LAQQAN (Blessing of the Water) The Feast of Theophany and the Blessing of water of the Nile River
The Writing of the Archdeacon Dr. Roshdy Wassef Behman Doss – The Arch Deacon of St. Mark’s Cathedral (Abbaseya) Cairo Egypt. Master of Theology in the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies in Cairo, Egypt
Translated and Edited by: Anatolia Ghaly
This feast is named, among the Copts, the Feast of Epiphany because Jesus Christ accepted baptism with full submersion. This initiated a tie between the rites of this feast with the submersion in the waters of the Jordan in Palestine, and in the water of the Nile in Egypt, after blessing the water, mimicking the rites of the Jordan river.
Sources from the third century confirm that John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ at 10 in the evening. Other sources in the fifth century indicate that at 10PM the heavens used to open and the Holy Spirit came down so that He may purify the waters from the evil spirits. This explains why the rites of the blessing of the water during Theophany occurs at night, having a direct correlation with the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ to Him is due all glory.
Here we would like to mention the testimony of Pope John III, Patriarch of Alexandria, who confirmed that the Feast of Epiphany was among the Feasts where the catechumens would be baptized, other Feasts are the Passover (Pascha) and Pentecost. And the oldest mention of this fact from the Church Fathers is from Tertullian in his Homily on Baptism, and also from the Liturgy of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus.
In the history of the tradition of the Church of Alexandria and its two families (Coptic and Greek); one can find four rites and traditions that were performed along the bank of the Nile River:
- The first: this is the service for the blessing of the water of the Feast of Theophany (Laqqan of the Epiphany)
- The second: the service of the blessing of the water of the Nile river
- The third: the service for the rising of the Nile river (in the case of the absence of a flood)
- The fourth: the service of the blessing of the Nile river in the Feast of the Cross according to the rites of the monastery of Moharak.
In regards to the history of the services, we have many historical accounts: the oldest going back to the 5th century where St. Shenouda the Archimandrite was known to, “take his disciple Wisa to pray the liturgy on Gion (gihon =the Nile River) so that Jesus Christ, the merciful God, may raise the water to its measure.”Concerning the history of the service of the blessing of the water of the Feast of Theophany (Laqqan for the Feast of Epiphany); it is a primitive service and it’s Greek origins and Coptic translations that are identical to the original one, proves that it goes as far back as before the schisms that happen in the year 451 AD in the Council of Chalcedon.
That is what made the liturgical theologians, including Professor Youannis Fondoly, affirm that the texts of the blessing of the water during Theophany has major similarities to the historical texts of the blessing of the baptismal font water, where the catechumens would be immersed in.For this we have primitive signs that were noted by historians in the middle ageswhich clarify the topic on how this was a great feast for the Christians in Egypt because of their traditional rites and prayers on the bank of the Nile River while carrying torches, being baptism in the river and driving (putting) the Holy Cross in the river after they finished the prayers. And afterwards, the believers would go into their respective churches in order to complete the rest of the traditional celebrations and rites of the Feast of Theophany.
And this explains to us why the Liturgy of the blessing of the water (laqqan) till this day is done after the Midnight praises and before the raising of Matins incense. However, the rites for the rest of the blessing of the water (laqqans) (on the feast of the apostles and covenant Thursday) happen between the raising of incense and liturgy like the order of the rest of the church services as the unction of the sick…and others similar to it.
And this tradition has been kept until the era of Abu ‘Ali Mansur (better known by his regnal title – Al Hakim Bi-Amr Allah (985-1021 AD)) who prevented Coptic Christians from celebrating the feast of theophany on the bank of the river. It happened that the Christians in that time were exposed to harsh persecutions from the Arab rulers and it became that the celebrations were exposed to danger—and therefore, impossible. This resulted in the celebrations of the blessing of the water to be held inside the church buildings. From then on, a large water bowl became a replacement to the water of the Nile River in this tradition. Just as the Nile River was a replacement to the Jordan River.
And so, in the end of the 20th century, the rites and traditions of the submersion was moved to the blessing of the water (“laqqan”) that happens during the eve of the Feast of Theophany in all the Coptic Orthodox Churches.
And finally, I would like to shed light on an important part that happens in the end of
the blessing of the water and that is the submersion of “elegyaz matario in the water of the laqqan and that is the submerging of the Cross that the priests uses when signing the cross on the water during the blessing. And according to the Coptic Church traditions, the Cross is simple and made from wood. This rite is tied to the prophecies and readings which are read during the rites of the blessing of the water, and is also tied to the symbols of salvation in the Old Testament and that happened in the reciting of the prayers. And by this, the submerging of the Cross in this water happens as a visual or symbol of the baptism of the Lord, to him is the glory, and to the partaking of the aroma of the holy wood—that is the Cross of the Savior.