How the fathers walk with angels on Theophany
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a special day for all Christians. And the reason for this is in the greatest of the gift that the Lord gives us through the Church.
Many people are not very familiar with the reason why this feast is called the Theophany, and what is the essence is of these events recalled by the Church. But all of us know that on this day water is blessed in the Church; furthermore, on the feast of the Lord’s Baptism, all the water in the world is sanctified. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the “nature of water” is sanctified on this day, and this sanctified water, in a certain sense, cleanses the whole planet and sanctifies it.
The most important trait of holy water is its incorruptibility, without having any change to its chemical composition. Incorruption belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven, and when we sprinkle something with holy water, we want to impart to it God’s grace, present in the water. And the first place we all want to see sanctified is our home.
The period between the feast of Theophany and the leavetaking of the feast (January 6/19–14/27) has always been used to this aim. The first thing that points to this is the request during the ectenia on the day of the Theophany “for those who draw and take it [holy water] for the sanctification of homes.”
It must be noted that house blessings can be complete or abbreviated. The complete house blessing is only performed once (like the consecration of a church). A complete house blessing can only be repeated in special cases (for example, after desecration, fire, or something of that nature), just as in certain cases a full consecration of a church is performed (for example, in 1923 when St. Hilarion (Troitsky) re-consecrated the cathedral in the Sretensky Monastery after it was defiled by renovationists). A lesser house blessing can be repeated often.
A lesser house blessing does not have a fixed rite, and different priests practice it in different ways. But in every case, there is the singing of the troparion of the feast of Theophany and sprinkling with holy water. Many of the faithful often ask why it is necessary to have a lesser house blessing if the house was previously consecrated according to the complete rite, and if they can bless it themselves.
The first question can be answered in the same way as it would about a church, as noted above. Especially since, during the period of early Christianity, private homes were used as churches for the serving of the sacraments. Even in our own times, confession, Communion, and Unction can be administered in private homes to the ailing, and sometimes even Baptism; therefore the comparison of a home with a church is perfectly appropriate.
So, a church is normally consecrated according to the complete rite only once. However, every time it is appointed to have a lesser blessing of the waters, the inside of the church is sprinkled again (for example, on the day of the icon of the Mother of God “Of the Life-Giving Spring” on Bright Friday; on the feast of the Procession of the Honorable Wood of the Cross of the Lord on August 1/14; and a few other days). On a church’s patronal feast day it is customary to sprinkle the church on the outside as well, during the cross procession around it. On August 1/14, the Typicon appoints the sprinkling not only of the church, but of all the parish or monastery buildings (Typicon for August 1).
Why should this be done if the church or monastery has already been sanctified once and is also continually sanctified by our prayers and the Liturgy?
Let us remember that the grace of a holy person permeates even his clothing and other objects that come into contact with him. Thus, for example, the cloak and belt of the Apostle Paul healed the sick (cf. Acts 19:12). That is why we revere not only the saints’ relics, but also their clothing, household goods (for example St. Seraphim’s iron pot, where the famous dried bread is blessed), or abode. It also happens the other way around. As St. John of Kronstadt wrote, “All of nature, all the elements are constantly defiled and corrupted by human sins and the dark and evil spirits who live in the air, infecting it with various corrupting breaths and sicknesses.” Also, for Adam’s sin the whole earth was cursed (cf. Gen. 3:17), and the Apostle Jude in his epistle calls us to hate even the garment that has been spotted by the flesh (cf. Jude 1:23). And of course, this defilement also touches human habitations, and even God’s churches. Therefore, as righteous John of Kronstadt continues his thought, “There is an urgent need for church sanctification and healing of these elements.”
Now let us answer the question of whether we can sanctify our homes ourselves. Of course, the Church does not forbid this. If it is not possible to invite a priest, you can sing the troparion of the feast and go through the house sprinkling the walls with holy water from the Theophany. But if a priest can bless the house, it is better to do it that way. It is obvious that the prayer of a layperson is not the same as the prayer of a priest, who is a bearer of apostolic grace. Along with the priest, as the troparion in the rite of a house blessing says, holy angels enter the house: “Now here with the entrance of Thy priestly servants and with them Thy holy Angels, grant Thy peace to this house…”
The lesser house blessing is not only done after the feast of Theophany—it can be done any time there is a need. For example, if there has been a protracted sickness in the house.
Not everyone who desires it can have his house blessed. After all, the first condition for being given God’s gift is faith in Christ. It is not possible to bless the house of people living in unrepented mortal sin. For example, it not possible to bless the house of an occultist, drug dealer, sectarian, etc. Often such people have no intention of changing their lives, and blessing their house would be like a blessing on them to continue in their sin. However, it does happen sometimes that within such a family there is believer who suffers from the behavior of the other family members. For instance, I once blessed the apartment of a man whose wife was dabbling in the occult.
Of course, a person who participates in Church life should have his housed blessed according to the complete rite. But there are many places where people never heard of such a thing, and Orthodox Christians in those places have always simply sprinkled holy water in their houses themselves. God sees their simplicity and gives them grace according to their faith. Thus, in one village where I provide spiritual counsel, there was one such case. One of these homes always invited me to sprinkle their abode and pray there. A couple of years ago there was a severe thunderstorm in the village, and ball lightning flew into that parishioner’s house through an open window. It flew through the entire house including the bedroom, where they were sleeping in the bed, and then flew out the window. God preserved them from harm, and there was no fire. The worst that happened was the damage to a few electrical wires. That is how powerful the lesser house blessing is!
Nevertheless, we must all remember that although the Church sanctifies everything around a person—his house, car, and fields—he can defile it all in a day by his behavior. Then the gift of grace will be scorned, and this will become one more cause of his condemnation. Therefore, we must first of all strive to sanctify our heart by prayer and good thoughts, and then the blessing of our external abode will bring benefit and peace to our souls.
Priest Sergei Begiyan
 When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest. For the voice of the Father bore witness unto Thee, calling Thee the beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed His word as sure and steadfast. Thou, O Christ Who hast appeared, and enlightened the world, glory to Thee.