The Feast of the Theophany

Part II: Arrangement of Services

Introduction - Arrangement of Services - Vespers - Great Compline - Matins - Divine Liturgy - Great Blessing of Water

The feasts of the Nativity (January 6) and the Theophany (January 6) take place during wintertime in the Northern Hemisphere, when the days are darkest and the nights long. The Church distinguishes these two feasts with a special round of services:

But the Church's ancient tradition that Saturday and Sunday must never be days of fasting leads to variations in the arrangement of the Theophany services. These variations are quite similar to those for the feast of the Nativity.

January 6 on Tuesday through Saturday

Suppose Theophany falls on a Tuesday. (It will become clear later why we start with Tuesday!) Then Monday will be a day of strict fast, with the Royal Hours sung in the morning or throughout the day. The faithful spend the day in preparation for the feast, and fasting.

In the afternoon or early evening, the service of Vespers with the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is served, along with the Great Blessing of Water in church. This service recounts prophecies connected with the Jordan River and our Lord's baptism, and the faithful receive Holy Communion, breaking the day's fast. The Vesper service may be followed, according to custom, by a Holy Supper in the home or the church hall. This meal is festive but meatless, since it is a strict fast day.

In the late evening, the faithful gather in church for the night-time service of Great Compline, which marks the actual beginning of the feast; the Canticle of Isaiah ("God is with us") forms a highlight of the service. A litija procession is celebrated, and Matins follows the Great Compline (or may be celebrated separately in the morning, depending on local custom).

In the morning, the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is celebrated for Theophany. Water is blessed a second time, at a nearby river, stream, or lake. (In practice, water is often blessed just once, in church, on either the eve or the morning of the feast.) In former times, it was also customary to conclude the feast day with a Vespers service on the evening of January 6.

Thus, the arrangement of services is as folllows:

Sunday Monday,
January 5
Tuesday,
January 6
Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
  Day of strict fast
Royal Hours

Afternoon or evening:
Vespers with Divine Liturgy (Basil);
Blessing of Water in church

During the night:
Compline and Matins
In the morning:
Divine Liturgy of the feast;
Blessing of Water outdoors
       

If Theophany Day falls on Wednesday, the same set of services is held, moved one day later in the week:

Sunday Monday Tuesday,
January 5
Wednesday,
January 6
Thursday Friday Saturday
    Day of strict fast
Royal Hours

Afternoon or evening:
Vespers with Divine Liturgy (Basil);
Blessing of Water in church

During the night:
Compline and Matins
In the morning:
Divine Liturgy of the feast;
Blessing of Water outdoors
     

Theophany on Thursday:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday,
January 5
Thursday,
January 6
Friday Saturday
      Day of strict fast
Royal Hours

Afternoon or evening:
Vespers with Divine Liturgy (Basil);
Blessing of Water in church

During the night:
Compline and Matins
In the morning:
Divine Liturgy of the feast;
Blessing of Water outdoors
   

 

Theophany on Friday:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday,
January 5
Friday,
January 6
Saturday
        Day of strict fast
Royal Hours

Afternoon or evening:
Vespers with Divine Liturgy (Basil);
Blessing of Water in church

During the night:
Compline and Matins
In the morning:
Divine Liturgy of the feast;
Blessing of Water outdoors
 

Theophany on Saturday:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday,
January 5
Saturday,
January 6
          Day of strict fast
Royal Hours

Afternoon or evening:
Vespers with Divine Liturgy (Basil);
Blessing of Water in church

During the night:
Compline and Matins
In the morning:
Divine Liturgy of the feast;
Blessing of Water outdoors

January 6 on Sunday

But if Theophany is on Sunday, the arrangement of services has to change. Fasting is forbidden on Saturday (with the one exception of Holy Saturday); so the strict fast is transferred to Friday, January 4, along with the Royal Hours. Since it IS a strict fast day, there is no Divine Liturgy.

Saturday is normally a Eucharistic Day in the Byzantine Rite, so on Saturday, January 5, the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is celebrated in the morning.

Vespers WITHOUT Divine Liturgy is celebrated in the afternoon or evening, since only one Divine Liturgy is to be celebrated on a given day, and that Liturgy was already celebrated (in the morning). The Great Blessing of Water, in church, follows Vespers.

During the night, Great Compline and Matins are sung, as before.

In the morning, the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil is celebrated, so that the faithful can hear the account of salvation history woven into the texts of this Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is followed by the Great Blessing of Water, outdoors.

Thursday Friday,
December 23
Saturday,
January 5
Sunday,
January 6
Monday Tuesday Wednesday
  Day of strict fast
Royal Hours
In the morning:
Divine Liturgy (Chrysostom)

Afternoon or evening:
Vespers;
Blessing of Water in church

During the night:
Compline and Matins
In the morning:
Divine Liturgy of the feast (Basil);
Blessing of Water outdoors
 
 

January 6 on Monday

Again, if Theophany Day falls on Monday, the arrangement of services has to change. Fasting is forbidden on Sunday; so the strict fast is transferred to Friday, January 3, along with the Royal Hours. Since it IS a strict fast day, there is no Divine Liturgy.

In this case, Sunday, January 5 is both the Sunday before Theophany, and the vigil of the feast, so the hymns for these two days are combined at the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom which is celebrated on Sunday morning.

Vespers WITHOUT Divine Liturgy is celebrated in the afternoon or evening, since only one Divine Liturgy is to be celebrated on a given day, and that Liturgy was already celebrated (in the morning). The Great Blessing of Water, in church, follows Vespers.

During the night, Great Compline and Matins are sung.

In the morning, the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil is celebrated, so that the faithful can hear the account of salvation history woven into the texts of this Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is followed by the Great Blessing of Water, outdoors.

Thursday Friday,
December 22
Saturday Sunday,
January 5
Monday,
January 6
Tuesday Wednesday
  Day of strict fast
Royal Hours
  In the morning:
Divine Liturgy (Chrysostom)

Afternoon or evening:
Vespers;
Blessing of Water in church

During the night:
Compline and Matins
In the morning:
Divine Liturgy of the feast (Basil);
Blessing of Water outdoors

 

Pastoral variations

In the past, this arrangement of services, appointed in the Typikon and the liturgical books, was often modified due to a number of factors:

Of course, once these changes were made, they were often passed down as "the way we do things." Furthermore, some changes have been necessary when a priest has had the care of several parishes at some distance from each other.

We hope that this explanation helps to clarify the "special rules" for the services on the feast of Theophany, and that the faithful may have an opportunity to experience and appreciate the traditional round of services.

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