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 baptise 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 baptised 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 baptise 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 baptised?
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.