Eastern Christians celebrate Epiphany, which is also called the Feast of Theophania, Epiphany, which means the Divine Apparition, the Feast of Consecration of Waters, the Feast of Enlightenment, the Feast of Baptism and the Feast of Bathing. The Syriac and Armenian Churches name it “Al-Dannah” Feast, which means: Apparition and Illumination”.
Epiphany is one of the major feasts of the Lord celebrated by the Copts of Egypt on the eleventh of Toba (the nineteenth of January); It is a remembrance of “Lord Christ’s acceptance of baptism” by John the Baptist in the “Jordan River”; The Bible mentions: “It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth.” Lord Christ then began to serve among the people. One of the most prominent figures of Epiphany is John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was given the title “the Prophet of the Two Testaments”; as he witnessed the Old Testament before the advent of Lord Christ, as well as the New Testament, the advent of Lord Christ and His service on earth. Prophet Micah prophesied about him saying: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.” and “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…”. This was asserted by Archangel Gabriel when annunciating the birth of John the Baptist to Priest Zechariah: “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Prophet Isaiah said about him: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
The Jews asked John the Baptist about his identity: “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord,” ’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
John the Baptist was great before the Lord, to the extent that Lord Christ testified that “Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist”. Through the life of that great prophet, we see God’s care provided for him even before his birth, through a special annunciation on the mouth of an angel to his parents “Zechariah” and “Elizabeth,” declaring to them how high his stature would be: “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord”. We see God’s care for him since his birth, as it was said about him: “So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.” God has provided for all the needs of boy John in the wilderness, and kept him there, training him on the life of asceticism, the Bible states: “Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.”
Thus, he had the spiritual power to carry out the service entrusted to him: to restore human hearts to God, becoming a crying voice preaching repentance in the darkness of that time; that the people went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. The service of John the Baptist lasted for six months, then he was martyred by King Herod as he bore witness for the truth, saying he was not allowed to marry his alive brother’s wife.
The greatness of the life of John the Baptist came from love and dependence on God, St. Ambrose said: “Our lives are not evaluated according to time, but according to the degrees of virtue. John was called great, not because of his physical strength, but because of his spirituality; he did not conquer empires, nor He set in his approach to have spoils and victories, he rather looked forward to something much better; he was the crying voice in the wilderness that defeated bodily pleasures and the laxity of the body through sublimity and strength of spirit. He was little in worldly matters, great in spiritualities. Finally, the secret of his greatness lies in not being controlled by the love of this temporal life, a thing that did not hinder him from condemning sin.”
Happy Epiphany to all of you, we plead for God to keep Egypt from all evil, and to protect the world from the pandemic. And… stories about beautiful Egypt never end!
The General Bishop
Head of the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center