Photos by Giulia Zhang & Claudio Maria Lerario

What are the main differences between Orthodox Epiphany and Catholic Epiphany?

Orthodox Epiphany and Catholic Epiphany, while both rooted in the Christian celebration of the manifestation of Jesus Christ, exhibit some differences in their traditions, practices, and theological interpretations. Let’s unfold some key distinctions…

Liturgical Calendar:

Orthodox Epiphany: The Eastern Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar for liturgical celebrations. As a result, Orthodox Epiphany is typically celebrated on January 19th, following the Julian calendar’s January 6th date for Christmas.

Catholic Epiphany: The Roman Catholic Church follows the Gregorian calendar, and Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th, twelve days after Christmas.

Theological Emphasis:

Orthodox Epiphany: In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the emphasis is often placed on the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, with the liturgical focus on the revelation of the Holy Trinity. The Great Blessing of Waters is a central ceremony, where priests consecrate water, symbolizing the sanctification of all creation through Christ’s baptism.

Catholic Epiphany: The Roman Catholic celebration of Epiphany often emphasizes the visitation of the Magi or Wise Men to the infant Jesus. This event is seen as a manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, highlighting the universal significance of Jesus’ birth.

Liturgical Practices:

Orthodox Epiphany: The Eastern Orthodox Church has unique liturgical practices during Epiphany, including the Great Blessing of Waters, during which priests bless rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. Parishioners often participate in the ritual of plunging into icy waters, symbolizing the baptism of Christ.

Catholic Epiphany: Catholic liturgical practices for Epiphany include the blessing of water, the proclamation of the date of Easter and the other moveable feasts (the proclamation of the moveable feasts), and the blessing of homes using chalk. The latter involves marking the doorways with the initials of the Magi and the year.

Cultural Customs:

Orthodox Epiphany: In some Orthodox Christian-majority countries, such as Russia, Serbia, and Greece, a significant part of the celebration involves the blessing of rivers and lakes, as well as the retrieval of a cross thrown into the water by a priest.

Catholic Epiphany: In some Catholic cultures, especially in Hispanic communities, Epiphany is celebrated with vibrant processions, the blessing of homes, and the sharing of a special sweet bread known as Rosca de Reyes.

Despite these differences, both Orthodox and Catholic Christians ultimately commemorate the manifestation of Jesus Christ during Epiphany, albeit with varying emphases on specific events and theological aspects. The common thread is the recognition of the divine revelation of Christ to humanity, whether through the baptism in the Jordan River (Orthodox) or the visitation of the Magi (Catholic).