Theophany is a Greek word that means God revealing himself to man.
During the Feast of the Theophany, celebrated Jan. 6, Orthodox Christians observe Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, and God revealing himself in the form of a dove. And in the days following the feast day, a priest visits Orthodox homes for a Theophany House Blessing.
“Every January, it’s a custom to bless your home,” said Kathy Wright, faculty adviser for the Northern Illinois University chapter of Orthodox Christian Fellowship.
The signs of God’s presence were evident at the OCF House in DeKalb, where friends gathered for the house blessing Wednesday evening.
But this particular blessing was twofold: The house was recently purchased to become home to the new campus chapter of OCF. The housemates, along with a dozen other friends and family members, were celebrating the club’s first home in DeKalb.
The Rev. Chris Webb led the group in prayer in the dining room. He blessed the mismatched dining room set, the red-painted piano and went through each room one by one, blessing each with holy water.
In a nearby bedroom, he blessed the pink, fuzzy chair in the corner; the photo collage centered on the wall; the laptop computer and textbook strewn on the floor as if a night of studying was interrupted.
The NIU chapter of OCF was founded just two years ago, thanks in large part to the efforts of Wright and Webb, who is the presiding priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in DeKalb. It started with just a few members, and has grown to about 20, said Wright’s daughter, Elisabeth.
Elisabeth Wright lives at the OCF House on Northern Lane, just blocks from campus. The 19-year-old said it was her mom’s idea to find a house for the club.
The idea stemmed from tragedy. The Feb. 14 shooting at NIU’s Cole Hall “became a catalyst” for the outreach, Kathy Wright said.
“Oh my gosh – we have to take care of our students,” Wright recalled thinking after those events. One student who was shot and survived, Patrick Korellis, was a member of the Orthodox campus group before graduating.
Donors came forward and a committee was formed to head the house purchase. Besides a place to hold meetings, the home is to help students “heal and grow” after the tragedy, Kathy Wright said.
Most of the furnishings have been donated, and through fundraisers, the group raised enough to make a $10,000 down payment last fall. Their goal over the next two years is more lofty – it will take $375,000 more to complete the purchase, Wright said.
But they’re optimistic.
The home is “to further God’s work in the world,” and has had many more blessings besides the sprinkling of water Webb performed Thursday, Kathy Wright said.
The national organization’s executive director traveled to DeKalb in the days after Feb. 14 to support Orthodox students. The house was for sale then.
“[The Rev. Kevin Scherer] walked through it,” Elisabeth Wright said. “He pretty much said, if you can find a way to do it, you have my blessing.”
Students began moving in last August, and advertised for roommates.
Komal Patel saw the ad and inquired.
“[Kathy] was really welcoming,” said Patel, a Hindu. “I first asked, ‘Do I have to be Christian to be in the house?’ She said, ‘No, everyone is welcome here.’”
That hospitality is to keep people connected to their faith, Webb said.
“After high school and through college, a lot of [students] were missing from church worship life,” he said. “This is an attempt to keep them connected with their faith, their... heritage.”
And a diverse arrangement of foods prepared in the kitchen before Wednesday’s house blessing represents the Orthodox Christian diaspora: Greek baklava, Middle Eastern hummus, Russian dill egg salad – and American lil’ BBQ wieners were on hand.
“The food represents the worldwide character of orthodoxy,” said Liz Carney, who came to the celebration to support the OCF students. “Orthodoxy is very much a way of life.”
Feb 3, 2009 6:03 PM