Following the liturgical calendar of the Universal Church, 5 and 6 January are the days dedicated to the celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord, the celebration of the first Manifestation of the Lord incarnate to all peoples, represented by the three Magi who honour him by bringing gifts to the grotto where Jesus was born. For the second year running, the celebration was followed only by the local Christians, due to the anti-Covid-19 restrictions still in force.
The two days started with the meeting with the parish of St Saviour in Jerusalem, at St Saviour’s Convent, to then continue in a procession towards the Orthodox monastery of Mar Elias where there was a meeting with a delegation of the parish of Beit Jala, a suburb of the city of Bethlehem. After having crossed the border check-point between Jerusalem and Bethlehem at Rachel’s Tomb, exceptionally open on this day of celebration, the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, accompanied by a delegation of Franciscans and scout groups, started the solemn entry going down “Star Street,” to reach Manger Square. “For Christmas the shepherds came to visit Jesus,” said the Custos after the solemn entrance, in St Catherine’s Church. But for Epiphany, it is the whole world. On this day, Bethlehem is the heart of the world. We feel the suffering because the whole world cannot come, but the Child Jesus is still the Saviour of the whole world, and makes men and women of every people, language and nation, brothers and sisters.”
For the Custody of the Holy Land, these two days are traditionally celebrated in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, according to a consolidated liturgical and celebratory pattern, thanks also to the Status Quo which regulates the celebrations which coincide with the annual feast of Christmas for the Orthodox Churches which falls on the same day. On 6 January the Latin celebration started at St Catherine’s Church, presided by the Custos of the Holy Land. “In the epiphany we also contemplate the manifestation of the Church as the family which welcomes all the peoples of the earth, and also the meeting of two paths,” said Fr. Patton during his commentary on the Gospel.“One is that of the Magi, the image of the whole of humanity, of all the earth’s peoples who have always been in search of the child born in Bethlehem. And on the solemnity of the Epiphany, the path of humanity in search of God crosses the path of God in search of each and every one of us, a path which is much longer, more challenging and expensive.” “When we celebrate the Epiphany, let’s remember, we are in search of God but God is in search of each and every one of us. In this meeting the mercy of God is manifested to each and every one of us.”
As the faithful and the representatives of the various Orthodox confessions, that follow the Julian calendar, started their Christmas celebrations with the respective solemn entrances in the Basilica of the Nativity, a few yards away the great feast of the Epiphany of the Latin Christians continued with the Solemn Second Vespers in St Catherine’s church. The climax of the celebration was the traditional procession around the Cloister of St Jerome, opposite the Basilica, which includes the gift of incense and myrrh to the faithful who had come for the celebration.
“Jesus asks us to be welcomed in each person we meet, because since when he was made a child, he identifies himself in the face of each one of us without distinction of people, culture, language or nation,” the Custos concluded his morning Homily. “And for this reason we can really rejoice together because on this feast day we are shown that are a single family: the family of the children of God.”