft the cross he had retrieved from the very cold waters.  This is a tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church (Eastern Orthodox) on January 6, or Epiphany Day (also called the Theophany or Fota).  The symbolism relates to the celebration of Jesus’ baptism (one of the three events commemorated on this day).

Young Greek men dive for a cross, and the first to bring it out of the frigid waters is reputed to be blessed with good health or, depending on the tradition, “freed from evil spirits” throughout the year.

Outside of Greece, one of the biggest celebrations of this event is held in Tarpon Springs Florida.  This year, the young man who “won” the cross, 18-year-old Kosta Pseftelis, was diving for his third (and last eligible) time.  The event draws 10,000 spectators.  As the dive has continued to grow in Tarpon Springs, church officials, concerned that  “the dive had become more of a sporting event than an opportunity for the young men to reflect spiritually and biblically on the cross,” began requiring the young men to attend classes focused on the development of their religious lives.

In other parts of the world, similar dives are held .  I read about the annual tradition in Battery Park, NYC on the Hudson.  Of all of the dives, that sounds the coldest!

Blessed be the chalk!

Epiphany ChalkYesterday Natalie wrote a little recalling some Epiphany posts of the past. It sparked me to review some ideas and practices for the liturgical feast.  Today Epiphany is celebrated at the mass on the Sunday between January 2 and 6, but the actual feast day is the 6th (or the 5th if you stick to the strict Julian calendar dates of old- but that’s a whole other post).  The feast combines the major points that showed the new baby Jesus being recognized as man and God’s flesh on earth- the adoration of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, and the 1st miracle of the wedding feast in Cana.  The importance and level of recognition of the feast varies around the world today.  It is relatively unnoticed in the US but continues to be a national holiday in places like Finland, where all but a few essential services are closed.  Traditions of the day include activities like the baking of the king’s cake, community carols, and gifts for the children to represent the gifts of the Magi. Did you remember to replace your shepherds with the wise men in your nativity scene?

The formal mass for the feast includes the blessing of the gifts the Magi brought- the gold, the Frankincense, and the myrrh.  Also blessed is sone epiphany water and some chalk. Chalk? That’s right chalk.  The chalk is blessed with the prayer: “Bless, O Lord God, this creature chalk to render it helpful to men. Grant that they who use it in faith and with it inscribe upon the entrance of their homes the names of thy saints, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, may through their merits and intercession enjoy health of body and protection of soul. Through Christ our Lord.”

Epiphany Chalk 2At the end of mass people take some of the epiphany water and the chalk home.  The water is used to bless the rooms of the house for the new year.  The chalk is used to bless the house.  To do the blessing the chalk is used to write above the door to the house like this 20 C + M + B 15.  The 20 signifies the millennium and century and the 15 the decade and year.  The C, M, and B are the initials of the Magi- Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar but also represent the blessing “Christus mansionem benedicat”- Christ bless this house.  The blessing remains above the entryway until Pentecost (May 24th).  As an added little challenge, tradition holds that the first time any enter through the door they should step first with the right foot- maybe the origin of the phrase “starting out on the right foot”.

Epiphany ChalkI didn’t make it mass to get chalk last Sunday but it’s ok for the “father of the house” to do a blessing as the note is made above the door: “Let us pray. Bless, + O Lord God almighty, this home, that in it there may be health, purity, the strength of victory, humility, goodness and mercy, the fulfillment of Thy law, the thanksgiving to God the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And may this blessing remain upon this home and upon all who dwell herein. Through Christ our Lord.”  A blessed and happy new year to you all!

Podcast #49- 350 Days to Go!

Pod 49

Podcast #49–  Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Here Comes Year #2!

Natalie and I kick off our podcasts counting down to Christmas 2013!  With Epiphany over, today truly can begin the focus on just Christmas 2013.  Today we share our plans for the Yule Log in this new year.  We also introduce our new structure for our podcasts.  Each time we hope to share something in three categories: KNOW, DO, and PLAN. This week we get to KNOW about Twelfth night and the Julian calendar Christmas.  We take time to DO proper storage and packing for Christmas 2012 and buy those needed items for 2013.  We close with a PLAN to add some events for the next year, to make careful notes for our plans, and to save for the holiday budget.  Thanks for joining us for Year #2!!


When do you put away Christmas?

My first conversation with the man who would someday be my husband concerned the length of time it is appropriate to display the decorated Christmas tree.  I argued that the Feast of the Epiphany ends the traditional 12 days of Christmas, so that is the appropriate moment.  He firmly believes that out of respect for the life of the tree, we must display it as long as possible, preferably until the first day of spring or until it becomes a fire hazard.  What’s your opinion?