Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE DIVINE THEOPHANY OR THE FEAST OF LIGHTS
by His Eminence Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos
The event of Christ's Baptism by Saint John the Forerunner and Baptizer in the River Jordan is called Theophania and Epiphany were celebrated together on the same day (6th January). It is called also the Feast of Lights, as Saint Gregory the Theologian characterizes it, because of the baptism, illumination of the catechumens, and because of the lighting of fires.
The word 'theophany' comes from the Apostolic passage "God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by Angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory" (1 Timothy 3:16), and relates mostly to Christ's Nativity. The word 'Epiphany' comes from the Apostolic passage "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men" (Titus 2:11), and is related mostly to Christ's Baptism, for it was then that people recognized the Grace of Divinity.
The word Baptism, as Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite interprets it, which means plunging, is a verbal noun that comes from the verb 'bapto', meaning to plunge, immerse. Thus baptism is connected with water.
The Holy Fathers of the Church teach that there are many kinds of baptism. Saint Gregory the Theologian teaches that there are five kinds. The first is that of Moses, which gives temporary purification. The second is that of the Forerunner, who baptized people with the baptism of repentance. The third is Christ's baptism, through which people become Christians; it is performed by the energy of the Holy Spirit. The fourth is that of martyrdom and blood, and the fifth is that of repentance and tears.
Saint John Chrysostom distinguishes between Jewish and Christian baptism. The former does not purify from sins of the soul but only from the filth of the body. Church baptism is incomparably higher, because it frees the person from his sins, purifies the soul, and gives the Holy Spirit. Between these two baptisms there is the baptism which the Worthy Forerunner practiced, which was a bridge between the Judaic and the Christian. Saint John's baptism was higher than the Judaic, because it referred to Christ, but it was lower than our own, the Christian.
Since Saint John's baptism led men to the sense of their sins and prepared the people to receive the most perfect baptism of Christ, and Christ was perfect God and perfect man and had not committed any sin, then why was He baptized? The answer to this question manifests great truths to us.
Saint John of Damaskos says that Christ was not baptized because He had need of purification, "but to identify Himself with our purification." Just as Christ suffered and was crucified for mankind and felt all the grief and pain, so he identified Himself with our own purification. Many things happened in this way.
So according to Saint John of Damaskos, Christ was baptized in order to crush the heads of the dragons in the water, for there was a conception that the demons dwell in the water; in order to wash the sin and bury the old Adam in the water; in order to bless the Baptist, for the Forerunner did not bless Christ, but Christ blessed the Forerunner when the latter put his hand on Christ's head; in order to keep the law, since he Himself gave it and should not appear to transgress it; in order to reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity, because at the moment we have the manifestation of the Holy Trinity; in order to become a model for our baptism, which is perfect baptism and is done by water and the Holy Spirit.
Beyond these things, by His baptism in the River Jordan Christ blessed the water as well. That is why even today we perform the service of the blessing of the waters and during the celebration we call upon the Holy Spirit to bless the waters. Thus after the blessing it ceases to be the water of the fall and becomes water of renewal, since it is united with the uncreated Grace of God.
Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite says that in order to reshape a vessel, the potter needs two elements: water for molding the earth, and fire to burn and cast the molded clay and so to reshape it. And God, the Great Potter of our mold, does just the same thing. Wanting to reshape our nature, which was crushed by sin, God used fire and water. And He takes the fire from Himself, because as God He is a "consuming fire" which consumes wickedness, and he borrows the water from the River Jordan.
The fact is that by Christ's Incarnation, by all the steps of the Divine Economy, and certainly by the baptism in the River Jordan, the human race is reshaped. After the fall and the crushing of our nature we have reshaping and rebirth. This reshaping is possible, on the one hand because after the sin (ancestral sin or original sin) human nature did not disappear altogether, and on the other hand because God Himself is man's creator and is Himself man's recreator.
According to Saint John Chrysostom, the River Jordan is a symbol of the human race. In the first place it is called Jordan because it comes from two sources, the Jor and the Dan. These two sources form the River Jordan, which flows into the Dead Sea. According to one reductive interpretation, the whole human race comes from two sources, Adam and Eve, and through sin it was brought to deadening, the dead sea of the present life, where there is death. By His Incarnation Christ entered into this Jordan, this human race, and in this way He conquered death and restored mankind to it former life.
The manifestation of the Trinitarian God during the reshaping of man points to another theological truth as well, that man is the only earthly initiator and worshipper of the Holy Trinity, and also that he is the only creature made in the image of the Trinitarian God. As Saint Gregory Palamas explains, the animals do not have nous and reason, but only living spirit which is not self-existent. This means that when animals die they lose the spirit as well. They do not remain, since they have no essence, but only energy. The Angels and Archangels also have nous and reason, but they do not have a spirit which animates a body, for they are suprasensory. But man has nous, reason and a spirit which gives life to the body, and therefore he alone is in the image of the Three-Personal God. Moreover, it is for this reason that the Son and Logos (Word) of God, in order to save and transform the world, became man and not an Angel, since man is the summing up of creation. Thus it is through deified (theosis) man that we have the transformation and alteration of creation.
One of the aims of Christ's Baptism was also to be both model and an example for us, since by His example Christ decreed the Mysterion (Sacrament) of baptism. Thus through Holy Baptism, which is an is regarded as an introductory Mysterion, we are admitted into the Church. Just as Christ's work of saving the world began with Baptism, which was followed by all the other things, the Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension, so also this spiritual life begins with the Mysterion (Sacrament) of Baptism.
In his book about the life in Christ Saint Nicholas Kavasilas regards baptism as a birth, and the movement is followed by Holy Chrismation and by Holy Communion. The end of Baptism and of all the Mysteria (Sacraments) is the Divine Eucharist. Thus we are baptized and chrismated in order to be able, as members of the Church, to partake of the body and blood of Christ.
Faith is closely linked with Baptism. According to Saint Basil the Great, Faith and Baptism are two inseparable and natural ways of salvation. Faith is completed by Baptism, and Baptism is grounded by faith. One is fulfilled and completed by the other. Just as we believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so we baptize in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is preceded by confession which leads the way to salvation. Baptism follows, corroborating our own consent.
The feast of the Theophany or Epiphany points to many great theological truths. As a personal approach to the feast we should now add a few more things relating to our own baptism. Three indicative points should be particularly emphasized:
First. Those who are baptized and anointed are called Christians, both because they are disciples of Christ and because they have received the Holy Chrism from the Holy Spirit. Neither takes away from the other, since we are disciples of Christ through the Grace which we receive through the Mysteria (Sacraments).
Second. Through Baptism one receives the pledge of the Spirit, but with the possibility of fulfillment. Saint Gregory Palamas says that just as the infant receives from his parents the possibility of becoming a man and of inheriting the paternal estate when he reaches the appropriate age, but loses it if he dies in the meantime, the same happens with the Christian. Through Baptism he receives the power to become a son of God and an inheritor of the Eternal good, if in the meantime he does not die of intelligible death, which is sin. Consequently, if man loses his communion with God, if he dies spiritually, he loses the possibility which he received through Baptism. To be sure, grace is not lost, it does not abandon the heart of man, but it does not affect salvation.
Christ gave a Commandment to His Disciples to make disciples of all the nations "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (St. Matthew 28:19-20). "Baptizing" and "teaching to observe" show the manner in which man is spiritually completed.
Third. When the Grace of Baptism is clouded by sin, then the baptism of repentance and tears must follow. The Monastic tonsuring is called a second baptism, because it establishes the life of repentance and purification, through which man reaches his former glory. Saint Gregory of Nyssa says characteristically: "Even one tear of repentance is equivalent to the water of baptism, and a painful groan brings back the grace which had departed for a while". Of course this tear must be shed in the atmosphere of repentance, as the Orthodox Church teaches and expresses it.
Christ was baptized in order to observe the law and to bring His grace to the water, to the whole of creation and to man. So He gave to each one of us the possibility of attaining the grace of adoption, of Theophany in our personal life. This manifestation of God constitutes 'Theognosia' the knowledge of God, and since knowledge of God is an existential fact, it also brings salvation.
A paternal advice. It was announced at the Clergy-Laity Congress of our Archdiocese of an alarming trend taking place among Greek Orthodox young adults. It was reported that fewer young adults of our Church believe in having an Orthodox Christian marriage and that they also feel that it is no longer necessary to offer their children a Christian baptism. The number of marriages and baptisms in our Archdiocese are decreasing.
It is with sincere love that I urge the young adults throughout our Archdiocese to marry in the Church and when they have a child to baptize that child in the Church and raising it in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith. Both of these Sacraments are necessary to live as Christians and to seek salvation from God. All the Sacraments of our Holy Orthodox Church were instituted by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and through them we receive the gifts and grace of the Holy Spirit our God.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God