Whilst in the Western Church January 6 is a celebration of Christ’s manifestations to the Gentiles in the adoration of the Magi, in the East this day is known as Theophany. It is the traditional date for Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by his brother John, seen as his manifestation to the world as God’s Son. The celebration of Theophany on January 6 is quite early, appearing the writing of Clement of Alexandria circa AD 200. It is the third ranked feast in the Eastern Church, after Easter and Pentecost. At an early stage it seems it was a composite celebration of Jesus baptism and nativity, which continues to this day in Armenia.
Theophany was a favourite occasion for homilies in the early church, as is seen in this sermon given by Gregory of Nyssa, on of the Cappadocian Fathers, on the feast of Theophany some time in the late 300’s. Whilst we encourage you to read it, we leave you with this hymn for Theophany, also from the fourth century, by Ephrem the Syrian:
1. The heavens He has renewed, for that fools worshipped all the luminaries:— He has renewed the earth, for that in Adam it was wasted. — That which He fashioned has become new by His spittle:— and the All-Sufficing has restored bodies with souls.
2. Gather yourselves again— sheep and without labour receive cleansing!— for one needs not as Elisha— to bathe seven times in the river, nor again to be wearied as the priests are wearied with sprinklings.
3. Seven times Elisha purified himself in a mystery of the seven spirits;— and the hyssop and blood are a mighty symbol.— There is no room for division— He is not divided from the Lord of all Who is Son of the Lord of all.
4. Moses sweetened in Marah the waters that were bitter—because the People complained and murmured:— Thus he gave a sign of baptism—wherein the Lord of life makes sweet them that were bitter.
5. The cloud overshadowed and kept off the burning heat from the camp—it showed a symbol of the Holy Spirit, which overshadows you in baptism— tempering the flaming fire that it harm not your bodies.
6. Through the sea the People then passed, and showed a symbol— of the baptism wherein you were washed. The People passed through that and believed not:— the Gentiles were baptized in this and believed and received the Holy Ghost.
7. The Word sent the Voice to proclaim before His Coming,— to prepare for Him the way by which He came—and to betroth the Bride till He should come—that she might be ready when He should come and take her from the water.
8. The voice of prophecy stirred the son of the barren woman—and he went forth wandering in the desert and crying—Lo! The Son of the Kingdom comes!— prepare the way that He may enter and abide in your dwellings!
9. John cried, Who comes after me, He is before me:— I am the Voice but not the Word;— I am the torch but not the Light—the Star that rises before the Sun of Righteousness.
10. In the wilderness this John had cried and had said—Repent you sinners of your evils—and offer the fruits of repentance;— for lo! He comes that winnows the wheat from the tares.
11. The Lightgiver has prevailed and marked a mystery, by the degrees he ascended:— Lo! There are twelve days since he ascended,— and today this is the thirteenth:— a perfect mystery of Him, the Son, and His twelve!
12. Darkness was overcome to make it manifest that Satan was overcome—and the Light prevailed that he should proclaim— that the Firstborn triumphs: darkness was overcome— with the Dark Spirit, and our Light prevailed with the Lightgiver.
13. In the Height and the Depth the Son had two heralds.— The star of light proclaimed Him from above—John likewise preached Him from beneath:— two heralds, the earthly and the heavenly.
14. The star of light, contrary to nature, shone forth of a sudden—less than the sun yet greater than the sun.— Less was it than he in manifest light—and greater than he in secret might because of its mystery.
15. The star of light shed its rays among them that were in darkness—and guided them as though they were blind—so that they came and met the great Light:— they gave offerings and received life and adored and departed.
16. The herald from above showed His Nature to be from the Most High;— likewise he that was from beneath showed His Body to be from humankind, mighty marvel!— that His Godhead and His Manhood by them were proclaimed!
17. Thus whoso reckons Him as of earth, the star of light— will convince him that He is of Heaven: and whoso reckons Him as of spirit,— this John will convince him that He is also bodily.
18. John drew near with his parents and worshipped the Sun—and brightness rested on His Face.— He was not moved as when in the womb.— Mighty marvel! That here he worships and there he leaped!
19. The whole creation became for Him as one mouth and cried out concerning Him.— The Magi cry out in their gifts;— the barren cry out with their children—the star of light, lo! It cries out in the air, Behold the Son of the King!
20. The heavens are opened, the waters break forth, the dove is in glory!— The voice of the Father is stronger than thunder—as it utters the word, This is My Beloved;— the Watchers brought the tidings, the children acclaimed Him in their Hosannas.