(OSV News) — Amid Russia’s war on Ukraine, the feast of the Epiphany highlights Ukrainians’ fight for “something new: the movement toward freedom,” said Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
“The enslaving Russian ideology proposes nothing more than a return to the old. They attempt to force upon us re-adoption of the old imperial and Soviet ways of thinking and living,” said the major archbishop, who celebrated a Jan. 6 Divine Liturgy at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv. “We want to live in a new way, we seek the renewal that Christ gives us in today’s life-giving impulse of his Epiphany over the Jordan.”
Epiphany, more commonly known as Theophany — from the Greek for a visible manifestation of the divine — is celebrated on Jan. 6 as one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Byzantine Catholic Rite. In the Western Catholic Church, the feast focuses on the visit of the Magi to the infant Christ; Eastern Catholics instead emphasize the baptism of Christ as a revelation of the Holy Trinity, with the voice of the Father declaring, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17) and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus in the form of a dove.
“Today, we witness the revelation of the Son of God to humanity and the world, proclaimed as his Son by the heavenly Father, confirmed by the Holy Spirit, who hovers over the waters,” said Major Archbishop Shevchuk.
In particular, the feast has three important implications, he said.
The presence of the Son of God in the waters of the Jordan points to the creation of the world out of nothingness, bringing light into the darkness. Through such “a blast of creative power,” God “changes the one who contemplates and participates in this event,” he said.
The waters also recall the Red Sea, through which the Lord led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, while the Pharaoh and his army perished.
“The power that had kept God’s people in bondage was … defeated,” said Major Archbishop Shevchuk. “Instead, a power that calls for and guides (us) toward freedom emerged.”
He said that Ukrainians “want to declare to the Moscow Pharaoh, who is once again sending his army to Ukraine from the north, ‘Let my people go,’ as Moses once said to Pharaoh in Egypt.”
In addition, the feast reminds the faithful of St. Paul’s call to put off the former self and to be renewed in Christ, as in Eph 4:17-24.
“We have shed the old man with his deeds, sins and iniquities and have adorned ourselves with the new man,” said Major Archbishop Shevchuk. “We have become a renewed humanity in Christ.”
As St. Paul stresses, the “main manifestation of the old (man) is falsehood,” he said. “We see how falsehood today becomes … a weapon of enslavement of Ukraine and the world.
“But the new always wins,” he said. “Because it wins not by the power of man alone, but by the power of God.”
Russia’s full-scale invasion, launched in February 2022 and continuing attacks begun in 2014, has been declared a genocide in two joint reports from the New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights. To date, Ukraine has documented at least 122,616 war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine since February 2022.
In March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, for the unlawful deportation and transfer of 19,546 children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
Ultimately, “the struggle Ukraine is engaged in is a confrontation between the old and new humanity in Christ,” said Major Archbishop Shevchuk, who after celebrating Divine Liturgy performed the feast’s traditional blessing of the waters at the nearby Dnipro River.
Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) at @GinaJesseReina.