On January 6, Eastern (Orthodox) Christians celebrate Theophany, not Epiphany. It is second only to Pascha (Easter) in importance, for it is the feast which celebrates the revelation of the Most Holy Trinity to the world through the Baptism of the Lord.
The major hymn:
When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, worship of the Trinity wast made manifest; for the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of His word. O Christ our God, Who hath appeared and enlightened the world, glory to Thee.
In contrast, Epiphany for Western Christians celebrates the visitation of the Biblical Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles.
Secondarily, in the east, we recall:
When the Lord entered the waters of Jordan, He sanctified every drop of water on the face of the whole earth. Thus, water no longer is a mere object used or abused – some thing out of the tap. Rather, water is now a medium for cleansing the heart, blessing the soul, and healing infirmities; for every drop has touched the sacred flesh of the Lord Christ!
As a former Protestant of relatively “low church” sensibility, I must corroborate the devotional: we Orthodox Christians decidedly do believe that the Most Holy Trinity communicates grace through physical means, not just invisibly and spiritually. If you doubt, remember the woman healed merely by touching the hem of Christ’s garment, or the dead man raised when he touched Elisha’s bones.
It’s not magic, and sick people don’t typically leap up instantly healed after anointing with oil or holy water, but such parts of my Bible I didn’t underline as a Protestant amply attest physical means of grace.
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Postscript: My Priest is down with the flu, so a subdeacon and I must lead a Reader’s Typica – a service missing all but the “bones” of a liturgy. (You surely didn’t think we’d improvise, did you?) Here’s a meditation on some of what we’ll be missing, by a favorite priest/blogger, Fr. Stephen Freeman.
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