Days ….



5. What is the origin of the feast of Epiphany?




First of all, I tell you something about the word ‘Epiphany: the English word Epiphany derives from the Greek Epiphaneia which means ‘appearing.’ In the New Testament, for instance, we find this word in this passage: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing [epiphaneia] of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:9-10). Now I tell you briefly how the feast of Epiphany originated.

The followers of the gnostic Basilides, who lived in the second century, celebrated the baptism of Christ on the 6th of January. However, since they made a distinction between the Christ and Jesus, they held that the Christ had appeared for the first time on earth at the baptism of Jesus, thus in their opinion the epiphaneia (the appearing) of Christ and the baptism of Jesus coincided.

Why did they make such a distinction between the Christ and Jesus? Because according to the Gnostics (don’t mistake the Gnostics for the agnostics, who are those who hold that God cannot be known), whose name derives from the Greek word gnosis which means ‘knowledge’, the matter was evil while the spirit was good, and since Christ was an absolute spiritual good he could not have a human body. In other words, He could not unite with matter. According to them, therefore, the Christ entered the body of Jesus and dwelled in it just for the time which elapsed from his baptism to the beginning of his suffering on the cross; so it was Jesus who died on the cross, not the Christ. In other words, in their opinion Jesus was not the Christ. Furthermore, in their opinion this so called Christ who dwelled in Jesus for some time taught a particular gnosis or knowledge which would help man to save himself through an intellectual process. The very same heresy, which holds that Jesus is not the Christ, is still taught by many sects who follow the so called theosophy. A short time ago, a theosophist wrote to me saying: ‘….. theosophy holds that Christ and Jesus are two different things. It holds that Christ ‘overshadowed’ Jesus, who is one of the many saviours who exist. I tell you these things with the utmost respect towards your faith, which is right and – believe me – is not opposed by the true theosophy. Christ is the expression of the universal love. We speak about the ‘cristic principle’ and ‘the cosmic Christ’ incarnated ….’. I answered him saying: ‘This distinction you make between Christ and Jesus doesn’t exist because Jesus and the Christ are the same person and not two different things. The apostle John, and I remind you that he saw and touched the Word of life, said very clearly: “I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also” (1 John 2:21-23). As you can see, Jesus is the Christ, and not someone upon whom came an entity called Christ or someone in whom an entity called Christ was incarnated. The word Christ means ‘the anointed one’, therefore Jesus is the Christ of God. Furthermore, the Scripture teaches that Jesus is not one saviour among many, but the Saviour and therefore outside Him there is no salvation.’

After this brief yet necessary digression over the doctrine of the Gnostics, let’s return to the origin of the feast of Epiphany. Why did the followers of Basilides decide to celebrate the epiphany of Christ on the 6th of January? Because in the city of Alexandria (Basilides lived in that city), on that day the birth of Aenon from the virgin Kore was celebrated and that day was consecrated to Osiris. So the followers of Basilides chose that date in order to proclaim before the pagans that Christ was the real divine Being who had appeared on earth. With the passing of the time, however, it came to pass that the Eastern Church took from the heretics, who were rejected and refuted by the Church, the custom of celebrating the epiphany, and so we find that the Church, during the first half of the fourth century, celebrated the Epiphany on the 6th of January, linking up the baptism of Christ with the birth of Christ in that feast because the Church – unlike the heretics called Gnostics – taught that the appearing of Christ on earth had taken place at the birth of Jesus in that Jesus is the Christ of God.

Therefore, Epiphany, like Christmas, is a feast that originated from paganism.