GOD ANSWER! – Customs and beliefs of Serbs for the Epiphany

The time period from Christmas (January 7) to the Epiphany (January 19) is called unbaptized days. According to popular belief, ghosts, witches and other monsters roam during the period of unbaptized days. It is the period from Christ’s birth to his baptism in the Jordan River.

Jesus Christ was baptized by Saint John the Baptist at the age of 30. Saints Chrysostom and Theophylact say: The first age is childhood; it is characterized by ignorance and recklessness. The second age is youth; it is inflamed by bodily lust. And a man in his thirties is in the mature age of life; then man is subject to love of gold, glory, anger, wrath, and every sin. And because of that, Jesus Christ waited for his baptism until he was 30 years old.

After Jesus’ baptism and coming out of the Jordan River, the Spirit of God landed on his shoulder in the form of a dove – as a symbol of purity, meekness and philanthropy. By his baptism, Jesus marked the beginning of his sermon.

The Epiphany is one of the fifteen greatest Christian holidays, which represents the proclamation of the Godman and the introduction of Christ into the messianic mission. On that day, after the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, which was performed by John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove on the shoulder of Jesus and the voice of God the Father was heard from Heaven. Thus God appeared in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Epiphany is celebrated on January 19 and it is a fixed holiday, ie it does not change from year to year. On that day, the so-called unbaptized days end, when the rite of baptism is not performed, because Jesus Christ was not baptized either. On the Day of the Cross, on the eve of the Epiphany, as well as on the holiday itself, after the liturgy, a great consecration of water is performed in the temple, or in the gate of the temple. That water is taken and carried home. It is kept as a miraculous sacred treasure. It is believed that if that water is sprinkled on the house for sanctification, it will protect it from demons and other unclean forces. It is drunk throughout the year for healing and protection from all diseases, purification from evil passions and for the forgiveness of sins, purification of soul and body.

Believers, at the Epiphany, greet each other with the words “Christ appeared” and greet each other with “He truly appeared”. From Christmas to the Epiphany, one does not fast, but the day before the Epiphany, on the Day of the Cross, one fasts on any day.

In connection with the Epiphany, numerous beliefs and customs developed among the Serbian people. It is believed that on that day, at midnight, the heavens open and that then every wish can be fulfilled. It was customary for unmarried girls to put mirrors under their pillows on the evening of January 18 because it was believed that they would dream of a man when they would marry. Once upon a time, on Epiphany morning, young girls went to an untouched spring, threw a grain of wheat and corn into it, saying:

“As the water goes, so does the grace go to our fields.”

Then they would grab the water and take it to the doorstep where the other occupants were waiting for them. In some parts of Serbia, there was a custom of giving the affected Epiphany water to other residents to drink with an ax, in order to avoid quarrels between them during the next year.

In the past, older women in Serbian villages took care of the weather conditions for the Epiphany, in order to know what kind of weather awaited them. It was believed that if there was a strong frost or snowfall for the Epiphany, the year would be fertile, and if it was clear, the year would be dry. It was customary to go out on a whirlwind at the Epiphany, take out a little ash and let it out a little, in order to determine which wind crossed, that is, won on the Day of the Cross. If the east wind blows, it meant that the year would be dry, if the south wind blows, it will be rainy and sickly, while the west wind predicted the birth year.

Most of the customs and rituals were motivated by the desire for health, so it was common, and only those who are healthy can do that, to perform a ritual bathing in the river in the morning, before the sun. About ten years ago, the custom of throwing the Holy Cross into the river was renewed among Serbs, and young men competed to reach it and be the first to catch it. The cross, which should be made from the frozen last year’s Epiphany water, brings happiness to the one who swims to it first, throughout the year.

Saint John of Shanghai
THE WORD ON THE APPARITION

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
Celebrating the Epiphany, we also remember that God appeared to people as the Trinity and that Jesus appeared to the world as Christ. Where did Christ appear? Where did He begin His work? Did he go to the great city and appear there in His Glory? Or did he ascend a high mountain, and a mass of thousands stood down and watched Him as a miracle? Not! Christ went to the desert, to the Jordan River, where John baptized the people.

John preached repentance and called sinners to be baptized in the Jordan as a sign of repentance. And here, as a sinner, Christ comes and prays for baptism. He, when there was no sin. John was frightened. “You need to baptize me.” “Leave it now,” Jesus answers, “because that is how we need to fulfill all justice.” Adam sinned with pride, he wanted to be exalted, to become like God. And Christ came to fulfill the righteousness of God, to correct the sin of Adam’s pride with humility. Adam wanted to exalt himself before God, and God humbled himself before man. Christ descended into the water and accepted baptism from His servant. Trembling, John laid his hand on his Ruler and his God, and Christ calmly bowed His head before him. This calmness of Christ opened heaven. Then the heavens opened and the voice of God the Father was heard: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. This is My Son, who humbles Himself to do My will, the true My Son, Who humbles Himself to exalt man. “

And the Holy Spirit descended from heaven on Jesus, confirming the words of the Father. Thus, with calmness, Jesus opened the heavens and showed people the secret of the Trinity of Deity. But why did He do it right on the water and not somewhere else? We remember how God created the world. When God created the heavens and the earth, “the earth was without form and void, and the Spirit of God was rising up above the waters.” Then God separates the earth and the water, but so that the water still remains in every place and is necessary for everything created. Man cannot live without water, nor any animal; there is water (moisture) in the air; let’s take a lump of earth anywhere – and there’s water there; there is water in the stone, all even if it seems to us that it is not there, and yet, it also exists there and, when God wishes, it can free it from it, as it did during the time of Moses. “It is the Lord’s earth and whatever is on it, the universe and everything that lives in it. For he is the foundation of the seas, and has established it in the midst of the rivers ”(Ps. 24: 1-2). “Heaven would have been a long time ago if the earth was made of water and water by the word of God,” writes the apostle Peter. “From which the world of that time, submerged in water, perished” (II Pet. 3,5-6).

When man sinned, he drew the wrath of God not only on himself but on the whole of nature. Man is the crown of God’s creation; he was appointed emperor of nature. And when a king became an enemy to another king, then his whole kingdom became an enemy kingdom. Punishment was intended not only for man but also for everything created / matter /. “For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now (Rom. 8:22). But “the creature obeys vanity (not of his own will but for the will of him who obeys it)” (Rom. 8: 21-22). That is why forgiveness for the guilty frees the created from the slavery of the perishable.

“This perishable nature will be destroyed and transformed into a new heaven and a new earth, where justice dwells.” (II Pet. 3: 12-13). To enable this change, to prepare nature for the incorruptibility that will occur after the Day of Judgment, Christ came to the waters of the Jordan. Immersing himself in the Jordan, Christ consecrated not only the waters of the Jordan but also the whole of aquatic nature, as the Church calls in his songs: “Christ appeared to sanctify the waters of the Jordan” (Pre-holiday troparion), Exodus to Jordan).

And since water is everywhere, then by sanctifying the water, Christ consecrated everything created, the entire universe. Christ prepared nature so that she too would feel the good consequences of the sacrifice He came to offer. But not only that, He gave water the power to wash away human sins. John’s baptism was only a sign of repentance. Christian baptism is a new birth, the forgiveness of all sins. God punished the sins of the first world with water and destroyed it with water in the flood. With water, God now saves people through the Mystery of Baptism.

Thus Christ destroyed the head of the serpent in the waters of the Jordan, as it is sung in the hymns, the head of that serpent who deceived Adam and Eve, but was defeated by the humility of Jesus – he revealed to the people that God is Trinity – sanctified water prepared everything created for the acceptance of the word of forgiveness and for incorruptibility.

And then, enduring another struggle with the devil in the wilderness, Christ set out to prepare men for the kingdom of the future and began his sermon with the words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17), or as stated in to the second Gospel: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

Until then, John the Baptist preached repentance, prepared the way for the Lord. When the Lord Himself cries out to people, “Repent.” That voice is intended not only for people who lived in the time of Christ, but with these words Christ addressed all people in all times and centuries. And we listened to those words from the Gospel. While the holiday songs of the Epiphany have not yet subsided, they remind us that the time of repentance is approaching. Let’s be careful! These are not the words of a prophet or an angel but of the Lord Himself. We will also repent in the coming fast, we will strive to overcome our old age and receive the forgiveness of sins, so that in the future century we will enter the imperishable Kingdom prepared by the Lord. Amen.

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