THANKACHAN THOMAS, The Feast of the Epiphany in the Church of the East


Thankachan Thomas, MCBS, 
                The Feast of the Epiphany in the Church of the East 
                         (Assyrian, Chaldean and Syro-Malabar)

Director: Mons. Pierre Yousif

          ‘Epiphany= is a favourite term of the modern literature and it has now reached the point of qualifying anything and everything which adds to, increases, illumines, shines up, etc., in order that it fills one with new hope, joy, happiness and perfection of life. It signifies man's desire or search for something new and higher which can fulfil the aspirations and expectations of his life. Literally, the Greek word ‘epiphaneia= means the manifestation or appearance of a deity in the flesh, as denoting the birth of a god in the Greek sphere of influence. Though ‘Epiphany'     is the common name of the feast used by almost all the Churches, the prevalent term used in the East Syrian churches is Denhā which means the rising of the sun or stars. In its metaphorical sense it is the shining forth or the manifes­tation of our Lord in the flesh. The feast of the Epiphany, the topic of our stu­dy, is of great importance for the East Syrians and it comprises the whole salvation history in general and the manifestation of the divine Godhead in the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan intended for the redemption of humankind in particular.

          The work comprises three chapters and the method used in these chapters are historical, analytical and theological respectively.

          The first chapter briefly presents the history of the origin and development of the feast of the Epiphany as a separate feast commemorating the Baptism of Jesus. The different practices of the pagan, Jewish and Christian generations re­corded      in Church documents and in the teaching of the Fathers are taken into con­sideration. Among the various Jewish feasts, the feast of Tabernacles deserves a special reference in handing over to the feast of the Epiphany its basic ideas of the descent of Yahweh to the earth and the concept of living waters. Again, the concept of the birth of Aion, the Gnosticism of Basilides, the schism of Arianism, etc., have in one way or another influenced the development of the feast of the Epiphany. In its journey towards an independent celebration, we stop a while to discuss the unitive celebration of the feast without which it is impossible to have a comprehensive idea of the present celebration of the feast of the Epiphany; and here we owe a special reference to the Armenian Church. Further, the themes as­sociated with the main theme of the Baptism of Christ in the Eastern churches and the liturgical and popular practices and customs, with special reference to the practices of the Syro-Malabar Church, are also discussed.

          The second chapter concentrates on the structural analysis of the constitu­ent elements of the propers of the liturgy of the hours and the Taksā d-Rāze of the feast of the Epiphany. All four hours - Ramšā, Lēylā, Qāle d-Šahrā and Saprā - are analysed individually. This chapter proceeds with an analysis of the hymns and prayers used on the Epiphany. As the hymns are the best way to un­veil the mystery of God, we make an attempt to bring to light the mysterious truths and theological implications hidden in the psalms and hymns. We distin­guish between the common parts and those proper to the feast of the Epiphany and make an attempt to find out how far the proper parts are related to the com­mon parts and to the dogmatic doctrine of each of the four hours of the divine office. As we deal with the Taksā d-Rāze only the parts proper to the day of the Epiphany are discussed. The analysis of the second chapter is in view of the theo­logical synthesis that forms the content of the next chapter.

          The third chapter, with the help of the theological analysis of the hymns and prayers, presents the theology of the basic themes celebrated on the feast of the Epiphany. The Syriac Fathers, with their elaborate theological interpretations on the relevance and significance of this feast, are the main authorities that help us to elucidate the important theological themes of the feast of the Epiphany. The whole salvation economy is present in potency in the one celebration of the feast of the Epiphany, for it deals with the themes of the Incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Though the Baptism of Jesus is the central theme of the feast, its (Jesus= Baptism) immediate effect of the institution of Christian Baptism has its fulfilment in the death and resurrection of Jesus, for it is to be perfected in the day-to-day life of the Christian faithful until the end of time. The theologi­cal themes such as the manifestation of the Trinity, the Bridal feast and the person of John the Baptist with reference to the priesthood of today are also treated by the Church Fathers. Again the vivid description of the purification of water and of the theme of light, the two important elements of the cosmos, lead us to de­velop the cosmological and ecological significances of this feast. The eternally anointed Word of God in the person of Jesus receives a spiritual anointing at the River Jordan. The eternal creation of the world in and for the Word, is again re­flected in the purification and sanctification of the elements of the cosmos and thus, the anointing of Jesus at the Jordan intrinsically touches the whole cosmos together with humankind. This explains, as the prayers of this feast reflect, the need of the restoration and preservation of nature (ecology) through the purifica­tion of its elements, thus bringing about the lost harmony of the world in and through Jesus Christ.