January 6: Denha, the mamodisa of Isho Mishiha


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On the 6th of January, is the Feast of Denha. This is called Epiphany in the Latin Church.  Denha is the second great Feast after Easter that was being celebrated from early centuries in the Universal Church. The word Denha is Aramaic or Syriac. It means Sunrise or Dawn. The word Epiphany, originating from Greek, means Appearance. In the Eastern or Oriental Churches this Feast is celebrated to commemorate the Baptism of Our Lord and through that His public manifestation to the world by God the Father as His Beloved Son (Cf. Mt.3:17: Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22). The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove (Mt.3:16: Mk.1:10: Lk.3:22; Jn. 1:32). Thus the three Persons of the Holy Trinity also were manifested on that occasion. Therefore in the early Church the Holy Trinity also was commemorated on this day.

Courtesy of www.st-takla.org

The meaning of Denha – Sunrise or Dawn should make the Faithful understand the significance of this Feast. Jesus is the real Sun that dawned in the world through Incarnation. Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied at John’s birth: “…You will go before the Lord to prepare his ways…when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace”(Lk.1:76-79). During the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth, the public did not recognize Him as the real Sun who illuminates the whole of humanity. He was manifested to the public by God the Father at His Baptism as we have seen above. John the Baptist bore witness to the Divine commission of Jesus to baptize with the Holy Spirit because he saw the Spirit descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove (Jn.1:32-34).

In the Latin Church what is remembered on this Feast is the coming of the Magi from the East and their finding of Jesus with the help of the star which appeared to them in the East and showed them the way to the Holy Land. This also was a manifestation of Jesus to those who sought to find, worship and offer presents to Him (Cf.Mt.2:1-11).

In the ancient Church the Birth of Jesus also was commemorated along with this Feast. But after the cessation of the Roman persecutions of the Christians following the edict of Milan in 313, the Roman emperor Constantine himself became the champion of the propagation of Christianity with his imperial influence and power. In this context a great feast celebrated by the pagan Romans on 25th December to commemorate the birth of the Sun god was converted by the Christians of Rome to commemorate the Birth of Jesus the real Sun, the Son of God. The earliest evidence regarding the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord on 25th December dates back to the Roman ecclesiastical calendar of 354. Gradually the Western and Oriental Churches made December 25 as the Day of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.

With regard to the Nasrani Church of India, Denha was celebrated as an important Feast even from early centuries. In central Kerala at Palai and Pulincunnoo this Feast is known as Rakkuli Perunnal. Baptism is Mamodisa/Mamoditha in Syriac. Literally it signifies Bath. Therefore Rakkuli means bath in the night. Perunnal signifies Feast. There is a tradition according to which Jesus was baptized in the evening when it was getting dark. Hence the name Rakkuli was given to the Feast of Denha in these localities. To commemorate the Baptism of Our Lord in the River Jordan, the Faithful at Palai and Pulincunnoo used to take a holy dip by night in the streams flowing near the churches in these localities after the solemn celebration of Ramsha, the Evening Liturgy. Another tradition connected with this Feast in the Trichur District of Kerala is to light small oil lamps and to pin them around plantain trunks erected in churchyards or in front of the houses and to go around them chanting in Syriac El payya. These Syriac words mean God is radiant. This Feast is named in those areas Pindi Perunnal in the Malayalam language. The thought underlying the lighting of lamps and the chanting is that God sheds His light over the human race through Christ (Cf.Lk.1:76-79). We read in the Fourth Gospel that Christ Himself , being the Incarnate Son of God, is the light of the world (Cf.Jn.8:12).We may also allude here to the tradition in the Syriac Church which says that when Jesus was baptized in River Jordan, a great light shone in that River. This also might be linked with the introduction of lamps into this festive ceremony. In recent years this Pindi Perunnal ceremony has been begun in some churches of the southern eparchies of the Syro-Malabar Church too.

The Scriptural readings prescribed for today are: Numbers 24:2-9; Isaiah 4:2-5+11:1-5+12:4-6; Epistle to Titus 2:11-3:7; Matthew 3:1-17. The Book of Numbers 24:2-9 tells us of the oracle of Balaam pronouncing blessings upon the people of Israel who were on their way to the Land of Canaan to inherit it. Balak, the king of Moab, had hired the legendary soothsayer Balaam to curse the people of Israel. But instead of curses, he pronounced blessings (Cf. Num.22:1- 24:25). Although Balaam cannot be considered as a historical person, these poetic verses are utterances of an anonymous prophet of the 10th century B.C.

In the readings given from the Book of Isaiah, the Holy One of Israel, that is the Redeemer who has to come, is hailed. He will be sprouting from the stump of Ishay (Jesse), the father of David. People are invited to give thanks to the Lord for His redeeming activity. In the Epistle to Titus 2:11-3:7 St.Paul exhorts to remember the Grace that has been given to us through the redeeming activity of Jesus Christ. Obedience to authority and practice of good habits by shunning evil manners are recommended to be encouraged by Titus. The Gospel according to St.Matthew chapter 3 deals first with the preaching of St. John the Baptist and then gives a description of the Baptism of Jesus which we have discussed at length in the beginning. All these readings help us to understand in depth the significance of the Feast of Denha.


Credits: Father Thomas Kalayil, CMI


See also an article on Christmas and Denha: http://www.nasranifoundation.org/xmas_denha.html
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