Dear brothers and sisters, greetings for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord!
It is only a matter of days since we celebrated the Circumcision of the Saviour, according to the Law, even though He is the Giver of the Law, and today we celebrate His Baptism in the Jordan, despite His sinlessness, and the reality that He is the very Creator of the waters into which He descended.
The old seal of circumcision, limited to the chosen people of the Old Israel, is replaced by the universal cleansing of baptism, to which all people are called by the Lord leading by image and example, consecrating the waters of creation as He – the Creator – enters the Jordan, not simply as man, but as God.
St Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople, wrote:
“Today’s feast of the Epiphany manifests even more wonders than the feast of Christmas… On the feast of the Saviour’s birth, the earth rejoiced because it bore the Lord in a manger; but on today’s feast of the Epiphany, it is the sea that is glad and leaps for joy; the sea is glad because it receives the blessing of holiness in the river Jordan.”
What was lacking in the ritual bathing of the Jews and the baptism of repentance of the Forerunner is made complete, as the Trinity is manifested at the River Jordan, so that the waters of baptism are not only a source of holiness for us, but through the operation of the Holy Spirit, they are the effectual means of our cleansing from sin and clothing in Christ, as we are baptised in the Name of the Father, and of Son, and of the Holy Spirit, who acted in Divine Unity in this glorious feast.
Creation rejoiced as it was sanctified by Christ our God in His immeasurable holiness, descending into the river, as ‘the worship of the Trinity was made manifest’ – the Father speaking as Heaven opened, the Saviour’s Sonship confirmed by His words, and the Holy Spirit’s descent and visible anointing of the Messiah.
In his 6th Hymn for the feast, St Ephrem connects our baptism with that of the Lord, and with his characteristic uses of paradox, he explores the blessings of both our descent and ascent in imitating the Saviour’s journey into the very heart of the Jordan, to which we are called and in which we are immersed in our own baptism:
“The baptised when they come up are sanctified;
the sealed when they go down are pardoned.
They who come up have put on glory
they who go down have cast off sin.
Adam put off his glory in a moment
you have been clothed with glory in a moment.”
Having descended into the cleansing waters of baptism – year by year – this feast calls us to a continuing spiritual ascent into the Light of Christ, in purity and holiness, and St Ephrem reminds us to struggle to maintain the whiteness of our baptismal robe, calling those who have stained it to cleanse it by tears of repentance.
“Today, lo! Your offenses are blotted out
and your names are written down.
The priest blots out in the water
and Christ writes down in Heaven.
By the blotting out and the writing down
lo! Doubled is your rejoicing…
The gift that you have received freely
cease not from watching over it:
this pearl if it shall be lost
cannot again be sought out
for it is like to virginity
which if it be lost is not to be found.
May you from all defilement
be kept by the power of your white robes!
and he whose freedom has defiled itself
may it be able to wash itself clean by his weeping!”
May this feast call us to watchfulness and attention to the great gift we have received in baptism, and where we have stained our baptismal robe, may it call us to the restorative laver of repentance, confession and communion of the Holy Mysteries – which like Baptism, are a foretaste of Christ’s resurrection into which we are baptised and the Kingdom of Heaven – Heaven which opened ‘today’,
The Father declared His pleasure in the Incarnate Word, whose obedience brought Him in the flesh: to the Cave of Bethlehem, to His Circumcision on the eight day, to the arms of the righteous Symeon, to the baptismal waters of the Jordan, and subsequently to the cross and tomb, before His Ascension – and this Ascension in glory, clothed in the flesh of Adam, robed in our humanity, is the wonder to which this feast of the Lord’s Baptism calls us.
Let us be attentive, in humility, obedience, striving in holiness and the life of the Gospel, so that our ascent from the baptismal waters lead us into the Heavens that opened on this glorious feast, so that the Father may say of each of us – “This is my son. This is my daughter – in whom I am well pleased.”
Rising from the Jordan, let each of strive to clamber toward the Kingdom of Heaven.
May God bless you on this glorious feast!
With love in Christ – Fr Mark