Celebrating Epiphany with the Christian east

This year the Feast of the Epiphany will be moved to Sunday, January 7th, and the following day, Monday, will be the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.

Fr. Michael Weitl

Although it may feel jarring to jump immediately from the Wise Men at the crib to Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, historically both events were commemorated together on Epiphany. This make some sense when we recall that the word epiphania means ‘manifestation’. With the Wise Men, it is the manifestation of Christ, the newborn King, to the gentile nations.

With his baptism, it is the manifestation, above all, of Christ as the Son of God; for, at Christ’s baptism, the voice of the Father was heard, “Behold, you are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased” Mk 1:11, and the Holy Spirit is likewise made manifest in the form of a dove, descending upon Christ.

Sometimes in Western Christianity, as is the case this year, it seems as if the baptism of the Lord is celebrated almost as an afterthought, but in the Christian East, on Epiphany, his baptism is celebrated with almost as great a fervour as Christmas! In Madonna House, we incorporate such Eastern traditions into our celebrations. This is largely due to the fact that our foundress, Catherine Doherty, grew up Russian Orthodox before becoming Catholic.

I myself have been personally blessed to have been given ‘faculties’ from Rome to be able to celebrate the Byzantine (Eastern Christian) liturgies. It is a deep joy to celebrate Christ’s baptism with solemnity. At the end of the Liturgy, I will bless all the waters of the earth. Then, to better express such a blessing, we will process down to the shore at Robin Hood’s Bay, where I will toss into the sea a blessed cross, which will eventually be found by some fortunate passer-by.

This gesture reminds us that, when Christ entered the Jordan river, he blessed its waters and all the waters of the world, imbuing them with his power to cleanse not just the body, but the soul!

At our baptism, all stain of sin was washed away, and we were made temples of the Holy Spirit; our ‘old self’ died with Christ, and we were raised to new life in him!

Thus, when we celebrate Christ’s epiphany, we don’t just remember that he ‘showed up.’ Rather, he manifested himself so that he could restore to us the divine life for which we were created.

How often do we marvel at the reality of our baptism? I hope that, as we remember Christ’s Baptism, we receive the grace to cherish more deeply the mystery of our own baptism.

I hope that we can almost hear the trickling of those cleansing waters that were poured over our head, washing our soul, and filling us, by no merit of our own, with Christ’s own divine life and love.

And, indeed, those words that our Heavenly Father spoke at Christ’s baptism have become our own, “Behold, you are my beloved son/daughter, in you I am well pleased.”

Fr. Michael Weitl

Previous Months Letters from Madonna House

October 2023: Ordinary Miracles By Mathieu Dacquay

November 2023: The Saints Are Alive By Jeanne Guillemette

December 2023: Journeying through Advent with Joseph By Carol Ann Gieske