Most of the time, when we talk about the feast of the Epiphany, we refer to the consecration of water. However, this is only a part of the significance of this especially valuable holiday for Christianity.
At least two arguments support the importance of this celebration. The first one speaks about the ancient celebration of this holiday that can be traced somewhere in the second century of the Christian era. Another argument relates to the fact that it was, alongside the Resurrection, one of the important Feasts in the ancient Christian calendar.
Moreover, in the past, in order to make a clear distinction between Christianity and pagan religions that celebrated the increase of the day duration around the winter solstice, the Nativity of the Lord was celebrated together with His Baptism. Afterwards, the two holidays broke up.
The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Epiphany or the Baptism of the Lord is a feast set up to commemorate the baptism of Christ the Savior in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist. The episode is mentioned by all four evangelists (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verses 13-17; Gospel according to Mark, chapter 1, verses 9-11; Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verses 21-22; Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verses 29-34), a sign that was an important one in the history of salvation.
From the Gospel according to John, one can deduce that role of Saint John the Baptist was a very precise one. He had the mission to prepare the coming of Christ and to present Him to the world. He knew very clearly what he had to do and acknowledged the importance of his two missions: to gather around him a prepared people (Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 1, verse 17) and to announce the Savior to the world (Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verses 6-8, 31).
In order to present Jesus to the world he needed a setting and an audience. The setting was not chosen by chance. It was a place from desert, far from the turmoil of everyday life of the cities, and situated near a flowing stream – the Jordan.
The Jews who came to John to listen to him and to be baptized with the “baptism of water” were those who wanted a spiritual change in their lives. They were dissatisfied with their own state of sinfulness. In other words, they were prepared to receive the baptism of “Holy Ghost and fire” (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verse 11) that Christ was about to bring!
Christ did not come to be baptized until he was 30 years old (Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verse 23), the age of maturity to the ancient Jews, which allowed Him to be taken seriously when he spoke in public.
From the moment he saw Christ, John recognized his inferiority toward Him: “But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, «Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.» Then he suffered him.” (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verses 14-15).
After Jesus was baptized and came out of the water, the Epiphany of the Holy Trinity took place, but only after Christ prayed for it – “that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened ” (Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verse 21).
The epiphany of the Holy Trinity was a very visible event: Christ came out of the water, the Holy Spirit, Who, in the form of a dove, descended upon Him, and the voice of the Father heard from heaven, which confirmed Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased ” (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verse 17).
After this moment, John had all the arguments that, in his turn, to fulfill the last part of his mission on earth, the presentation of the Savior of the world. The words by which he did so remained famous: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verses 29, 36).
Significance of the Epiphany
The Feast of Epiphany is very rich in symbols. On the one hand, we are talking about the beginning of the missionary activity of Christ, and on the other hand, Epiphany reminds us of the beginning of the restoration of the world.
The first category of symbols is related to God’s plan to heal the world, to cleanse it from sin. This is the purpose of the coming of Christ on earth as the Son of the human race, or of the Son of Man, that, by His sacrifice, He may restore the fallen nature of man. Basically, we are talking about beginning of the world’s recreation.
Therefore, if, at the beginning of the world’s creation, the entire Holy Trinity (Genesis, chapter 1, verses 1, 26) was present, as well, at the beginning of its restoration, God was present in Persons (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verses 16 -17).
Also, water is a vital element for life and for our cleansing. However, without the Holy Spirit, it has only a purely biological value. That is why, at the beginning of creation, the Holy Spirit is the One who moves upon the face of waters (Genesis, chapter 1, verse 2). The same happens at the moment of Christ’s baptism when the Holy Spirit descends above Jordan’s waters.
An interesting detail is that of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. If we recall, after the earth was purified by the flood water, Noah sent the dove to see if the waters were withdrawn from the face of the earth. He returned with an olive branch in his beak, a sign of reconciliation of God towards mankind.
The Epiphany, in its turn, epitomizes the reconciliation between God and man marked by the presence of the dove, this time, in the form of the incarnation of the Holy Spirit.
But, now, reconciliation comes as a result of prayer. The Holy Trinity was not made visible automatically, though God is always present in the life of the world, but His appearance was the result of prayer from the human race, represented by Christ (Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verse 21).
This explains why the ritual of water consecration during the Epiphany Day is placed at the end of the Liturgy. That means we must pray first and, then, the Holy Spirit descends and consecrates the water. Furthermore, consecration of water is not a distinct act but is a part of the process of the world’s restoration; therefore, it cannot be separated from the saving work of Christ.
This is represented in worship by the fact that consecration of water is not a stand-alone service (it does not have its own beginning or end) but takes place within the Liturgy, the service that revives the most important moments in Christ’s life and work of salvation of the world.
Such considerations may be an explanation for the fact that the great holy water (which is consecrated on the day of Epiphany) is given to those who, for various reasons, cannot receive the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.
In addition, it is superior to ordinary holy water and is used especially for consecration of objects used for cultic purposes, exorcisms, consecration of churches, spraying of sick people, or can be consumed on fasting days and on important holidays.
So, beyond the consecration of waters, Epiphany represents the appearance of the Holy Trinity at the beginning of the missionary activity of Jesus Christ. It marks the beginning of the world’s restoration and reminds us of the moments from the beginning of all creation. That is why its significance far outweighs the recent meaning of simple consecration of water, and derives from the profound symbolism this holiday has.
 The term “Epiphany” comes from Greek and consists of two words, from the prepositions „’επι” (epi) – “over” and the verb „φαίνω” (faino) – “shine, make visible”. Therefore, the literal translation of this term would be “the appearance over (the world, creation)” of the Holy Trinity.