Epiphany: Religious Customs
In both Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, water is blessed on Epiphany and distributed to the faithful for use in home religious observances. Among Orthodox Christians, Epiphany is also known as Blessing of the Waters Day. In past centuries priests blessed Egypt’s Nile River. Both Christians and Muslims would then immerse themselves in the now holy waters, often driving their animals into the river as well to share in the blessing. In Palestine, the River Jordan was blessed. Thousands of worshipers then submerged themselves up to three times in the holy currents. Many Orthodox parishes observe similar Epiphany rites today. For example, the congregation may walk to a nearby river or other body of water which the priest then blesses. In some parts of the world, congregants joyfully immerse themselves in the blessed water. Another popular Orthodox observance involves tossing a crucifix into the water. The first to retrieve the cross is often thought to acquire good luck for the coming year.
The blessing of homes is a Roman Catholic ritual connected with Epiphany. The pastor blesses each room of the house using holy water and incense, and recites special prayers. Then he writes the year and the initials CMB inside the door with blessed chalk. In the year 1999, for example, he would write 19 CMB 99. Orthodox priests also bless homes on Epiphany.
Epiphany is not only a Christian feast day, but may also be consid-ered a season of the Christian year encompassing the period be-tween January 6 and the beginning of Lent. The length of this period varies in accordance with the day on which Easter falls each year.