In the Greek the word epiphany means "apparition." In comparative religion it refers to the sudden appearance of deity. But the Scriptural conception, and the reason the church celebrates this time of the church year, is very different. Epiphany refers to the historically tangible invasion of our world by the personal God of incarnation. Theology rightly distinguishes between theophanies, Christophanies (Christ's baptism, the transfiguration, his walking on the sea, etc.) and angelophanies. But apparitions, in the sense of purely private revelations intended for private use, seem to me to be unknown in Scripture. All epiphanies include a message for the whole community of God, underscoring the nature of Christian faith as personal and communal but never private and gnostic.

This season of the year is called epiphany because during this time in the church calendar we recall those events in the life of Jesus wherein the Son of God manifested the divine in the paradoxical acts of veiling and unveiling. The Divine Hours, a marvelous resource I use for daily prayer appoints a prayer for this week in epiphany that reads as follows:

Set me free, O God, from the bondage of my sins, and give me the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to me in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The concluding prayer, for the church, reads:

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Litany of Penitence, prayed at night each day of this time, says (in part):

Most holy and merciful Father:

I confess to you and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on the earth, that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what I have done and by what I have left undone.

I have not loved you with my whole heart, and mind, and strength. I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I have not forgiven others, as I have been forgiven. Have mercy on me, Lord.

I have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. I have not been true to the mind of Christ. I have grieved your Holy Spirit. Have mercy on me, Lord.

I confess to you, Lord, all my past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of my life. I confess to you, Lord.

My self-indulgent appetites and ways, and my exploitation of other people, I confess to you, Lord.

My anger at my own frustrations, and my envy of those more fortunate than I, I confess to you, Lord.

My intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and my dishonesty in daily life and work, I confess to you, Lord.

My negligence in prayer and worship, and my failure to commend the faith that is in me, I confess to you, Lord.

Accept my repentance, Lord, for the wrongs I have done: for my blindness to human need and suffering, and my indifference to injustice and cruelty, accept my repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward my neighbors, and for my prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from me, accept my repentance, Lord.

For my waste and pollution of your creation, and my lack of concern for those who come after us, accept my repentance, Lord.

Restore me, good Lord, and let your anger depart from me.

Favorably hear me for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in me and all of your church the work of your salvation, that I may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord, bring me with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.