Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Epiphany, Theophany/Denho (Baptism of Christ)
Volume 7 No. 392 January 5, 2017
II. Lectionary Reflections: Theophany

Why Did Jesus Insist on Being Baptized

by Carl E. Olson

Gospel: Lk 3:15-16, 21-22

If baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, why did Jesus insist on being baptized by his cousin, John? And if baptism, as St. Peter wrote, "now saves you … through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 3:21), why would the Messiah deem it appropriate, even necessary, to be baptized? What, was the point of the Lord's baptism in the Jordan River?

These and related questions fascinated and perplexed many of the early Church fathers and theologians. The baptism of Christ, writes Fr. Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B., in his study of the topic, The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan: The Trinitarian and Cosmic Order of Salvation (The Liturgical Press, 1996), "was widely discussed in all the currents of theological reflection" in the early Church, "without doubt partly because of the problems it posed." From this discussion emerged many helpful theological insights.

St. Justin Martyr (d. 165), one of the first great apologists, addressed the baptism in his Dialogue with Trypho. He emphasized that the Son had no need to be baptized - just as he had no need to be born, to suffer, or die - but did so in order to reveal himself to mankind; the baptism, in other words, was the messianic manifestation, a sign for the Church first, and then the world. When Jesus came to the waters, St. Justin wrote, "He was deemed a carpenter," but the proclamation of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove showed him to be far more than a mere worker of wood.

In his famous work, Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus (d. c. 202) focused on the participation of those who believe in Christ in the anointing of the Savior. The connection between the baptism and anointing - itself an essential Messianic concept - is already evident in the New Testament, as heard in today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles: "…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power." This same anointing, St. Irenaeus wrote, is given to those who are baptized into Christ. The Holy Spirit, having descended upon the Son, has become "accustomed in fellowship with Him to dwell in the human race, to rest with human beings, and to dwell in the workmanship of God, working the will of the Father in them, and renewing them from their old habits into the newness of Christ."

Others delved into the mystery and meaning of the Jordan River, which was already, at the time of Christ, the site of many key events in the history of Israel. St. Hippolytus (d. c. 236) referred to "the Grand Jordan"; Origen (d. 254) wrote that just as "no one is good, except the one only God, the Father," likewise "no river is good except the Jordan." St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. c. 394), in his treatise, On the Baptism of Jesus, wrote, "For Jordan alone of rivers, receiving in itself the first-fruits of sanctification and benediction, conveyed in its channel to the whole world, as it were from some fount in the type afforded by itself, the grace of Baptism." Just as Joshua had entered the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan, Jesus opened the way to heaven by entering and dividing the same waters.

St. Ephrem (d. 373) wrote a beautiful hymn in which he connected the baptism of Jesus with the womb of Mary and the sacrament of the Eucharist: "See, Fire and Spirit in the womb that bore you! See, Fire and Spirit in the river where you were baptized! Fire and Spirit in our Baptism; in the Bread and the Cup, Fire and Holy Spirit!" Christ, the Light of the World, dwelt first in the womb of the Virgin - who was thus "baptized" by her Son - and then in the womb of the Jordan; he emerged from both as the Incarnate Word, the Savior of mankind. Those who are baptized thus become the children of Mary and partakers of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of her Son. 

Source: Crisis Magazine

A Sermon On The Day Of Theophany

by St. John Maximovitch

Today the nature of the waters is sanctified. Today the Son of God is baptized in the waters of the Jordan, having no need Himself of cleansing, but in order to cleanse the sinful human race from defilement.

Now the heavens open and the voice of God the Father is heard: This is My beloved Son. The Holy Spirit descends upon the Savior of the world, Who stands in the Jordan, thereby confirming that this indeed is He Who is the incarnate Son of God. The Holy Trinity is clearly made manifest and is revealed to mankind.

The waters of the Jordan are sanctified, and together with them all the waters of creation, the very nature of water. Water is given power to cleanse not only the body, but also man's whole soul, and to regenerate the whole man unto a new life through Baptism.

Through water all of nature is cleansed, for out of water the world was made, and moisture penetrates everywhere, giving life to everything else in nature. Without moisture neither animals nor plants can live; moisture penetrates into rocks, into every place in the world.

The waters are sanctified and through them the whole world, in preparation for renewal and regeneration for God's eternal Kingdom which is to come.

Every year on this day the glory of God is revealed, renewing and confirming what was accomplished at Christ's Baptism. Again the heavens are opened; again the Holy Spirit descends. We do not see this with our bodily eyes, but we sense its power. At the rite of blessing, the waters which are thereby sanctified are transformed; the become incorruptible and retain their freshness for many years.

Everyone can see this- both believers and unbelievers, both the wise and the ignorant.

Whence do the water acquire this property?

It is the action of the Holy Spirit.

Those who with faith drink these waters and anoint themselves with them receive relief and healing from spiritual and bodily infirmities. Homes are sanctified by these waters, the power of demons is expelled, God's blessing is brought down upon all that is sprinkled with these waters. Through the sanctifying of the waters God's blessing is again imparted to the whole world, cleansing it from the sins we have committed and guarding it from the machinations of the devil.

Today the Holy Spirit, descending up on the waters when the Cross of Christ is immersed into them, descends up on all of nature. Only in man He cannot enter without his will.

Let us open our hearts and souls to receive Him and with faith cry from the depths of our souls:

"Great art Thou, O Lord, and marvelous are Thy works, and there is no word which sufficeth to hymn Thy wonders.

Source: The Preachers Institute

The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord

by Rev. Dr. Bill Doggett

You know, if you were a member of the Orthodox Church the gospel lesson you would hear read on Epiphany is not the story of the visit of the Magi, but the reading we just heard about the baptism of Jesus. For the Orthodox, this is the primary story of God's manifestation, which they call by an even stronger word than "epiphany." They call it "theophany," the blazing forth of God.

Why this story in particular? Well it's not because the Orthodox have such a high theology of baptism (although they do), but because this is the only story in all of the gospel accounts where all three persons of the Trinity are named as present – and are acting in the world. There's Jesus, of course, obediently but surprisingly being baptized in the river Jordan. There's the Holy Spirit, descending like a dove from the heavens to Jesus, And there's the voice of God, heard blessing Jesus, and claiming him as beloved Son.

God the creator, the first person of the Holy Trinity, doesn't show up in person much in the gospels. Jesus mentions God a lot, of course: talks to God, talks about God, teaches others to do the same. But there's only one other personal appearance, at the Transfiguration, where God does and says the exact same thing as in today's story. The rest of the time it's angels and prophets and especially Jesus speaking on God's behalf.

So what are we to learn from this unique "blazing forth" of God in all three persons at Jesus' baptism? Other than that Jesus' baptism was taken seriously enough that the whole family showed up?

First off, notice what the three of them are doing. Jesus is doing what he always does: being fully human, fulfilling and yet somehow subverting rules and expectations in a single action, turning over social understandings of power and priority just by showing up – being a different kind of Messiah than everyone was expecting.

The Holy Spirit is paracleting away: mediating between the divine and the earthly, and in so doing showing that the two are intimately connected, that God has both the will and the means to act in human lives.

And then there's God the creator. That voice, doing again the most important act from the creation story, which is not the making itself but the divine assessment: "It is good." "Behold my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." This final quality report, both in the creation story and in the gospels, is the part of the creative act that is most often ignored, both in our lack of respect for the things and people God made and declared to be good, and in the contrary assessment of Jesus, made in his lifetime and after by so many. Humankind has not always been as well-pleased with Jesus as God was.

So God is revealed to us in all God's three-personed godliness in the moment of Jesus' baptism. It is a moment we uniquely recall when we baptize; when you were baptized. In communion we call on the risen Jesus to be known to us in the breaking of the bread, but in baptism we expect all three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to be present and involved.

We pledge ourselves to them, all three, in the Apostle's Creed, but in the rest of the Baptismal Covenant, which you will have a chance to renew in a few minutes, we also pledge ourselves to do the same things that God is doing in the Theophany at Jesus' baptism.

We pledge to continue in the Apostles' teaching, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers, and to persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin to repent and return to the Lord. In other words, we pledge to embrace being fully human – to live into (and occasionally to subvert or transform) the stories and traditions that we have been handed, and to hand them on to our children. And we pledge to recognize that our failings, our shortcoming, our sins, do not set us beyond the reach of God's love; that God is always ready to love us and to receive us when we repent.

We pledge to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. This is Holy Spirit work – to be the messenger and message to those who ache to hear of and to experience the love of God. We, like that dove, are bearers of God's Word, and our Baptismal Covenant reminds us of the seriousness and solemnity of the charge to carry the good news to the ends of the earth.

And finally, we pledge to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. Do you see how those pledges give life and force to the recognition of God's proclamation of the goodness of creation and of Jesus? The indignities, the uncharitableness, the cruelty that we visit on one another and on the world reflect a failure to embrace the goodness, the God-pleasing rightness of all that God has made, of all that has been given into our care.

And the great thing about these pledges is that they make wonderful touchstones. They are an easy to carry with you guide to Godly action.

When I am cross with someone, or am making judgments about him or her, am I truly seeking Christ in that person? And whether I find the Christ that I know is there in that person, are my choices and actions serving Christ?

Am I, by my words and actions at this moment, showing the world the good news about God in Christ – that the embrace of love reaches beyond all boundaries to draw the children of God together – that God can and does love you, can and does love me extravagantly, passionately, limitlessly?

And perhaps most importantly, for ourselves and for our institutions, am I respecting the dignity of every human being? Do the choices I am making right now, that my family, or committee, or Vestry are making today honor and uphold the dignity of every person those decisions will affect?

Because if not, if the answer to any of those questions is "no," our Baptismal Covenant, and indeed the love and example of God, calls on us to make different choices, to keep struggling with our choices, to keep learning from and repenting our mistakes, until we can honor those pledges with our lives as well as with our words.

And when we do that – when the gospel is proclaimed in all we do, and Christ is sought and served, justice and peace are striven for, and the dignity of every human being is respected and cherished, then God will blaze forth again and again, and we shall all be well pleased. Amen.

Copyright © 2017 St. James' Episcopal Church

Theophany - The Baptism of the Lord

by Orthodox England

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, also called Theophany or Epiphany, words which mean the Appearance of God, and this Feast is also called the Enlightenment. For that is exactly what this Feast is about, it is the first public Appearance of Christ, the beginning of His public preaching at the age of 30, and so the Enlightenment of mankind.

Theophany is in fact one of three Trinitarian Feasts in the Church Year, where 'the worship of the Trinity is made manifest'. For today the voice of the Father bears witness that, 'This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased', and the Spirit is seen in the form of a dove. Another such Feast is Pentecost, also called Trinity or Trinity Sunday, where the Son sends down the Spirit from the Father, from Whom the Spirit proceeds. Thirdly, there is also the Feast of the Transfiguration, where the voice of the Father is also heard and the Spirit is seen in the form of the Light of Tabor transfiguring the Son.

Today's Feast proves to the world that Christ is both God and man, that He has two natures. On the one hand, the Father calls Him 'My beloved Son' and the Spirit bears witness. On the other hand, as St John the Baptist shows in his humility that he is unworthy even to undo Christ's shoelaces, the sinless human nature of Christ did not need baptism. Christ underwent baptism in his human nature only because He needed to set us an example, to undergo all that we must undergo in order to be worthy of the Kingdom of God. Christ was indeed human flesh and blood - you cannot baptize a spirit or a ghost - Christ truly took on Himself our human nature.

The effects of the Baptism of Christ's human nature, of His body and soul, His mind and will, are immediate, for the world around Him may also be baptized through Him. In the icon of today's Feast we see in the waters of the Jordan a serpent-monster, a demon lurking in the water. Until the time of Christ, the whole world lay in evil. Through Christ's Coming, however, the whole world can be purified and redeemed. This process began with the purification of water, on which all life depends, of which our own bodies are mainly made up. Through Christ's Baptism the way is open for the baptism of the whole of mankind and the purification of the whole Cosmos. Christ's Baptism was the beginning of the purging of the world from evil. Those who reject Baptism allow the world to be filled with evil once more. This is why we baptize the new-born child, before the seeds of evil can come to lurk in his soul. This is why we sprinkle with Theophany water our homes and work-places, our cars and buses - so that no evil can lurk in them.

But what does Baptism mean for us, however, who are already baptized?

Although we believe that there is only One Baptism, in Church practice we use the word baptism in a figurative sense, for the sacrament of Confession is often called 'a second baptism'. It is through the 'second baptism' of Confession that we can renew ourselves by preparing ourselves to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, in the same way as the waters of the Jordan received Christ bodily when He was baptised. Thus among us too the old waters of the Jordan of human sin can be driven back and sin flees, as the demon-serpent is driven out of us by the Appearance of Christ and His Enlightenment of us.


Source: St John the Wonderworker Church

Jesus - Who Simply Stood With Sinners

by Dr. Janet Hunt

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

I stopped at the County Court House the other day.

I don't go there often - as evidenced by my trying to get in through the exit doors. I quickly discovered that they had changed the entrance to another location where there is more room for the necessary security screening. Indeed, somehow I had forgotten that I'd need to take off my coat and empty my pockets and to pass with all the rest of the early morning crowd through the metal detector. Once I had gathered up my things, I made my way to the electronic board which told me which courtroom to go to. As I looked for the right location, the name of yet another person I knew caught my eye. It looked as though my time would be well spent that morning.

So I climbed the stairs to the second floor and sat with those I had come to see for a while. Only, in such places, things go at their own pace and it looked as though it would be awhile before their case would be called. I excused myself, saying I was going to head to another courtroom to see if I could connect with another family.

As I made my way up to the third floor, I ran into someone I used to know.

But let me back up. I was not dressed professionally the other morning. Friday is normally my day off. We'd already had a quite a bit of light snow and the winds were threatening to start up and I needed to get to my mom's half an hour away to run some errands and begin to put away Christmas decorations. I didn't want to take the time to stop again to change clothes as I knew my travel window would be limited, so I went as I was.

As I said, I ran into someone I used to know. And I found myself immediately explaining my presence in that unlikely place. Oh, I was surrounded by those for whom this was commonplace: from both sides of the bench. Not so much for me. And yes, many of the best people I know have found themselves in situations where it was necessary to spend time there. And yet, I quickly discovered this was an instinct I too easily followed. I wanted him to know I was not there for myself. (And yes, certainly, I would have been dressed differently if I had been.) It turns out he didn't care. Or maybe he had already assumed what I was trying to say. Either way, I discovered he was only eager to pull out his cell phone and share a picture of his new baby girl.

I am not at all proud of this - my own not wanting to be fully associated with others for whom an aberrant blip on their way or whose utterly broken lives had brought them to this place. In fact, it was an impulse, but one that, no doubt, must be awfully well nurtured, else I expect I would not have been so quick to try to explain my presence there. I am not at all proud of this and it is with this recent insight into myself that I come to the story which is ours to enter into now. This one where Jesus, who was without sin, submits to baptism by John. Jesus, whose first words in Matthew's Gospel are recorded here. Jesus, who replies to John's protest in this way:

"Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness."

Oh yes, I do come to this today with my own deep awareness of my own unwillingness to do as Jesus did -who simply stood with sinners, with those who have been broken by life. Jesus, who felt no need to offer an explanation, but who simply stepped into the cleansing waters of baptism with all the rest of us who do, in fact, so need it.

It is clear to me that I am a long ways from where I'm meant to be. It is also so very evident to me today how much I am in need of a Savior who would step into the waters of baptism before me and with me - and who would later be baptized by a kind of fire I cannot imagine. And who did this for you and for me. I'm standing still in this for now, praying that I might have the courage next time to not so quickly try to explain my presence wherever it is I may be called upon to go. And to simply stand with those who are broken and afraid and hurting. As Jesus did. As Jesus always did.

  • What do you think Jesus means when he says to John that this is the way to fulfill all righteousness?
  • If we understand baptism to be for the forgiveness of sins, why, then was Jesus baptized?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus walks into the waters of baptism with you? How does this truth inform your life?

About The Author:

Dr. Janet Hunt is a long-time partner and Associated Trainer for Church Innovations, a research and consulting non-profit institute that innovates capacities of churches to be renewed in God's mission.

Source: Dancing With The Word


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