Often during the Christmas Season, we sing The Twelve Days of Christmas. That song represents the period of December 25th, the day we celebrate the birth of Christ, up to the period of the Epiphany which begins, historically, January 6th. “Epiphany” is a manifestation or an appearance. In the Biblical sense, it was a recorded revelation where God made Himself known. In scripture, “The Epiphany” pointed to these specific events: the coming of the Magi to worship the child Jesus; the baptism of Jesus, and Jesus’ appearance at the wedding in Cana when He turned water into wine. In each of these events, scripture makes clear that Jesus was not just another man as God made his presence known.
Most western churches focus on the appearance of the Magi or “wise men” in celebrating the Epiphany. In Matthew 2:1-2 NLT, we are told: Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise menfrom eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” How did they know to ask about this? They KNEW from their studies of the scripture that a star was to appear and that it would lead them to a king!
In the Orthodox Christian Church, Epiphany focuses on the baptism of Jesus. Matthew 3:16 NLT says: After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” In that moment, God revealed Himself as the Trinity – God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
In January 2019, a team of extraordinary musicians (with a couple of extras) celebrated the Epiphany through our participation in the XIV International Festival of Evangelical Culture know as “Epiphany Nights” or “Epiphany Evenings” depending on who’s translating. Our team included members of the First Baptist Jackson Sanctuary Orchestra as well as myself and Leslie Hancock. Most are students at Belhaven University. This 10 day adventure required sacrifice. In addition to being full or part-time undergraduate and graduate students, the young adults in our group (6 of them) depend heavily on “gig work” for meeting expenses, paying tuition, dealing with life. They play as contract orchestra and ensemble players, are members of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, do wedding and other event work, are studio musicians, teach privately or through First Jackson’s Academy of Arts, and work other non-music jobs so they can follow their dreams and embrace their passion!
This year 2019 marked the 14th year of the festival which revived the old traditions and resumed historical concerts of sacred music, which took place in the capital of the Russian Empire from the time of Peter I until the 1920s. This is one of few opportunities now open to evangelical culture involving non-Russians. During the festival, our team performed in ensemble, chamber and solo concerts and the large festival choral and orchestra gala event. During each and every presentation, the Gospel was presented to a standing room audience (in venues ranging in size from a couple of hundred people to over 1200). Most of those listening were not believers. Russian evangelical Christians, for this festival, take what they have – the love of classical music by the Russian people – and use that to get them in and then using Christian music played in the classical style, present the Gospel to them through music and the spoken word.
It was so evident that God was at work. How the local churches worked together was amazing. How they included teams like us and others from other parts of Russia and Europe and other individuals from the US (Southern California) was as well. We met and served with people who lived Romans 1:16: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Greek.
In addition to the Festival, our team was privileged to lead worship for the St. Petersburg Evangelical Church on Sunday and were asked on an ad hoc basis to play for a dinner of retired members of the Russian “police force.” Both were exciting opportunities to share our faith and to participate in the local culture.
We worked with Rotila Ilie Croitoru, a native of Moldova and a graduate of the N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov Saint Petersburg State Conservatory. Ilie is a world renown conductor and one of the festival’s founders. He is extensively involved in presenting festivals throughout Europe that focus on using music and the local culture to share the Story of Jesus. Ille is also extensively involved in Crescendo, an international organization of Christian musicians who use their gifts to share the Gospel in their communities and around the world.
Our missional experience concluded with the presentation of a Thank You concert at First Baptist Jackson on January 13th. Then we were able to thank our many donors and prayer supporters who made this trip possible by performing music we shared at the festival and sharing our stories and testimonies. Already we are praying about returning to participate again in 2020 – we have been invited. Please pray with us as we determine God’s will in this. For those who graciously supported us financially and in prayer and other support tasks, please accept my personal thanks. For more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.