Theophany - Epiphany
Nativity of Christ
Obscured in the gray years of antiquity are the origins of the two feastdays, Theophany and Epiphany, which the Church celebrates on January 6. Both of these feastdays originated in the Eastern Roman Empire as evidenced by the Greek words used to describe them.
The word, THEOPHANY (Theos - God; epiphaneia - manifestation) means in literal translation, “Manifestation of God”. The literal meaning of EPIPHANY (Epi - above; epiphaneia - manifestation) is “Manifestation from above”. At first blush, this may appear to some readers as a distinction without a difference, as indeed it was in the Early Church. Even today some Orthodox and Catholic Christians use the terms interchangeably, yet in their eventual evolution and practice they are quite different.
Delving into the murk of ancient days one encounters much confusion among Early Christians of East and West about when and how to acknowledge the various manifestations of God. The Early Church recognized four such manifestations, herein called THE FOUR MANIFESTATIONS, wherein the Lord appeared to mankind in glory and divinity. They are
- THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD
- THE VISIT OF THE MAGI
- THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST
- THE MIRACLE OF THE WEDDING FEAST OF CANA
Early the Nativity and the Baptism of Christ were celebrated on January 6. Later the Nativity was moved to December 25 in an effort to accommodate and eventually replace the heathen festival centered around the winter solstice, called The Birth of the Invincible Sun . The Armenians still celebrate the Nativity and the Baptism of Christ on January 6 according to the ancient custom. In time and at various places these two dates were associated with the other MANIFESTATIONS mentioned above. While both East and West settled on December 25 as the date for the Nativity, there evolved no consensus on which of the MANIFESTATIONS should be recognized on January 6.
Epiphany (January 6) in the Western Church 
Visit of the Magi
Very early in its history, the Western Church assigned to January 6 the manifestation of God associated with the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child in Bethlehem (which in the Eastern Church is associated with the Nativity). The Magi or Three Kings from the East are described in Scripture as three regal or noble persons who were attracted to Bethlehem by a star which stood over the place announcing the birth of the Savior of the World. Bearing precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they paid homage to the King of Kings and were received by Him in His manifestation to the Gentiles. The Roman liturgy honors on January 6 the visit of the Magi exclusively, but retains in the Antiphon at the Magnificat an echo from the distant past in the following words:
We keep this day holy in honor of three miracles:
this day a star led the Wise Men to the manger;
this day water was turned into wine at the
marriage feast; this day Christ chose to be baptized
by John in the Jordan, for our salvation, allelulia.
Theophany (January 6) in the Eastern Church 
St. John Chrysostom in his Discourse on the Baptism of Christ speaks of two Theophanies, the actual one on January 6, and the second one in the future at the end of the world. In his Discourse he poses the question:
Why then is this day (January 6) called Theophany?
Because Christ made Himself known to all - not then
when He was born - but then when He was baptized.
Until this time, He was not known to the people and
the people did not know Him.
Baptism of Christ
In the 8th century, St. John Damascene stated that the Lord was baptized not because He Himself had need of cleansing, but in order to bury sin through water, to fulfill the law, to reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and finally to sanctify “watery nature” by proffering it to us in the form and example of baptism by water.
According to the Damascene, in the manifestation of Christ's baptism, God the Father spoke from heaven about the Son, the Son was baptized by St. John the Forerunner, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a dove. On the feastday of the Baptism of Christ, the Church asserts its faith in the mystery of the Three Persons of the One God, teaching and confessing the Holy Trinity, one in essence and undivided. In submitting to baptism in His manifestation to the people, Christ and the Church teach that our salvation and cleansing from sin are possible only by the Holy Spirit acting through the visible symbol of water.
Marriage Feast of Cana
Troparion of Theophany
At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, worship of the Trinity was revealed, for the Father's voice bore witness to You, calling You His “beloved Son”, and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words. O Christ God, Who appeared and enlightened the world, glory be to You!
Kontakion of Theophany
You have revealed Yourself to the world today, and Your light, O Lord, has shined upon us. We recognize You and exclaim to You: “You have come and revealed Yourself, O Inaccessible Light.”
- The practice of the Early Church in adapting to its purposes pagan festivals and customs depended on its ability to subvert deeply held customs and beliefs and to convert the same to the service of the Church. Thus the Festival of the Birth of the Invincible Sun celebrated at the winter solstice was adapted to the need of the Church to acknowledge and celebrate the birth of Christ and was eventually replaced by celebrations in furtherance of the Church's mission. The same sort of accommodation and eventual triumph over paganism took place elsewhere, as discussed in the page, PENTECOST in this Web site and in THE RESURRECTION AND THE WILLOW. In every instance, the subversion of pagan beliefs and customs occurred at a time of ascendant Christianity, i. e. at a time when Christianity was in the process of prevailing over the heathen society. One might inquire whether the same technique would serve the Church today in its ongoing struggle against the new heathenism of Europe and North America. I doubt it. The Church is no longer in ascendancy over a pagan society, but in increasing danger of being overwhelmed by it. Religious feastdays such as Nativity and Easter are deemed too “parochial” by modern standards and have been largely commercialized to serve the interests of the merchant class. In this and in other ways the sacred and the divine yield to the secular and hostile interests of the day and the special agendas advancing under the guises of globalism, humanism, diversity, feminism, gay-lesbianism and political correctness in the continuing effort to create a non-Christian society. The response to these developments is not accommodation with the view of prevailing, but firm resistance to and rejection of the new ethic and a concomitant recovery and restoration of the essence of the Christian tradition. Tragically the propagandists of the new age are aided and abetted in their effort by the theological, liturgical and disciplinary deconstruction of the Church carried on in the spirit of the Age of Aquarius by people within the Church to the scandal and consternation of orthodox Christians. The response to all of this, of course, is in the restoration and recovery of the Church's ancient and venerable traditions in morality, liturgy, theology, discipline and social action and the determined rejection of all that is inconsistent with these traditions.
- See EPIPHANY in Catholic Encyclopedia at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen.
- For more detail, see HOLY THEOPHANY in the OCA Web site at: http://oca.org/pages/orth_chri and DISCOURSE ON THE DAY OF THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST by St. John Chrysostom at http://dfw.orthodox.net/theophany.