Feast of Lights

Liturgy We Live
by Dr. Gil Haas

The twelfth day after Christmas is called Epiphany in western Christendom, but it is known as the Feast of Lights in Orthodox Christianity. Western churches celebrated Christ’s birth on December 25th, but eastern churches treated January 6th as Jesus’ nativity. The feast’s emphasis was on Jesus’ shining forth as the Messiah and the Trinity’s second person. It was frequently called the Feast of the Theophany, meaning “God shining forth”. Because Orthodox congregations carried lit candles on this night, the feast became known from the ninth century as the Feast of Lights. The feast was viewed as fulfillment of the eight day Jewish Feast of Lights (Hanukkah) during which a menorah’s eight candles were lit one-by-one. In early Orthodox churches, the catechumens stepped into baptismal water on this night, and their figures were “illuminated from within from their knowing of the true God”, augmenting the association with light. This “incorrupt” baptismal water was later sprinkled in the congregant’s homes and even drunk. Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ early life and baptism, the miracle at the wedding at Cana, and the Magi’s visit. However, an increasing number of Episcopalians also celebrate the date as the Feast of Lights.

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