Ancient religious tradition, historical practice and constitutional law: the epiphany

The “Epiphany” or baptism of Jesus is recorded in the four Gospels: Matthew 3, Mark 1: 1-9, Luke 3: 21-22 and John 1: 31-34. Epiphany is one of the most important religious holidays of the Orthodox ecclesial calendar. Along with the Nativity (Christmas) and Pascha (Easter), Epiphany is one of the most celebrated Christian holidays in the world.

Commemorating the baptism of Christ, the Epiphany is recorded at the beginning of Christendom: the second century by Clement of Alexandria, Ammianus Marcellinus and Epiphanius of Salamis in the 4e century. John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian call this event the “Festival of Lights” of the Theophany.

6e The poem of the theophany of the century ends as follows:

“The Jordan turned and the mountains leapt, seeing God in the flesh, and the clouds spoke, marveling at the One present, light of light, true God of true God, Who submerged in the Jordan the death of disobedience and the sting of Hades’s error and bond, giving the world a baptism of salvation.

The religious importance of Epiphany cannot be overstated. And contrary to comments reported by local Tarpon officials, this is not a local Event. For millennia, large parts of the Orthodox world have come together in important sites for a communal celebration, this tradition continues, to this day all over the world. And at the top of the list is Tarpon Springs, an internationally recognized “religious event”. In 2006, the world leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, visited Florida to commemorate the 100e centenary.

Let’s go further back in history. Unlike the secular Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in New York, the world’s largest parade, which began in 1924, the ancient Tarpon “Cross Dive” spring rite began before 1905, with ecclesiastical roots dating back to the first and second centuries. .

Greek immigrants began arriving in Tarpon Springs, Florida in the 1880s. Fleeing religious persecution from the Ottoman Empire as a result of four hundred years of slavery, the Fascists conquered and ruled until this that the island finally gained its independence in 1947, when the Dodecanese was completely united with mainland Greece.

With the founding of the historic St. Nicholas Cathedral, the celebration of Epiphany officially began. Yes, in 1905, seven years before Pinellas County was established in 1912. When Tampa and St Pete had a combined population of less than 20,000 (1910 – St Pete population: 4,127).

For at least 115 years, nothing has prevented the celebration of this important religious holiday:

  • 1917 World War I Florida was a site for military training and shipbuilding
  • 1918 The Spanish Flu
  • 1919 January 6, Death of the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt
  • Hurricane Tarpon Springs of 1921 (October 20, devastated the area for months)
  • 1930s The Great Depression
  • 1941 World War II (the attack on Pearl Harbor took place less than a month earlier)
  • 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
  • 1977 Cold weather devastates Florida President Carter proclaims disaster zones
  • 2018 Freezing temperature on Epiphany

A constitutional question?

The First Amendment says that “Congress shall not make any law respecting the establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise of it.” It pursues “the right of the people to assemble peacefully,” say local leaders. , or any other immediate threat to security or public order. Epiphany is the free exercise of religion which includes people meeting peacefully.

According to the Maryland FSB, “state governors have issued executive orders restricting the operation of businesses and the day-to-day activities of individuals. These orders often include bans on assembling 10 or more people in an enclosed space. Churches have not been exempted from these decrees and religious activities are generally expressly included. Although in Florida, Governor DeSantis did not issue such an order.

Nevertheless, the local administration of Tarpon took a different approach, closing all public spaces; parks, roads and various access points around the Bayou; limit religious processions and forbid the faithful of the local body (church) to assemble. Same as the rumors of the next Super Bowl allowing 50 to 60,000 spectators in Hillsborough County. The extraordinary measures designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to provoke constitutional clashes, could Tarpon’s Epiphany be another?

Recently, “the Supreme Court sided with a California church and declared Governor Gavin Newsom’s Covid-19 order banning certain religious services unconstitutional.” According to the ACLJ, “the coronavirus pandemic is real and no community has done more to be flexible and ensure the health and safety of its members than churches across America.”

In the 6e century, Patriarch Sophrones of Jerusalem concluded his resplendent liturgical poem (which is still sung in the Orthodox Church and during the celebration of Tarpon Springs) like this:

And grant to all, whether they touch it, whether they are anointed or whether they participate in it, sanctification, blessing, purification, health.

“Sanctification, blessing, purification, health? Yes, as Orthodox Christians, we have faith in these words, in these prayers! However, the local authorities of Tarpon see fit to “cancel the public event”.

As citizens, as adults and as faithful Christians who have lived the past year listen to science, we are well equipped as individuals and as a community to set limits on participation that meet the needs of our faith. We understand social distancing practices and expect local leaders not to overstep the authority given to them by local laws. And we expect our constitutional dignity to practice our faith without interference. We wear our masks not because we are afraid, but because we love our neighbor.

The Tarpon Springs Department of Public Works, the Sheriff, and of course some church officials can now be listed with the few authoritarian regimes of the past that banned these ancient Christian “public events”: the Ottomans, the Soviet Union, and Cuba. … Which are among the few political powers in history, to ban this ancient religious practice.

Featured image at the top of this article: R. Christopher Trenkmann / ABC Action News

About the Author

Elias Damianakis is a Florida-based Eastern Orthodox iconographer who is the master archon of the Great Church of Christ. For more information, visit his website.

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