At the beginning of each calendar year, the Orthodox Church observes an historical event that impacted all of creation for all time, the Baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. After thirty years of life, and just prior to His public ministry, Jesus descended into the Jordan river to sanctify it, and, by extension, all of creation. Unlike all of humanity, which needed to be born from above through the waters of baptism, Jesus had no need to be cleansed and sanctified. He is life and sanctification. All that He touches becomes sanctified. He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).
Theophany, the manifestation of God, is celebrated in the Greek Orthodox Church on January 6th. The event of Jesus’ baptism, in addition to being the starting point of His sacred mission on earth, is also an event where the presence of the Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were made manifest. As we hear in the hymn of the feast, “When You were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.” This celebration is also known as the Feast of Lights. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, said in anticipation, “whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79).
This Feast also brings the Blessing of the Waters Service*. The faithful both drink of this water as well as have their homes blessed with it. We invite the blessings of God into our dwellings, in a tangible way through the sprinkling of the sanctified water throughout our homes. We also bring the blessings of the Lord into our homes through prayer, or when we follow the teachings of Christ in relation to others, and when we extend hospitality in our homes.
The Feast of Theophany, however, is not simply an historical event. Nor is the blessing of water simply a common act of commemoration. “The recurrent celebration of Theophany has great spiritual significance . . . in the Christian faith everything is present, here and now, for our Lord Jesus Christ is with us here and now, our inseparable Companion and Comforter” (Rev. George Mastrantonis, The Feast of Epiphany). Jesus Christ is not contained by time in history or in specific events. He is present in all things at all time. Just as He is fully present in the Eucharist, so too, is He present as we celebrate His baptism in the Jordan River. At the blessing of the waters, He is present and we bear witness to His baptism.
The same Holy Spirit that descends from Heaven to change ordinary bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Christ during the Divine Liturgy also descends into the bowl of water and sanctifies it. It is this water that a catechumen enters into and then emerges out of as one born from above. It is this same water that the faithful both drink and have sprinkled in their homes. During the feast of Theophany, we the faithful have the opportunity to think about our Lord’s condescension, His Incarnation, His humility, His servitude, as well as our own baptism and what that means for us. We are members of the Body of Christ, our life is not our own, but has been “bought with a price” (I Cor. 6:20), the price of death on the Cross.
We must also not isolate this sacred feast from all the others of our Lord. We must tie them all together into one big tapestry and see within it the love, compassion and mercy of God for us. All that our Lord did, all that He accomplished, He did for us; He did nothing for Himself. He was the beneficiary of none of it; we the beneficiary of all of it. This is the kenosis, the complete self-emptying of our Lord for His creation.
As we look at our Lord standing in the Jordan River as it’s depicted in the icon, notice the humble God-man Jesus Christ who did everything for us, Who sacrificed His life so that we might have eternal life! Who suffered for us so that we might have a life of eternity where there is neither pain nor suffering! Who gave everything so that we might gain everything!
Wishing all of you a very blessed New Year,
Webmaster: one of these services is the Outdoor Blessing of the Waters.