Theophany: the Baptism of the Lord

“O ye faithful, let us hymn the magnitude of God’s benefactions toward us; for having become man for the sake of our transgressions, He Who alone is pure and incorrupt, Who sanctifieth me and the waters, and crusheth the heads of the serpents in the water, is purified in the Jordan with our purification. Wherefore, let us draw forth water with gladness, O brethren; for the grace of the Spirit is invisibly imparted to those who draw it forth with faith, by Christ God, the Saviour of our souls.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings for the feast of the Theophany: the Baptism of the Lord.

S prazdnikom!

At the beginning of the feast, we celebrated the vesperal Liturgy on the eve of the Lord’s Theophany, with the thirteen readings for the feast rich with images of water.

We heard of the creation of the waters of the world by the Lord on the third day; of the waters of the Red Sea as the passage of the children of Israel to safety and freedom in the exodus from Egypt; of the sweetening of the waters of Marah, rendered drinkable when Moses cast a tree – prefiguring of the Life-Giving Cross – into the bitter, undrinkable spring; of the parting of the Jordan as the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant stepped into its watery fringes; of the waters poured upon the sacrifice of Elijah, ‘licked up’ by the flames which descended form heaven – a symbol of the fire of the Holy Spirit and the waters of baptism; of Elisha parting the Jordan by striking it with the mantle of his master, Elijah; of the waters of the Nile being the salvation of the infant Moses when the sons of the Israelites were slain.

In the prayers of the Great Blessing of Waters, we returned to the Old Testament:

“For Thou art our God, Who through water and the Spirit hast renewed our nature which had fallen  into decay through sin. For Thou art our God, Who with water didst drown sin in the days of Noah. For Thou art our God, Who by the sea, through Moses, freed the Hebrew people from slavery to Pharaoh. For Thou art our God, Who smote the rock in the wilderness, so that waters gushed forth, and torrents welled forth, and Who satisfied Thy thirsty people. For Thou art our God, Who by water and fire, through Elijah, didst set Israel free from the errors of Baal.”

Through these episodes run themes of safe passage, freedom, salvation and transformation, of the waters as a path to a promised land or sacred destination, and of spiritual renewal  – and each of these themes prefigure the Lord’s Baptism, narrated in the final reading from the Gospel of Mark, and celebrated each year on this feast:

“At that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptised of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

In this cosmic event, the freedom, exodus, safe-passage and transformation images of the Old Testament lessons become an eternal spiritual reality, whose promise and power bring freedom and redemption not simply in an earthly and temporal manner to a generation of God’s people in an historical time and place, but to all who seek the Lord in Faith until the end of the ages by entering into the mystery of the Saviour’s victory over death through the waters of the mystery of Holy Baptism.

At His baptism by John, the Eternal Logos and Creator descended into the waters which He Himself had created on the third day, consecrating them by entering their depths with His Divinity clothed in the physicality of the God-Man. Not simply Christ’s Humanity, but His Divinity entered into the Jordan and the elemental waters of the world.

God-Incarnate entered the waters, thus consecrated by the Creator’s very presence, as the the Triune God was made manifest as all of the persons of the Trinity were revealed in this wondrous event – as we hear not only in Mark’s Gospel, but also in the troparion of the feast:

“When Thou, wast baptised in the Jordan, O Lord,  the worship of the Trinity was made manifest; for the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the certainty of the word.”

Thus, the Life-Giving Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – in whose name we are born again in our own baptism – seals this feast, and on this annual memorial, we call upon the operation of the Holy Trinity to consecrate the waters.

We beseech the Father to send forth the Holy Spirit, as He did upon the very day of the Lord’s Baptism. We pray that through the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Saviour’s blessing may descend upon and transform the waters, just as His physical descent into the Jordan consecrated, restored and renewed the creation that had been marred and tainted by the disobedience and rebellion of the first-father and first-mother. And, we pray boldly, with confidence in the goodwill and love for man of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as we ask,

“That these waters may be sanctified by the power, effectual operation and descent of the Holy Spirit… That there may descent upon these waters the cleansing operation of the super-substantial Trinity… That He will endue them with the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan, the might, and operation, and descent of the Holy Spirit… That satan may speedily be crushed under our feet, and that every evil council directed against us may be brought to nought… That the Lord our God will free us from every attack and temptation of the enemy, and make us worthy of the good things He hath promised… That He will illumine us with the light of understanding and of piety, through the descent of the Holy Spirit… That the Lord God will send down the blessing of Jordan and sanctify these waters…That this water may be a fountain welling forth unto life eternal… That it may manifest itself effectual unto the averting of every machination of our foes, whether visible or invisible… For those who shall draw of it and take of it unto the sanctification of their homes… That it may be for the purification of the souls and bodies of all those who, with faith, shall draw and partake of it… That He will graciously enable us to perfect sanctification by participation in these waters, through the invisible manifestation of the Holy Spirit…”

Throughout its existence since its foundation by the very Saviour whose baptism is celebrated on this feast,  the Church of Christ has had confidence in this grace-filled sanctification and renewal through the cleansing, restorative and life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.

But, as St John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco reminds us, as rational, soul-endowed human beings – not simply elements of nature –  we have to make the conscious decision whether we wish to enter into this wonderful renewal, or rather to allow the grace of the Holy Trinity to renew and restore us. Is it our will, and do we open ourself to the Lord’s wonderful grace?

“Today the Holy Spirit, descending up on the waters when the Cross of Christ is immersed into them, descends up on all of nature. Only in man He cannot enter without his will.

Let us open our hearts and souls to receive Him and with faith cry from the depths of our souls:

“Great art Thou, O Lord, and marvellous are Thy works, and there is no word which sufficeth to hymn Thy wonders.”