mosaic of magi bringing gifts
        to the Christ child
Adoration of the Magi, mosaic 435 AD, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, Italy

Feast of Epiphany and Theophany
also called the Day of Illumination and Feast of Lights among Orthodox

"Theophany" is a  Greek word (Theos - God; phaneia - manifestation) which means "manifestation of God." Epiphany, a closely related Greek word (epi - above; phaneia - manifestation) means "manifestation from above." The root meaning of both words is manifestation. In the Orthodox Church the Feast of Theophany commemorates the baptism of the Lord Jesus at the River Jordan and the manifestation of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) after his baptism. In the churches of the West, the Feast of Epiphany is understood as the feast of the revelation of Jesus Christ to the Magi who represent the Gentiles. Christ was revealed to the nations at his birth. The manifestation of the light of Christ and his glory to the Magi was the culmination of the Feast of the Nativity. The Christmas and Epiphany season commemorates all the events of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ (his nativity, circumcision and naming on the 8th day, his presentation in the temple, baptism at the River Jordan, and his first public sign - changing water into wine which "manifested his glory" at the wedding feast at Cana).

The traditional date for the feast of Epiphany (Theophany) is January 6. Eastern Churches which use the Julian Calendar observe the Epiphany/ Theophany feast on January 19.

In the Eastern churches, especially among the Orthodox, the Feast of Theophany is the great feast second only to Easter. The are four key manifestations of God's glory in Christ which are celebrated in this feast: (1) Jesus' baptism at the River Jordan where he is revealed in glory with the Father and Holy Spirit. (2) When the "Word became flesh" (the nativity of Jesus Christ) "we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14). (3) The shinning forth of a star which guided the magi from the East to journey to Bethlehem where the glory of the newborn Messiah King was revealed to them (Matthew 2:1-12, Numbers 24:17, Is.60).  (4) Jesus' first public miracle when he "manifested his glory" (John 2:11) by changing water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana.

[For further reading see Epiphany in Eastern and Western Christianity by Rev. George Dragas.]

icon of magi who bring gifts to the Christ

Feast of the Nativity

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.
- John 1:9

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… we have beheld his glory… the only Son from the Father.
- John 1:14

When the Lord Jesus was born... Magi coming from the East worshiped God made man. They offered him precious gifts: Refined gold, as to the King of the ages; Frankincense, as to the God of all; Myrrh they offered to the Immortal One as one three days dead. Come all nations, let us worship Him.
- Compline of Nativity feast

baptism of Jesus icon

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus at the River Jordan

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"  But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending  like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." - Matthew 3:13-17

The feast which passed (Nativity) was radiant but the coming one is even more glorious! There the Magi worshipped the Savior; Here the Servant (John) baptizes the Master. There the shepherds saw the Child and were amazed; Here the voice of the Father proclaims the only-begotten Son!
- Vespers of Epiphany prefeast

Cana wedding feast
Jesus Manifests his Glory at the Wedding Feast at Cana

Jesus performed his first public miracle (sign) where he "manifested his glory" (John 2:11) by changing water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana. This was a prophetic sign of the new age of the Messiah - the overflowing new wine of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:12-18, Ephesians 5:18) who transforms us into the likeness of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), which the Old Testament prophets had foretold:

Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, ...when the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel… they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. - Amos 9:13-14

Be glad, O sons of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord, your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before. The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil... And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. - Joel 2:23-24, 28-29

They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom as the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon. - Hosea 14:7

[See related article, Water Into Wine: How Christ Transforms Us.]

Jordan cross-shaped
                    ice hole for Orthodox purification

An age-old Russian Orthodox tradition on the Feast of Theophany

A common tradition in Russian Orthodox churches is a ritual baptismal-type bath into icy waters which have been blessed by the clergy on the Feast of Epiphany (Theophany). The "Jordan" cross-shaped ice holes (evoking Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River) through which Orthodox worshipers submerge themselves is a rite of cleansing purification. This ritual, which evokes the image of a believer's own baptism when he or she first became a Christian, is a re-dedication of one’s life to Jesus Christ.


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