Sharing Jordan

by Brent Kostyniuk

Today the darkness of the world vanishes with the appearance of our God.
Today the celestials celebrate with the terrestrials, and the terrestrials commune with the celestials.
The Great Service for the Sanctification of the Water

Christians both East and West are united in their celebration of feast days, or holy days, which commemorate significant events in our salvation history. Christmas and Easter are universally recognized as momentous events in re-establishing our relationship with God. Perhaps equally significant is the feast celebrated January 6. Although the moment chosen to celebrate differs between East and West as does the theology behind the feast, the essence is the same—God Incarnate is made manifest to the world.

In the West, January 6 is known as Epiphany and recalls the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem. The word Epiphany is from the Greek, epiphaneia, meaning manifestation or appearance. In classical Greek it was used to describe the appearance of dawn, and also the manifestation of a deity to a worshiper. Thus, Epiphany is particularly apt in reminding us that the Magi brought about what might be termed the first “public recognition” of Jesus as the Son of God. In many Latin American countries, the festival is celebrated as Three Kings, giving prominence to those who sought out the Christ Child on their own.

In the East, Theophany draws our attention to the very centre of our faith—the revelation of the Holy Trinity when Jesus was baptised by John the Forerunner in the Jordan. Not only does God appear, but He is revealed as the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Also derived from an ancient Greek word, Theophany means appearance of god. As we read in Mark, “And immediately on coming up from the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit, as a dove, descending and remaining on Him. And there came a voice from the heavens: You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10). The feast is thus also known as the Manifestation of God, or more popularly, as the Feast of Jordan, or simply Jordan.

Recently, students from St. Nicholas Catholic School in Edmonton took part in a truly Both Lungs event. Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church is the only Catholic parish within easy walking distance of the school. The happy coincidence has brought about a unique collaboration, as Father Mihajlo Planchak, pastor of Protection explains. “We have had new cooperation between the school and the parish. They asked if they could use our church for a mass for Epiphany, which was agreed. Later, it was decided that we should concelebrate it and include a Blessing of the Water.” Thus, it was that Father Mihajlo, along with Father Julian Bilyj, chaplain for Edmonton Catholic Schools, and Father Andrew Leungm, CSB, Pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish, concelebrated the Great Blessing of Water, with each priest taking an equal part. Throughout, Father Julian explained the significance of prayers and actions, such as when the priest makes the sign of the cross three times over the water with a three branched candle, saying, “Great are You, O Lord, and wondrous are Your deeds, no single word will suffice to sing of Your wonders.” After, the three concelebrated a Latin Rite Mass.

Later, Kathryn Herzog, the school’s chaplain reflected on the event. “We, at St. Nicholas School, are so happy to have created a connection with Fr. Mihajlo Planchak at Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish. For many years, it was just known as ‘the church down the lane,’ as staff and students instead attended St. Clare Parish much further down the road. This year, however, a connection was finally made, and we are so happy that one was.”

This connection is bringing surprising knowledge of the East to St. Nicholas students as Kathryn Herzog explains. “Already Father Planchak has come in to talk with students and has given church tours, wonderfully explaining some of the Ukrainian [Byzantine] Rite to students. I reflect fondly to the quiet gasps when the students found out Fr. Planchak was married AND had daughters [Editor’s Note: He also has a son who is a Ukrainian Catholic priest in Alberta]. Father Planchak smiled and kindly explained that particular difference between the Latin and Ukrainian [Byzantine] Rite. To be able to expose students to the Ukrainian [Byzantine] Rite has shown that our Catholic Church is truly Universal. It also shows the different traditions between the rites like the water blessing. For the majority of staff and students, this was the first time they had seen this water blessing. The explanations of the symbols were appreciated and gave us all a greater understanding of these Ukrainian traditions. Now, when students see vials of the holy water in our classrooms, they’ll reflect back on the initial blessing. We look forward to strengthening our connection with Fr. Planchak and his parish. He is even coming this week to bless our classrooms, as in the Ukrainian [Byzantine] Rite, this is when he would be going into his parishioners’ homes and blessing them. It is always a beautiful thing when our staff and students can be witnesses to our universal faith.”

Sometimes things just seem to go right. The unique connection between St. Nicholas school and Protection parish brings heart-warming knowledge that the Both Lungs spirit can, and does, exist. It is, perhaps, a marriage made in heaven.

This piece first appeared in The Prairie Messenger. Reprinted with permission.

Frs. Mihajlo Planchak, Andrew Leung, CSB, and Julian Bilyj at the Great Blessing of the Waters. Note that the clergy are facing the people for the sake of instruction.
Frs. Mihajlo Planchak, Andrew Leung, CSB, and Julian Bilyj at the Great Blessing of the Waters. Note that the clergy are facing the people for the sake of instruction.
Brent Kostyniuk

About Brent Kostyniuk

Brent Kostyniuk lives in Edmonton, Alberta. He is a freelance writer. His series, Both Lungs, is written for The Prairie Messenger and reproduced here with permission. He has a Bachelor of Theology degree from Newman College in Edmonton. He is married to Bev for over 35 years and have eight grandchildren.