At the completion of the thirty hidden years in which he had passed through all the stages of the common life of man and had shown exemplary humility in all that (he did, obedient to his parents, and submissive to the Law, Our Lord Jesus Christ entered upon His public ministry—the path that would lead to His Passion—by a dazzling revelation of His divinity For the Father and the Holy Spirit then bore witness that Jesus is truly the Only Son of God, consubstantial with the Father, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Word made flesh for our salvation, the Saviour foretold by the Prophets; and that, in His Person, the Godhead is united without admixture to our humanity and has made it shine with His glory. Hence this feast of the Baptism of Christ has been called the Epiphany (‘manifestation’) or the Theophany, that is to say, the showing forth of the divinity of Christ and the first clear revelation of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Jesus went at this time from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethany in Judea on the banks of the Jordan.1 This was the place where John the Baptist, having come out of the wilderness after thirty years of preparation by mortification of the flesh, ascesis and prayer, was preaching repentance to the crowds of Jews who came, drawn by his renown as a righteous man and a great Prophet, to be baptized by him in the waters of the River. Even though the baptism of John surpassed the washings and purifications that the Law ordained for bodily uncleanness (Lev. 15), it did not grant remission of sins, which could be obtained only by the Cross and sacrifice of Christ. But, in condemning the unrighteous ways and the transgressions of the people by reference to the imminence of the divine Judgement, Saint John the Baptist led them to recognize their sins, to desire to repent, and to prepare their hearts to seek Him of whom he, the greatest of the children born of women (Matt. 11:11), had been appointed the Forerunner. Ι baptize you with water for repentance, he said, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose—namely, to explain the mystery of the union of the divinity and of the humanity—He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matt. 3:11-12; Luke 3:16; Mark 1:8).
Amid the crowds intent on confessing their sins and plunging into the water, Jesus came up to John and asked to be baptized. For the Son of God, in His infinite love for mankind, not only put on our mortal flesh but He, the innocent and spotless Lamb of God, even took on Himself the condition of a sinner. And John, who, on recognizing Him as the Messiah had leaped for joy in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:41), began to tremble in fear of such pre¬sumption: ‘How could the servant dare to purify with water the King of the Universe? How could the creature of clay have the temerity to draw near the incarnate Word without fear of being burnt by the Godhead like straw by fire? Had not Moses and the greatest of the Prophets only seen Him from afar (Ex. 33:20-3) or under the form of figures and symbols? How could he dare to impose his hand on the bowed head of his Creator in order to immerse Him in the water?’ But Jesus said to him: Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 3:15).
Just as on the threshold of His Passion, He ordered Peter to let Him wash his feet (John 1:6-9), so today Christ dispels the very human fear of the servant, terrified in the presence of such an abasement of the Divinity, and He thereby makes known that, by His Incarnation, He has come not only to fulfill the ordinances of the Law but to bring in a new and more perfect righteousness: that of humility, of voluntary sacrifice and of love. John, the representa¬tive of the Old Covenant, obeys the command of the Lord and thus becomes the minister of the act that initiates the New Covenant.
Pure and innocent of all sin and so without Adam’s shame (Gen. 3:7-11), Christ, the New Adam, went down naked into the watery grave to signify His impending descent into the darkness of death and His sojourn in the tomb. As the Prophets foretold, in going down into the waters He trampled on the power of Satan who had made his lair in their depths—He broke the head of the dragons in the waters (Ps. 73:13)—and then emerged victorious, thus foretelling His resurrection on the third day and the raising up of humanity, washed clean of sin. The heavens, shut since the fall of the first man, then opened above Him, and from on high the voice of the Father bore witness to Him before them all: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matt. 3:17). The Holy Spirit too brought His testimony, appearing in the form of a white dove—the emblem of peace, meekness and reconciliation between God and man (cf. Gen. 8:8-11)—and indicating, like the ‘finger of God’, that this naked man was the incarnate Only Son of the Father and that He, and not John as the Jews supposed, was the Saviour promised by God. By His baptism in the Jordan, Christ disclosed beforehand that He would deliver mankind from death and bring it to knowledge of the Holy Trinity by His death and His Resurrection.
On many occasions before this time, God had made Himself known by miracles, signs and wonders, in dreams and visions, through the mediation of Angels, in the inspired messages of His servants the Prophets, or by His providential interventions in the history of Israel, in order to teach, to punish or to console His stiff-necked people, which was always inclined to idolatry and to polytheism. Consequently, it was His UNITY that He made known to them in those days, with power. Ι am He Who is, He said to Moses in the bush (Ex. 3:14); and when He revealed Himself in fire on Sinai, He said: Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God is one Lord;
and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deut. 6:4; Matt. 22:37). But today the Father and the Holy Spirit witness jointly and severally that the man emerging from the waters is the only Son and Word of God, Who, by His Incarnation, has revealed to us the Glory of God and has given us to know that the unique divine nature is, in a manner beyond all utterance, shared—without being divided—by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God: not three Gods, but three Persons (hypostaseis) in a single nature (essence). Like three suns or three luminaries, they are united without confusion in their single light. This mystery of mysteries, inaccessible alike to human thought and to the contemplation of the angels, has been made known to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ through His baptism in the Jordan and His baptism’ into death, and not simply in an external manner, for He has made us participants in it. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Going back to God after His resurrection from the dead in order, with His body, to take His seat at the right hand of the Father, He has once and for all opened Heaven to the whole of human nature, and has made it capable of participating, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, in the glory and in the undivided and everlasting light of the Holy Trinity. Some say that this blaze of Divine Glory, this light brighter than any light of this world, became perceptible at the moment of Christ’s baptism, like as it appeared at Tabor on the day of the Transfiguration (6 Aug.), for it is actually in the brilliant light of the divinized humanity of Christ that we are initiated into the Light of the holy Trinity.
O Word all-shining, sent forth from the Father,
Thou art come to dispel utterly the dark and evil night
And the sins of mortal men,
And by Thy Baptism to draw up with Thee, O blessed Lord, Bright sons from the streams ofJordan.1
Accordingly, the feast of Theophany is also known as the Feast of lights. This first revelation of God as Trinity (Tri-unity) is also the manifestation of the final vocation of man, who is called to become the adoptive son of God, the anointed (chrisf) of the Holy Spirit and partaker of the threefold Light through being made conformable to Christ in the sacrament of holy Baptism, which finds its origin in today’s feast.
God had made known to John that his baptism of repentance would be concluded on the day of the Baptism of Christ, saying: He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). Today, therefore, the baptism of John comes to an end in order to make way for the Baptism which will conferred by the Apostles in the Name of Jesus Christ’, and which has power to remit sins and to impart the Holy Spirit. By their immersion in the waters which, by the prayer of the Church, have become identical with those of Jordan, the neophytes enter the Church in the same way as the Saviour began his public life; moreover, by their imitation of His death and of His descent into the grave,—whereby they also become partakers of His Resurrection—they have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27) and are initiated into a new life in the light of the Holy Spirit: All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).
Just as Moses, prefiguring Christ, parted in two the waters of the Red Sea by striking them crosswise with his staff, and, after the people had crossed dryshod, caused the waters to resume their normal state, swallowing up Pharoah and his army (Ex. 14); similarly, when Jesus went down into the waters of the Jordan, they were unable to endure the fire of His divinity and, in accordance with the prophecies, they turned back (Ps. 113:3): that is to say, they reversed the laws of the fallen order of nature that is a consequence of Adam’s transgression. The waters, which had been bearers of death and corruption and the abode of impure spirits, became bearers of light and of purification of sins3 when the Sun of Righteousness descended into them. Christ is made manifest in the Jordan to sanctify the waters and the world. In bringing mankind, which sat in the shadow of death, up out of the waters to the knowledge of the light of the Trinity, the Saviour has today overturned and transformed all the laws of the material world and of the cosmos to their very depths. As the Prophets foretold, the material world (symbolized by the Jordan), made new and penetrated by Light in the mystery of Christ, partakes of the salvation and of the joy of humanity, made new by the Holy Spirit. The wilderness of Jordan shall be covered in flowers and shall rejoice with joy… and my people shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God (Is. 35:2 LXX). Lo, every one who
thirsts, come to the waters (Is. 55:1).. For thus says the Lord, the Almighty: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Sing to the Lord, call upon his Name; make known His glory among the nations, remember that His Name is exalted (Is. 12:3-4 LXX).
The water which we sanctify before every Baptism, on the day of the feast of the Theophany and on many other occasions, by plunging the Cross into it and by invoking the Holy Spirit, becomes once again living water (John 4:10), the fount of regeneration (Tit. 3:5), having acquired a divine power of healing and of purification of souls and bodies. The water thus made holy bears the power of the Redemption, of the Grace of Christ and of the blessing of the Jordan. It is a source of incorruption, a gift of sanctiflcation, a remission of sins, a protection against disease, a destruction of demons.4 Therefore, after being sprinkled with it in the church today, the faithful drink of it and put it into bottles which they take to their homes in order to sprinkle it in their houses and over their fields and things of daily use. Remaining miraculously pure for months and even years, the waters of the Theophany and all water sanctified by the Church can be used in every situation to accomplish the renewal and the sanctiflcation of the world and to make of the entire Christian life an unceasing Theophany, a revelation of the light of the Glory of God.