Preparing for the Theophany with the “Royal Hours”


Eastern Christians prepare for the feast with fasting and a special liturgy.

Many Eastern Christians hold on to traditions that were started during the time of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire. Christianity flourished in this half of the Empire and began to create unique traditions that are retained by many Byzantine and Orthodox Christians today.

For example, when the Emperor moved to Constantinople from Rome, there developed the “Royal Hours.” It was a special liturgy celebrated in the presence of the Emperor and his royal court before major feast days. The Emperor would humble himself on these days and recognize the divine sovereignty of God.

The “Royal Hours” coincide with special fasting days that precede the celebration of Jesus’ Nativity (Dec. 25), the Theophany (Jan. 6) and “Great Friday” (also known as Good Friday).

The prayers composed for this liturgy have a penitential aspect to them, as well as focusing on Christ’s kingship. Here is an oft-repeated refrain that summarizes the prayers.

Come, let us worship our King and God. 
Come, let us worship Christ our King and God.
Come, let us worship and bow before the only Lord Jesus Christ, the King and our God.

For the feast of the Theophany, many of the prayers focus on the Baptism of Jesus, a central mystery that is celebrated on January 6 for Eastern Christians.

Tone 4. Today, the Trinity, our God, has revealed Itself indivisibly to us: The Father bears his clear witness to his Son; the Spirit comes down from heaven in the form of a dove; the Son bows his spotless head before the Baptist; being baptized, the Lover of Mankind frees mankind from slavery.

It is a lengthy liturgy, but one that reminds us all that we are called to bow down and worship the true King of kings and render him our loving homage.

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