Translation: “By Your Baptism, O Lord, purify our minds to be a place for Your majesty. And by Your manifestation, enlighten our senses that we may thank You for Your grace.”
The Church moves from the Feast of Nativity to the Feast of the Theophany or Epiphany (6th January) – it commemorates the baptism of our Lord by John, the Forerunner in the Jordan and the public manifestation of the incarnate Word to the world. This Feast takes us into the depths of the mystery of Christ and His salvation of the world. This is the Festival of Lights, Gregory of Nazianzen says,
“For the Holy Day of the Lights (Theophany), to which we have come, and which we are celebrating today, has for its origin the Baptism of my Christ, the True Light That lightens every man that comes into the world, and effects my purification, and assists that light which we received from the beginning from Him from above, but which we darkened and confused by sin.”
Jesus Christ’s first public manifestation takes place at His baptism,
“Baptism is the symbol of death and resurrection; Christ came to the earth in order to die and be raised. Baptism is a symbol of repentance of sin and its forgiveness; Christ came as the Lamb of God who takes upon Himself the sin of the world in order to take it away. Baptism is a symbol of sanctification; Christ has come to sanctify the whole of creation. Baptism is a symbol, finally, of radical renewal. When one is baptized the old is over and the new has come. And Christ has appeared on earth to bring all things to an end, and to make all things new. The act of baptism, therefore, contains in symbol the entire mystery of Christ, the whole purpose of his coming.”
At the river Jordan, God reveals Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Word of God incarnate, on Him rests the Holy Spirit from all eternity, the Father witnesses to the divinity of Christ and proclaims Him to be His only Son:
“This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)
Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan is also the first manifestation of the greatest of all mysteries, the worship of the Trinity.
Trinitarian theology is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and rightly defines the True God who sent His Son to be man for the sake of the restoration of all creation back to its Creator. If God is not God in Trinity then Jesus Christ is not who He claimed to be and we have no salvation. Thus the early Church saw Theophany as the foundational manifestation of the Truth of the Gospel because it rightly defined God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The worship of the Holy Trinity “one in essence and undivided.” This is the mystery which allows us to call on the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as one God. This is why the word Epiphany meaning “manifestation” was replaced in the East by Theophany meaning “manifestation of God” the latter specifying and developing the meaning of the feast.
Historically Theophany was the first major feast to be celebrated by the Christian Church, even before the Nativity. Theophany was considered one of the most important events in salvation history because as the Orthodox Theophany hymn states: “When You O Lord were baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest. The voice of the Father bore witness to You, calling You His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truthfulness of His word.”
Christ is baptized with us, even though He is above all purity; and thus He infuses sanctification into the water, which then becomes the purifying agent of our souls. Through the baptism of the Lord the waters received God’s blessing, being transformed in waters of sanctification. Man is remodeled by God, as a pot maker models his vessels, using water and fire: water from the River Jordan and fire from the Holy Spirit. In the Syriac tradition, Christ left His robe in the River Jordan and he sanctifies the waters of Jordan, so that all those who are baptized will adorn the ‘robe of glory’ which Adam lost when he sinned in Paradise.
On this day the River Jordan changes its course, and starts flowing backwards, underlying exactly this concept. The river Jordan, with its two traditional streams Jor and Dan represents also our lives, lives that flow from the first parents, Adam and Eve. From them the life of mankind started flowing toward the Dead Sea of sin and perdition, as Jordan River does. But when the Master entered the river, the Jordan started flowing backwards, in the same way as our lives turn toward our true godly origins when Christ enters into our lives.
The events on the banks of Jordan uncovers the deep meanings of the Sacrament of Baptism in Christian practice. The mystical presence of Christ is present at our baptism. When we enter into the baptismal font Christ is also there with us turning around the course of our lives from a life spent in sin and worldly things into a life in virtue, and heavenly glory.
As Gregory of Nazianzen says, “Christ is illumined, let us shine forth with Him. Christ is baptized, let us descend with Him that we may also ascend with Him.” God reveals His Son in the silence of our soul. Communion with God requires our active participation. Our will must be conformed to God’s will.
May we experience Theophany within ourselves, and see the Lord all around us. May our lives be freed from the cares of this world that the Lord might reveal Himself to us more and more.
To God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is due all glory, honor, and worship now and always, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
1. Matthew 3:17 – “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased”
2. Hymn at the Fraction during the Holy Qurbono on the Feast of Theophany.
3. Gregory Nazianzen, Orations XXXIX, On the Holy Lights and On Holy Baptism
4. Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season, (New York, 1984), pp. 142.
6. Boris Bobrinskoy, The Mystery of the Trinity, (New York, 1999).
7. Christopher Beeley, Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God, (Oxford, 2008).
8. Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season, (New York, 1984), pp. 142.
9. Arkadi Choufrine, Gnosis, Theophany, Theosis: Studies in Clement of Alexandria’s Appropriation of His Background, Patristic Studies 5, (New York, 2002).
10. Troparion of the Feast of the Epiphany
11. Sebastian Brock, The Luminous Eye, (Michigan, 1992), pp. 90 – 94.
12. Edward Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petraea: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1838, Volume 3, (Boston, 1841), pp. 352.
13. Morelli, G. (2007 January 12). A Theophany Within. orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliTheophany.php.
14. Pius Parsch, The Church’s Year of Grace, Vol. 1, (Michigan, 1962).
15. Gregory Nazianzen, Orations XXXIX, On the Holy Lights and On Holy Baptism.