Feast of Lights
Feast of Lights
Epiphany: Season has two meanings, one purpose
By Pamela Hitchins
Saturday, January 3, 2009 9:11 AM CST
While the close of the Christmas season is marked by taking down lights and
decorations from homes, in the Christian church the 12th day of Christmas -
Epiphany - is a feast of lights that ushers in a new season in the church
From the Greek word meaning "to manifest" or "to show," Epiphany "shows"
Jesus as God in the flesh to all mankind.
"Following the 12 days of Christmas, the Epiphany of Our Lord is a very
early Christian celebration of the manifestation of Christ's incarnation to
the nations," said Gary Osborn, pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Messiah
on Cain Ridge Road. "Epiphany teaches that Jesus Christ came in the flesh to
save all people - not only Abraham's descendants, but the people of every
"Epiphany is the coming of the light," said the Very Rev. Chan Osborn de
Anaya, rector of Christ Episcopal Church on Main Street.
Epiphany is both a day - traditionally Jan. 6, but sometimes the Sunday
before - and a season - the period between Christmas and Lent. It marks not
only a historical event, but also a time in the church liturgical year that
emphasizes outreach and unity.
Worldwide, Christians commemorate slightly different events in the life of
Jesus in their observances of Epiphany.
In western Christian churches - Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and
others - the feast celebrates the three kings from the east bringing their
gifts to honor Jesus. It shows that Jesus has come for all mankind, not just
In Eastern Orthodox churches, Epiphany celebrates Christ's baptism in the
Jordan - the start of his public ministry and the full revelation of the
Trinity, when the voice of God the Father was heard saying, "This is my son,
in whom I am well pleased," and the Holy Spirit came as a dove to rest on
Christ Church will celebrate Epiphany Sunday beginning at 5 p.m. with a
bonfire and special music, de Anaya said, including "Coventry Carol," which
dates to the 16th Century, and "Wexford Carol," which dates to the 12th
century and ends with a verse about the coming of the wise men.
The congregation will then process into the church, singing "We Three Kings"
- symbolically, de Anaya said, "bringing the Magi" to the Christ child -and
carrying lighted candles.
Historically, the Episcopal Church has called Epiphany The Feast of Lights.
According to "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church," "The winter solstice
was kept on Jan. 6 at some places during the first centuries of the
Christian Era. In opposition to pagan festivals, Christians chose this day
to celebrate the various manifestations, or 'epiphanies,' of Jesus'
Pagans worshipped the sun at the time of the winter solstice, but Christians
changed it to the worship of "the real Son of righteousness, Jesus Christ,"
said the Very Rev. John Morris, pastor of St. George Orthodox Christian
Church. "He is the source of the light."
Epiphany services also include "the most appropriate celebration of the
sacrament of Holy Communion," said Osborn, "since that is where scripture
reveals to us the incarnation of Christ's body and blood for our
forgiveness, life and salvation."
In the Eastern church, the visit of the Magi is remembered in Christmas
gospel readings, said Morris.
Historically, Morris said, Epiphany is actually an older Christian festival
than Christmas. The feast originally included Christ's birth, the coming of
the Magi, his baptism and the wedding at Cana where he changed water into
In the middle of the 4th century, the birth of Christ began to be celebrated
Dec. 25, and the east and west began to separate in their Epiphany
To Orthodox Christians, Epiphany is the third most important feast in the
church year, behind Easter and Pentecost. It is sometimes called "the
Theophany" - literally, in Greek, "appearance of God."
St. George will observe Epiphany with a Divine Liturgy at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
The service will include the blessing of the water, part of which will be
sprinkled on the congregation and other parts set aside for Morris to bring
to parishioners' homes to bless them.
"Because it's traditionally the baptism of Christ, we bless water," he said.
In addition, the incarnation of God sanctified the material, and water is
the most plentiful thing on Earth.
In some Greek communities, notably in Tarpon Springs, Fla., Epiphany is
marked by a celebration involving thousands of people. The priest typically
blesses a large body of water such as a bay or harbor. A cross is thrown
into the harbor, and dozens of teenage boys dive into the water and try to
About 25,000 people participated in Tarpon Springs' 2008 Epiphany
Beyond the day's specific historical commemoration, a deeper meaning for
Christians has been to initiate a season of outreach, healing and
"The day is now observed as a time of focusing on the mission of the church
in reaching others by 'showing' Jesus as the savior of all people," writes
Dennis Bratcher of CRI/Voice, an ecumenical Web site of the Christian
Resource Institute in Oklahoma City. "It is also a time of focusing on
Christian brotherhood and fellowship, especially in healing the divisions of
prejudice and bigotry that we all too often create between God's children."
Bratcher is a Church of the Nazarene pastor and a professor of the Old
Testament with a doctorate in biblical studies from Union Theological
Seminary in Virginia. He writes that though many Protestant churches do not
mark seasons on the old church calendar beyond Christmas and Easter,
observances such as Epiphany, whether as a feast day or a season, were
important to educate people in times when most could not read.
"The church festivals and the cycle of the church year provided a vehicle
for teaching the story of God and his actions in human history."
Following Christ Episcopal Church's Epiphany service, de Anaya said, will be
an open house at the rectory, a reminder that Christmas isn't quite over on
that 12th day.
"We are keeping the tradition recognizing that Advent is the season of
preparation, and that the season of Christmas actually begins, not ends, on
Christmas Day, and lasts 12 days."
Contact Pamela Hitchins at phitchins@....
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