Friday, January 7, 2011
Yesterday, 6th January, was a public holiday here to observe the Greek Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. The celebration requires that the faithful go to church to receive a Styrofoam cup filled with water that has been blessed by a priest. At places near to the sea an extraordinary ritual requires a priest in full regalia to hurl a crucifix, tethered for safety to a long ribbon, into the sea. Nonetheless, the crucifix is then followed into the sea by numbers of local youths who plunge in to recover it. These events draw substantial crowds and, I imagine, not a little revenue into the coffers of the church. But, as with so many ‘Christian’ rituals, I fail to see what this “Epiphany” (From the Greek word “Epiphaneia” meaning “Manifestation”) has to do with the admirable teachings of Jesus Christ.
Again, as with most “Christian” rituals, Epiphany predates the birth of Jesus Christ and all that has happened in his name since. That water is elemental, and therefore precious to the existence of everything on earth, has been known for many millennia; accordingly, throughout those millennia, deities to water have been worshipped.
I did not go to any of these little shows yesterday, I went for a stroll instead, but I have been to plenty in the past and wondered about how and why the ritual has developed into its present form, wondered also about the timelessness of it, about how old might the sound of the sea lapping onto sand have been when mankind first chose to ritualise the giving of thanks for water.