Blessing the waters: the meaning of Epiphany

Conducted by a priest beside open water – usually the sea, a river or a lake, it’s a ritual observed across the country and by Greek communities around the world.

In Kefalonia the main ceremony are normally held at Argostoli, Sami and Lixouri however this year due to covid the sea blessing is only happening in Argostoli where hundreds of spectators line the De Bosset bridge to share in the  celebrations. With clouds of holy incense wafting across the harbour, the waterside service begins with the priest reading from the Old Testament’s Book of Psalms, while beside young men stand ready for a bracing mid-winter swim.

After the final prayer the priest raises his arm and throws a wooden crucifix out across the water. As he does the swimmers dive headfirst and thrash frantically to where the cross has landed. With lungs bursting and hearts pumping, they converge, desperate to feel it in their grasp. Stretching out to grab the holy prize, the winner clutches the cross before kissing it and holding it high above their head.

As Greece continue to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, we recommend that anyone wishing to visit any traditional cultural/religious event checks lockdown restrictions that may be in force by the Greek government.

Did you know?

  • The day before Theophania, children go house to house singing kalanta (carols) and are given coins or sweets in return. In churches, on the eve of the feast day, the Mikros Agiasmos (the Lesser Blessing of the Waters) is celebrated, where a bowl of water is sanctified and distributed to the congregation.
  • Priests often visit homes nearby to bless them using the holy water created on Mikros Agiasmos, and sprigs of fresh rosemary. According to legend the baby Jesus was sheltered under a rosemary bush by the Virgin Mary.
  • The word ‘Theophania’ is derived from the Ancient Greek ‘Theophanes’ – Theos meaning ‘the divine, deity or God’, and Phaíno meaning ‘to appear’ or ‘to reveal’. The feast day is also referred to as ta fota (the lights), a reference to the day the world was illuminated by God’s presence.

Based on an article in

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