On January 6th the Church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Eastern Church this feast is generally known by one of two Greek names: Epiphany or Theophany (in Aramaic the feast is referred to as Denho). Epiphany means “manifestation or appearance”; Theophany means “an appearance of God”. Both refer directly to the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptizer in the Jordan River and the proclamation of Jesus as God’s Son. At this event Jesus is publicly proclaimed (manifested) as the Son of God. Traditionally, the Epiphany celebrated both the birth of Jesus and his baptism some 30 years later. In some ways it is the original “Christmas.” In the early Church, Christians, particularly those in the East, celebrated the advent of Christ on Jan. 6 by commemorating Nativity, Visitation of the Magi, Baptism of Christ and the Wedding of Cana all in one feast of the Epiphany. By the fourth century, both Christmas and Epiphany had been set as separate feasts in some dioceses. At the Council of Tours in 567AD, the Church set both Christmas day and Epiphany as feast days on the Dec. 25 and Jan. 6, respectively, and named the twelve days between the feasts as the Christmas season.
the Latin Church began to emphasize the visit of the Magi (Wise men) instead of the Baptism of the Lord. The feast of the Epiphany not only reminds us of the baptism of Christ, but also of our own baptism. On the feast of Epiphany the Church blesses water (to commemorate that through Christ’s baptism in the Jordan all waters are blessed). It was on Epiphany that the baptism of converts was traditionally celebrated. The Maronite Church structures an entire liturgical season around this feast: The Season of Epiphany. It can last up to five weeks, depending upon when the Season of Great Lent begins. Baptism affects us in two ways: a- Baptism incorporates us into the Body of Christ (the Church); b- Baptism removes all sin, including the effects of original sin. The Lord Jesus teaches us that, Baptism is necessary for salvation (John 3:5). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.” (CCC # 1257). This is why proclaiming the Gospel and seeing that all who can be baptized are baptized is fundamental to the Church’s mission. Do you remember when your were baptized? Who was the priest who baptized you? Who were your godparents? Do you have any photos of your baptism? On January 6, Maronites make a special pastry known as Zlaabyeh, which is a type of donut or fried dough. At midnight, all people carry bundle of aromatic sticks and go to the nearby creek. They plunge the sticks in the water and spread water all around while chanting: “Jesus is baptized by Saint John and Mary was his godmother…” They believe that by doing that all the water become blessed.
We cannot understand the Nativity without Theophany; or we cannot understand Nativity without Epiphany. The revelation of Christ as the Son of God – both as an infant and at his baptism – illuminate the mysteries of the Christmas season.