A significant holiday in the Orthodox Christian Faith is the celebration of Orthodox Epiphany — also known as The Feast of Theophany. It’s a day that celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, which is seen as his manifestation to humanity as the Son of God.
It’s a day that holds great cultural and spiritual significance to Orthodox Christians and is observed with a number of unique customs and rituals that have been passed down through generations of worship. The word Epiphany derives from the Greek word “epiphaneia,” which means “manifestation.” This day is observed annually on the 19th of January every year.
The History Of Orthodox Epiphany
In Christian tradition, Epiphany is believed to have originated in the Greek-speaking eastern portion of the Roman Empire as a Feast Day to honor Christ’s baptism. Clement of Alexandria would write around 200 A.D. that the followers of Basilides of the Christian Gnostic Faith celebrated the baptism of Jesus after spending the previous night in readings.
The readings in question are believed to be the Gospels. Even with this indirect reference to Epiphany, the holiday wouldn’t specifically be referenced until it was done so by Ammianus Marcellinus, a Roman soldier, and historian, in 361 A.D.
The Baptism Of Jesus Christ
Described in all three synoptic Gospels of the New Testament (the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus’s baptism is a major historical event that is considered by modern biblical scholars as being very significant.
The baptism of Christ, along with Christ’s crucifixion, is considered the starting point for most historical scholars to begin their study of Jesus. In all three Gospels, the Holy Spirit is shown descending upon Jesus immediately after his baptism.
This was accompanied by a voice from Heaven. According to the accounts of Luke and Mark, the voice is described as addressing Jesus by stating “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
In Matthew, the voice says “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Following his baptism, the Synoptic Gospels go into detail about the Temptation of Jesus. This is the period of Christ’s life where he withdraws to the Judean desert for a period of 40 days and nights to fast.
Observing Orthodox Epiphany
How Orthodox Epiphany is observed depends on the region where it’s observed. For many Orthodox Christians in Russia and across Eastern Europe, this holiday is observed by Christians submerging themselves in icy water three times in honor of the Holy Trinity.
This tradition is believed to not only bestow good health to the worshipper but also to wash their sins from them. Of course, dipping oneself into freezing water isn’t a tradition observed by all Orthodox Christians.
Even so, all bodies of water are seen as having symbolic meaning on this holiday and can be used for ceremonial purposes, even if those bodies of water are only pools. This holiday is also observed with religious services, prayer, and readings of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.