The Feast of the Epiphany

On January 6 the Church of the East, along with most other Christian churches, celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany. The Epiphany (Beth Denkha) is an ancient festival observance of the Church. It has been celebrated at least from the 3rd century of the Christian era. The word Epiphany is of Greek origin, and it means “manifestation”, and the Greek title of the feast has usually carried over into other languages, though it has been translated among the Syriac-speaking churches (“Denkha” carries the same meaning). The feast was from the beginning a celebration of the Baptism of Christ, and was one of the three principle feasts of the early Church: Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost. From the 5th century the Western churches began to transform the feast-day into a celebration of Christ’s manifestation to the Gentiles, and the three “Kings” (Magi) became the central figures (apart from our Lord) in the day’s festivities. However, in the Eastern churches the commemoration of the Baptism is still the central feature.

The word “manifestation” refers to the public revelation of the special relationship Jesus of Nazareth had with the God of Israel: “Now when Jesus was baptized, as soon as he had gone up from the water the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him, and lo, [there was] a voice from heaven saying, `This is my beloved Son, with whom I have been well-pleased.’” (Mk. 3:16-17) Here a miraculous occurrence before the large crowds that had come to be baptized by John (or to observe him and hear his preaching) confirmed the unique status of Jesus, setting him off on his ministry of teaching, healing, and proclaiming the advent of the Kingdom of God. But more than that, the Holy Trinity was here first proclaimed openly, opening up a vast new world of understanding, though the fullness of what it all meant would not be known until the final triumph of our Lord over sin and death, and his glorification and session at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

This two-fold revelation–of the Sonship of Christ and of the Holy Trinity–is our reason for rejoicing and celebrating this special day. “Creation was made glad in its Lord and acknowledged its Savior who was baptized and who revealed in the Jordan the doctrine of the Trinity: the Father who cried out and proclaimed, `This is my beloved Son with whom I have been well-pleased,’ and the Spirit who came and remained upon him, making known his glory in the presence of the nations.” [“Anthem of the Mysteries” for Epiphany.]