Our Church Year
Current Liturgical Season - Epiphany and the Sundays Post-Epiphany
From The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ (always 06 January) until Ash Wednesday (22 February 2023), we are in the liturgical season of Epiphany. Epiphany always brings us the beloved story of the Magi, as well as the stories of Jesus' Baptism (always the first Sunday after The Epiphany) and Transfiguration (always the last Sunday after The Epiphany). In-between, depending on whether we are using lessons from liturgical year 'A', 'B', or 'C'' (2023 is a year 'A'), we hear various stories that help give us a sense of the divinity of Jesus, such as his calling the disciples, healing, and performing miraculous signs. The season varies from 4 to 9 weeks, depending on the date of Easter.
An "Epiphany" is a revelation, a 'making known' of something, and in Epiphany we celebrate the manifestation of Christ to all the peoples of the earth. The word "Epiphany" is a combined Greek word which is derived from epi ('to') and phainein ('show, show forth, shine upon'). The noun is epiphaneia, meaning 'appearance, manifestation.' The Epiphany is celebrated as the manifestation of Christ to all the peoples of the earth. In the Eastern church, it was recognized as a feast day as early as the 3rd century, and was celebrated in honor of the Baptism of Christ. (As noted above, our liturgical calendar celebrates the Baptism of Christ on the first Sunday after The Epiphany; but the Eastern Church has retained the original practice of giving the Baptism precedence on The Epiphany.) From about the 4th century on, the Western church began the shift which has resulted in our association of the Adoration of the Magi with The Epiphany.
As with many of our liturgical traditions, the date of 06 January for The Epiphany was originally chosen for pragmatic rather than historical reasons – the fact that the winter solstice was kept on that date in some places during the first centuries of the Christian era, and Christian leaders chose to offer festivities honoring the Son as substitutions for those honoring the sun. At this time the day was called "The Feast of Lights" and several events revealing Christ's divinity were celebrated – his miraculous birth (the Incarnation of the Word), the coming of the Magi (his revelation to the Gentiles), his baptism (his dedication in a human manner), and his first miracle at the wedding of Cana in Galilee (the expression of his divinity within the created world).
The liturgical color for the season of Epiphany is green. Green is the church's 'default' color. The color of the world's living, growing things, green represents not only the goodness and abundance of God's creation, but God within us. In the 'green' seasons of the church year – post-Epiphany and post-Pentecost – our readings and lessons focus on the living out of our Christian faith and the meaning of Christ's resurrection to our everyday, contemporary, 'real and now' lives.
The ‘green’ weeks of post-Epiphany (and also post-Pentecost) are nowadays referred to as ‘ordinary time.’ There are no major liturgical observances during these periods, but the use of the word 'ordinary' in this instance doesn't mean 'plain, commonplace, or mundane.' The way our liturgical calendar uses the word 'ordinary' derives from the word ‘ordinal,’ meaning ‘counted, in numerical sequence.’ And, in fact, that's how we identify the Sundays in ‘ordinary time' – they are counted from Epiphany: The First Sunday after the Epiphany, the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, etc. So although they are 'ordinary,' there is nothing unimportant about our ‘green’ Sundays!
An older name for the post-Epiphany (and post-Pentecost) periods of the liturgical year is ‘ferial seasons.’ The Latin word feria means a ‘free day,’ a day on which workers were released from their labors and were free to pursue private interests and activities. In other words, a feria was what we today would call a holiday or a day off. When Christianity became the official religion of the state, a feria was a feast day, a holy day (holiday) which the faithful would celebrate by attending worship services. In England, from which our Anglican traditions derive, fairs (a word which itself derives from the Latin root feria) were held on such days and were important occasions in the life of many towns –often fairs were held in conjunction with scheduled religious pilgrimages to a local shrine. Over time, the original meaning of the word feria was turned upside down, at least in liturgical usage. Ferias continued to be ‘free days,’ but instead of being feast days with great liturgical celebrations associated with them, they became free days for the clergy, days when there were no feasts, days on which ordained ministers were free of special liturgical obligations.