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What is Theophany?

Updated on May 29, 2010

Coptic Icon of Theophany

Theophany or Epiphany?

The term Theophany is synonymous with Epiphany in the Coptic Orthodox Church (as well as all Orthodox churches).  Derived from the Greek terms “Theo” for God and “phaneia” for revelation or manifestation, Theophany is the Revelation or Manifestation of God.  The term Epiphany is a more general term for revelation, but is not exclusive to God’s revelation of Himself.  Thus, Theophany is the more appropriate term, but Epiphany is the more common term due to its usage in the wide spread Roman Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church does not celebrate the same event as their day of Epiphany—On January 6th, the Catholic Church commemorates the visitation of the Magi to the Lord Jesus Christ in the manger.  Apparently, the Eastern Orthodox churches, such as Greek Orthodox, celebrate on the same day as the WesternChurch, on January 6th, but rather than celebrating the day of the Magi, they commemorate with the Oriental Orthodox (of which Coptic Orthodox belong) the day of Christ’s baptism by St. John The Baptist.

What is celebrated

On this feast day, the church commemorates the baptism of Christ by St. John the Baptist, but not for the sake of the baptism, but for the revelation made there.  There have been many significant events in Christ’s life.  This particular one was an event of teaching, for Christ being sinless had no need of repentance.  The baptism of St. John was one of repentance, calling Jews to repent their sins and to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.  Later, after the salvation obtained through the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, this baptism became a washing away of original sin and the beginning of our new lives as children of God.  Our Lord did not need this baptism as He was sinless and there was nothing for Him to repent.  But this event is significant in the church for it was at this moment that the Holy Trinity was revealed and from here much of the Trinitarian Dogma is derived.  On the 11th Day of Toba (commemorated date, probably not actual date) of the year 31 AD, the Son stood in the Jordan River while the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a dove and the Father Almighty spoke from heaven saying "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased."( Matthew 3:16-17).  This day is equivalent to the 20th of January and is a fixed feast date (does not change as Easter does).

Rules concerning Paramouni of Holy Theophany

The Paramouni refers to the eve of the feast day of Theophany (or feast day of Christmas/Nativity as well).  On this day, the church tradition is for the congregation to fast in the manner of the Holy Lent (vegan style) until dusk.  If the Paramouni falls on the weekend, either Saturday or Sunday, the Friday before is to be fasted.

The feast day of Theophany is a feast day of the Lord and, even if it falls on a Wednesday or Friday, it is to be celebrated as one of the Holy Fifty days in that no fasting or abstaining is observed on that day.  The feast day overrides the usual fasting of a Wednesday/Friday.

Blessing of Water in Coptic Church

Blessing of the water

Lak’an (pronounced "lah-an") is the Arabic term to indicate the service of blessing water and “anointing” of the congregation. In this service, the priest will anoint the forehead of the congregants with a cloth dipped in the water.

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