In the Western churches, the Epiphany (‘manifestation’) became an occasion to celebrate one element in the story of Christ’s birth, the visit of the far-travelled magi, understood as the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.
Matthew’s account speaks simply of ‘wise men from the east’; later tradition fixed their number at three, made them kings and recalled their resonant names – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. In this perspective, Epiphanytide is an apt season to pray for the worldwide mission of the Church. The feast of the Conversion of St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, appropriately falls in the Epiphany season, as does the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In the Eastern churches, the Epiphany is, rather, the celebration of Christ’s baptism at the hands of John, when the heavens were opened and a voice from heaven declared Jesus to be God’s beloved Son. The miracle of Cana in Galilee, where Jesus ‘first manifested his glory’, follows immediately:
Manifest at Jordan’s stream, Prophet, Priest, and King supreme; and at Cana wedding-guest in thy Godhead manifest. (Christopher Wordsworth)
The arrangement of the Sundays of Epiphany in the Lectionary deliberately draws out these aspects.
Epiphany is on 6th January, but we celebrate it in the Team Churches on Sunday 5th January, and services take place at the usual times in all churches from then and during January.