ΘΕΟΦΑΝΕΙΑ AND THE WRATH OF ENCELADUS
The ancient Greeks knew well to fear Enceladus, for he was diametrically opposed to the natural order imposed upon their world by the Olympian Gods. Born the son of Tartarus, the place in Hades where the damned were eternally tortured for their sins and Earth, he was the father of such unpleasant mythological and malevolent characters as the Gorgons, the Sphinx, the Lernaean Hydra, Geryones and Cerberus. The ancient jury was out on as to whose character this monstrous brood inherited, with Calchas insisting they took after their father and Teiresias claiming they were the spitting image of their mother, the fearsome Echidna – no relation to our spiny and now redundant denizen of the 1 cent coin.
Enceladus was the leader of the Giants and as such led the great war against the Gods, in an attempt, in true ‘Get Smart’ fashion, to impose the earthy forces of Chaos upon the divine forces of natural order and control. Unfortunately for him, the goddess Athena was able at some stage in the battle to corner him and then immobilise him by throwing the entire island of Sicily on top of him, burying him underneath the volcano of Mt Aetna. Symbolising the fact that true evil usually lurks just beneath the surface of things, Enceladus remains under Sicily today, periodically trying to free himself from the asphyxiating weight of that island. It is said that it is his thrashing and heaving about that causes the earth to quake, bringing so much misery to the world, even from the confines of his infernal prison. In the most recent case, this thrashing and heaving took place under water, causing the frightening tidal waves that washed away the hopes and dreams of the hapless and fragile multitudes.
Interestingly enough, this terrifying event took place only a short while before another important event that is linked to water, that of the Θεοφάνεια, the Baptism of Christ, which is celebrated by the Orthodox Church on 6 January every year. In contrast however to the case of Enceladus, the Baptism of Christ marks for the Christians, one of the first stages in the redemption of mankind and thus brings hope to all. It is a festival not only of purification but also one where God himself became manifest in all three of his forms.
The concept of redemption through baptism is most certainly a powerful one. It proves that nothing is ever too late and that a second chance always exists, even for mankind, who exists in a ‘fallen state.’ St Nicodemos the Hagiorite for example says that in order to reshape a vessel, the potter needs two elements: water for moulding the earth and fire to burn and cast the moulded clay. God, the great potter of our own mould does just the same thing. Wanting to reshape our nature, which was crushed by evil, God used fire and water. He takes the fire from himself, for as God, he is a “consuming Fire” which consumes wickedness and he borrows water from the River Jordan. With Christ’s baptism, the perfect model for our own, we are freed from the stains of the past, through the power of the incarnate Word of God and are offered the opportunity for deification.
The Church teaches that at the baptism of Christ, the Holy Trinity appeared, hence the meaning of the word «Θεοφάνεια», the manifestation of God. God made himself manifest through his voice in saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Son was baptised and the Holy Spirit manifested itself in the form of a dove. This condescension of the Trinitarian God to appear to us in a form intelligible to us is to be marveled at. According to St Gregory Palamas, the Trinity appeared because the shaping of mankind is a common energy of the Trinitarian God, since the “Father, through the Son in the Holy Spirit makes all things.” Moreover, the Trinitarian God decided to create man “in our own image and likeness.” The Father made man in the image of the Word of God and breathed life into him through the Holy Spirit. And since the energy of the Trinitarian God is common to the three, the Holy Trinity took part in man’s creation. The Trinitarian God therefore had to be manifested in the re-shaping and re-creation of man that would culminate in Christ’s Resurrection.
St Nicholas Kavasilas regards baptism as a birth. Christ had said that: “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The Christian’s baptism is thus connected with illumination and purification. Christ however, was pure and perfect. St John of Damascus teaches that he was not baptized because he had need of purification “but to identify himself with our purification.” In condescending to be so baptised, Christ blessed the waters of the River Jordan as well. That is why even today at the service of the blessing of the waters we call upon the Holy Spirit to bless the waters. Thus, after the blessing, it ceases to be water of the fall and becomes the water of renewal, as it is united with the Grace of God.
This year, as is the custom, thousands of members of the Greek community will have flocked to Station Pier and/or Frankston to take part in this most ancient of ceremonies. It will have been, as always of especial significance to many, as Station Pier marks for them, a parallel symbol of renewal, the end of an old life, a dead end filled with underserved anguish, suffering and fear, and the beginning of the new life, full of hope and the promise of happiness. Interestingly enough, it was through a passage through water that this renewed life was obtained and for most, there have been few regrets. It is touching therefore that we should seek through the Bishop to bless the water that brought us here, for us and for all of our co-habitants. What is not touching is the hard line the authorities are taking against the festival, regarding the blessing as a mere “event” and exiling it to a corner of the Port on the pretext that “it does not promote tourism.” Next year, think twice about supporting ungrateful businessmen in that region and most importantly, remember this heinous attack against Orthodoxy, the Greek community, freedom of religious expression and multiculturalism come local and state election time. We cannot tolerate authorities who do not respect us and deal with us in such an off-hand and contemptuous manner.
In Constantinople, the blessing of the waters by the Oecumenical Patriarch is an event of immense importance even to its Muslim inhabitants who depend it to bring them good luck and protect them from harm. Being present at the 1998 blessing, I could not help but be struck at the fervour and delight of the Muslim bystanders. This was a ceremony of hope, renewal and rebirth, proving that it is never too late to start again. Let us hope that this year’s blessing of the Bosphorus will bring about a re-birth in the relations between Turkey and its Christian minorities and a renewal of the bonds which they hold in common, for the mutual benefit of all. It is at least a sign of the times that the Turkish government respects Theofaneia more than some of our supposedly more enlightened Australian authorities.
Finally, in blessing the waters, let us hope that the terrible tribulation visited upon the innocent from the sea in the form of the tsunami, never again occurs and that if it does, that we will stand at the ready, as Greece, to its eternal credit did in the past weeks, to provide humanitarian aid to our afflicted brothers. For we are but fragile shadows and in whatever form, there will always be an Enceladus to afflict us. In the words of Maxwell Smart, how wondrous it would be, if such power could be used for good rather than evil. But try telling that to our chthonic despots of the world…..