In this icon of the Baptism, Christ receives baptism at the hands of John the Baptist, the last of the prophets of the Old Covenant. Here, the Old and New Covenants meet in the water of the Jordan- the old baptism for repentance of sins, and the lasting baptismal rebirth of water and the spirit, as brought by Jesus in the New Covenant (Lk 3:16). For this reason, the bottom of this icon depicts symbols of the initiation Sacraments of the Christian Church- Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist. On either side are representations of confirmation of the Holy Spirit in purifying water: the Spirit of God hovering over the waters in creation (Ge 1:2), and the traditional "Blessing of the Waters" with the Cross in the Epiphany liturgy. In this icon of the Baptism, Christ is stripped of His eternal robe of glory and naked, is robed in the waters of the Jordan which itself shines forth with the beams of His glory and light. Here, He is clothed in our humanity, that we, in our baptism, might be clothed in His eternity. The symbol of the sun and the moon represent the cosmic light that Christ brings on his Feast of Epiphany.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Eastern Churches, this feast is known by two names: Epiphany and Theophany. The Greek word, "Epiphany" means a "manifestation" or an "apparition" and the word, "Theophany", an appearance of God. On this day we celebrate the appearance or manifestation of Christ among us as God's Son.
The feast of Epiphany was first celebrated in the East around the third century and eventually was adopted by the Western Church. In the Eastern Churches, the celebration of the Epiphany originally centered on both the Birth of our Lord and his baptism. When the later Western feast of Christmas was introduced into the East, Christmas became the feast of the Birth of our Lord and the Epiphany, that of his baptism.
The feast of the Epiphany is intimately connected with the mystery of our Lord's birth. The Child who was born for us and the Son who was given to us is manifested before us to be the Son of the Most High. Christ begins his public life with his baptism by John in the Jordan river. At his baptism, Christ is seen as the fulfillment of John's preaching: he is the Messiah and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Father and the Holy Spirit are witnesses to Christ for he is the beloved Son of the Father and upon him the Spirit rests. Thus at the baptism of the Lord, we have not only an epiphany or manifestation of Christ as God's Son, but also a theophany or manifestation of the Holy Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The feast of the Epiphany reminds us not only of the baptism of Christ but also of our own baptism. St. Ephrem, in his Hymn on Epiphany, says: " ... our blessed Lord came to be baptized with sinners and because of his glory, the heavens were opened. The One who purifies all creatures, desiring to cleanse them, went into the waters and sanctified them for our baptism." It is for this reason that we bless water on this day. Originally, the mystery of baptism was celebrated on this feast and the waters blessed were those of baptism.
Today let us call to mind the grace of God who has appeared for the salvation of all, and thank him for the baptism through which we have been begotten in the Spirit and through which we have put on Christ and become children of the Father.
Very beautiful and profound, as always!
I notice that Weigel mentioned the lunacy of the new calendar. That is one thing I wish the Pope would address: bring back the old calendar (add the new saints, of course) and structure the liturgical year properly again.