A) WHAT IS THEOPHANY?
1) The word “theophany” means “the manifestation of God” or the “showing forth of God”.
2) Theophanies are part of the OT, the visit Abraham received at the oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1) and Jacob wrestling with the angel who says “I have wrestled with God and lived” (Gen. 32:30), Ezekiel, Isaiah saw theophanies, but none of them were full manifestations of God.
3) Most of the Western liturgical Churches celebrate “Epiphany” at this time, which commemorates the coming of the Magi who found the infant Christ. “Epiphany” means “enlightenment”, in fiction writing it is called the “AHA!” moment, or the moment that something important is discovered or realized. So Theophany is a revelation of God, Epiphany is a discovery of God in a sense.
4) 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”.
5) 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.
II) WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BAPTISM OF JESUS?
A) The Feast of Theophany centers around the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist to “fulfill all righteousness”. The BIG question is always: Why was Jesus baptized?
1) Was it merely obedience to a command of God? Was it some kind of symbolic action by Jesus to “identify with sinners”? Or was there more to it?
2) Identification with humanity.
“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.” (Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha, p.142)
3) St. John Chrysostom: Here, not so long ago, when there was another great feast “the Nativity of Christ” we said that the Lord, by his nativity in a poor cave, when He deigned to be laid in a cattle manger, thereby emphatically rejected, as it were, all earthly glory, all earthly splendor and magnificence, for He did not deign to appear in royal chambers or rich palaces, but precisely in those poor and modest conditions. And thereby He immediately showed that He had brought to the earth a new principle, the principle of humility. Look, then, how He Himself, so to say, is true to Himself, how even now on today’s great feast He institutes the very same principle of humility manifestly and undoubtedly for us. For whither did He come? To the Jordan. Why? To be baptized by John. But sinners came to John; they confessed their sins to him and were baptized. But He was without sin, “could not be touched by sin,” was absolutely free of it and pure; yet nonetheless, He humbly stands in line with other sinners, as if He were in need of this cleansing washing with water. But we know that the water did not cleanse Him, the most holy and sinless One; but it was He who sanctified the water by deigning to be washed by it, as was sung today during the sanctification of the water: “Today the nature of the waters is sanctified.” And so, Jesus Christ brought the principle of humility to the earth and was true to it throughout the course of His whole life. But that is not all. He has also left us this testament: Come “and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” St John Chrysostom, Gospel According To St. Matthew, Homily 2
4) Jesus sanctified Baptism by being Himself baptized. If the Son of God was baptized, what godly man is he that despiseth Baptism? But He was baptized not that He might receive remission of sins, for He was sinless; but being sinless, He was baptized, that He might give to them that are baptized a divine and excellent grace. For since the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise partook of the same, that having been made partakers of His presence in the flesh we might be made partakers also of His Divine grace: thus Jesus was baptized, that thereby we again by our participation might receive both salvation and honor. Catechetical Lectures Of Our Holy Father, Cyril, Archbishop Of Jerusalem – Lecture 3. On Baptism
5) Christ is illumined, let us shine forth with Him. Christ is baptized, let us descend with Him that we may also ascend with Him. Jesus is baptized; but we must attentively consider not only this but also some other points. Who is He, and by whom is He baptized, and at what time? He the All-pure; and He is baptized by John; and the time is the beginning of His miracles. What are we to learn and to be taught by this? To purify ourselves first; to be lowly minded; and to preach only in maturity both of spiritual and bodily stature. St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration on the Holy Lights.
6) The Holy Spirit came down when the Lord was baptized, that the dignity of Him who was baptized might not be hidden;…’the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and lighting upon Him’ (Matt. 3:16)…Of this dove, the dove of Noah, according to some, was in part a figure. For as in his time by means of wood and of water there came salvation to themselves, and the beginning of a new generation, and the dove returned to him towards evening with an olive branch; thus, they say, the Holy Spirit also descended upon the true Noah, the Author of the second birth…The spiritual dove, therefore, as some interpret, came down at the season of His baptism, that He might show that it is He who by the wood of the Cross saves them who believe, He who at eventide should grant salvation through His death. St Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 17 no. 9-10)
III) THE SACRAMENTAL NATURE OF CREATION – Water in the Bible
A) The primordial element, all life depends on it
(a) God also said: Let the waters that are under the heaven, be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear. And it was so done. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, He called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Gen. 1:9,10
2) For I will pour out waters upon the thirsty ground and streams upon the dry land; I will pour out my spirit upon thy seed and my blessing upon thy stock. And they shall spring up among the herbs as willows beside the running waters. Isaiah 44:3, 4
B) The Means of Salvation in the Life of Israel.
1) Water saved the ancient Jews from their enemies. As they fled their bondage in Egypt they were saved from the Egyptians by the Red Sea
2) And the waters returned, and covered the chariots and the horsemen of all the army of Pharaoh, who came into the sea after them; neither did there so much as one of them remain. Exodus 14:28
3) As the ancient Jews wandered in the desert thirsting for water, the Lord said to Moses: Behold I will stand there before thee, upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt strike the the rock and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.
Exodus 17: 6
4) These two events are mentioned in I Cor. 10:1ff as manifestations of Christ. The rock WAS Christ, not merely representative. This foreshadows the sacramental nature of water and its relationship to salvation.
C) Levitical Law and Cleansing
1) Water played an important role within the Law of Moses and signified holiness, cleansing, renewal and the return to a right relationship with God and man. There are multitudes of passages on ritual cleansing we need not even reference them all, the prayer of David sums it all up:
2) Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy. And according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my iniquity wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin (Ps. 51: 3,4)
3) As stated in the Matins of the day: “By descending into water we ascend to God”.
(a) This is the GREAT MYSTERY of the Incarnation: God descends into a material body in order that we may ascend to God. God becomes flesh that we might become temples of the Spirit once again. The material creation in Christ IS the vehicle for our salvation. We are saved BY THE MATERIAL BODY OF CHRIST. In descending into water, Christ sanctified water and Christ’s union with humanity and our union with His divinity was revealed by material creation. Thus the entire cosmos was proclaimed to be God’s Temple, and all of creation as having the power to bring union between God and man, or as St. Gregory of Nyssa stated in The Great Catechism “it is the property of the Godhead to pervade all things and to extend Itself through the length and breadth of the essence of existence in every part”. But we know that the water did not cleanse Him, the most holy and sinless One; but it was He who sanctified the water by deigning to be washed by it, as was sung today during the sanctification of the water: “Today the nature of the waters is sanctified.” (St. John Chrysostom)
4) God uses creation (dust of the earth) to create us, and breathes His Spirit into us.
5) The human being is not created “ex nihilo” like all the rest of creation, but out of what is existing. We bear both creation AND God’s image. The human being is called the “microcosm” of creation by the Fathers. Man was to be the “bridge” between the creation and the spiritual world because it was only man that had elements of both. Rom. 8 speaks of the connection between the human being and creation’s salvation and redemption from corruption. Man failed in that “job” so Christ, in His flesh united divinity and the creation again opening the door for the human being and ALL THE COSMOS to be brought together, or as St. Paul says “summed up in Christ” (Eph. 1:3,10, Col. 15-20)
6) The Garden was a created place. It had two trees, one brought knowledge of good and evil and the other was the Tree of Life. When Adam and Eve sinned an angel was put to guard the Tree of Life lest they eat and live forever. A MATERIAL TREE BROUGHT PHYSICAL ETERNAL LIFE.
7) So, God used creation to create us, He guarded creation to keep us from living eternally in our fallen created states, and now uses creation to RE-create us in the waters of baptism.
8) By blessing and uniting Himself to the waters of creation, God restores water to its original purposes in Christ: Water in the OT/NT I Cor. 10, the water in the wilderness, I Pet. 3:21 Noah and the Ark, waters both cleansed and destroyed evil thus saving Noah. This was not “metaphorical” or symbolic but REAL destruction of evil. Thus the waters of baptism are a real union with Christ’s death and resurrection, sin is really destroyed by a material means, water, by the power of God in the Holy Spirit becomes the agent of eternal life, just as the Tree of Life in the garden of Eden would have imparted eternal physical life.
9) Genesis 1 begins with water, Revelation 22 ends with water.
10) Sacrament is the acknowledgment of the water and the blood, the physical body of Christ being joined to water and the Spirit. Christ’s physical body is the cause of our salvation. Matter IS spiritual, it is the agent of creation and recreation.
11) Trinity, transcendent in essence, in goodness, and in Divinity the Almighty who watches over all, invisible and incomprehensible, O Creator of intelligent essences, natures endowed with speech, the goodness of utter unapproachable light that lightens every man that comes into the world, lighten also your unworthy servant. Illuminate the eyes of my mind that I may praise your countless benevolences and your might.
12) Let my beseeching on behalf of these people be acceptable so that my sins may not prevent the descent here of your Holy Spirit; that I may be allowed to cry to you without condemnation and say, We glorify you, O Master, Lover of mankind, the Almighty King before Eternity. We glorify you, 0 Creator and Author of all, we glorify you, O only Son, who is without father on this side of your mother and without mother on this side of your Father; for in the previous Feast we saw you as a baby and in this feast we see you perfect, our perfect God appearing from the Perfect; for today we have reached the time of the feast and the ranks of saints gather with us and the angels celebrate with man. Today the grace of the Holy Spirit has descended on the waters in the likeness of a dove. Today has shone the sun that sets not, and the world is lighted by the light of the Lord. Today the moon shines with the world in its radiating beams. Today the shining stars adorn the universe with the splendor of their radiance. Today the clouds from heaven shower mankind with Justice. Today the Uncreated accepts by his own will the laying on of hands by his own creation. Today the Prophet and Forerunner draws near to the Master and halts with trembling when he witnesses the condescension of God toward us. Today the waters of the Jordan are changed to Healing by the presence of the Lord. Today the whole universe is watered by mystical streams. Today the sins of mankind are blotted out by the waters of the Jordan. Today paradise has been opened to mankind and the sun of righteousness has shone for us. Today the bitter water is changed at the hands of Moses to sweetness by the presence of the Lord. Today we are delivered from the ancient mourning and the like a New Israel we have been saved. Today we have escaped from darkness and by the light of the knowledge of God we have been illuminated. Today the darkness of the world vanishes with the appearance of our God. Today the whole creation is lighted from on high. Today error is annulled, and the coming of the Lord prepares for us the way of salvation. Today the celestials celebrate with the terrestrials, and the terrestrials commune with the celestials. Today the assembly of noble and great Orthodoxy rejoices. Today the Lord descends to baptism to elevate mankind above. Today the Unbowable bows to his servant to deliver us from slavery. Today we have bought the kingdom of heaven for the kingdom has no end. Today the land and sea have divided between them the joy of the world and the world has been filled with rejoicing. The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and were afraid. Jordan turned back when it saw the fire of the Godhead coming down and descending upon it in the flesh. Jordan turned back at beholding the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove and hovering over you. Jordan turned back when it saw the Invisible visible, the Creator incarnate and the Master in the form of a servant. Jordan turned back and the mountains shouted with joy at beholding God in the flesh, and the clouds gave voice wondering at him that comes who is Light of Light, true God of true God, drowning in the Jordan the death of sin, the thorn of error, and bond of Hades, granting the world the baptism of salvation.
13) Great are you, O Lord and wonderful are your works. No word does justice to the praise of your wonders, for by your will you did bring all things from non existence to existence, and by your might you control all creation, and by your providence you govern the world. It is you who organized creation from four elements and crowned and the cycle of the year with four seasons. Before you trembles all powers, you the sun praises, you the moon worships, the stars and submit to you, the light obeys, the tempests tremble, the springs worship you. You spread out the heavens like a tent and you established the earth on the waters. You surrounded sea with sand. You poured out the air for breathing. The angelic hosts serve you, the ranks of the Archangels worship you, the many eyed cherubim, the six winged seraphim, as they stand in your presence and fly around you hiding with fear from your unapproachable glory; for while remaining a boundless God, beginningless and ineffable, you came to earth taking the likeness of a servant and became like men. By the feeling of your compassion O master, you could not bear to see mankind defeated by Satan, but you came and saved us. For to you we attribute grace and preach mercy and conceal not benevolence. You freed the sons of our nature, by your Nativity you sanctified the virginal womb. Therefore all creation praises you in your appearing, for you, our God, have appeared on earth and walked among men. The courses of the Jordan you sanctified having sent your all Holy Spirit to it from heaven and crushed the heads of the dragons in it. Therefore King and Lover of mankind be present now by the descent of your Holy Spirit and sanctify this water. Grant it the grace of redemption and the blessing of the Jordan. Make it a fountain of incorruptibility, a gift for Sanctification, a redemption for sins, and elixir for maladies, a destroyer of Satans, unapproachable by the adversarial powers and full of the angelic powers so that to all who drink from it and receive it that it may be for the sanctification of their souls and bodies, for the healing of sufferings, for the sanctification of homes, and for every benefit, for you, our God, with water and the Spirit renewed our nature made old by sin. You are our God who drowned sin in the water at the time of Noah. You are our God who delivered the Hebrews from the bondage of Pharaoh at the hands of Moses in the sea. You are our God who cleaved the rock in the wilderness so that the waters gushed out and the valleys overflowed thus satisfying your thirsty people. You are our God who with fire and water delivered Israel from the error of Baal at the hands of Elisha. Therefore O Master, sanctify this water by Your Holy Spirit. Grant to all who touch it and who are anointed by and receive it, sanctification, Blessing, cleansing, and health.
D) A footnote:
1) What’s with dragons in the Jordan??
(a) According to Job, there was in the waters the dragon that ‘draws up Jordan into his mouth’ (Job 40:23). Since, therefore, it was necessary to ‘break the heads of the dragon in pieces, (Ps. 74:14), He [Christ] went down and bound the strong one in the waters [of His baptism], that we might receive power to ‘tread upon serpents and scorpions (Luke 10:19). The beast was great and terrible. ‘No fishing-vessel was able to carry one scale of his tail (Job 40:26 LXX) destruction ran before him’ (Job 41:13 LXX), ravaging all that met him. The Life encountered him, that the mouth of Death might henceforth be stopped, and all we that are saved might say, ‘O death, where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?’ (I Cor 15:55). The sting of death is drawn by Baptism. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 3 no. 11)