The Feast of the
the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ
The beginning of new birth through water and the Spirit
Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
Translated by Seraphim Larin / Hieromonk German Ciuba
Contents: The event of our Lordís Baptism. The meaning of the feast of the Theophany. Description of the church services for this feast day. The Canon at Matins of the Feast. The Blessing of Water on the day of the Theophany.
The Feast of the Theophany, or the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, is, along with Pascha, one of the most ancient Christian holidays. It is dedicated to our Lordís Baptism in the Jordan River. From ancient times Christians celebrated this feast day with great enthusiasm, because it reminded them of their own baptism and stirred them to a deeper consciousness of the power of this Mystery.
In this brochure, we will recount the circumstances of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ and attempt to elucidate the meaning of this evangelical event for our Christian life. We shall explain the major moments of the divine services for the feast of the Theophany, and shall give the English translation of the canon of Matins. Finally, we shall consider the significance of the blessing of water on the Theophany.
The Event of Our Lordís Baptism
The Baptism of our Saviour in the River Jordan is recounted by all four Evangelists: Matthew 3:1-17; Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-22; and John 1:15-33.
When the time drew near for our Lord Jesus Christ to go forth for His public mission, God sent His prophet, John the Baptist, to preach repentance, in order to prepare the Jewish people to receive the promised Messiah. According to the Apostle Luke, the preaching of John the Baptist began in the 15th year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. This was approximately the year 779 from the founding of Rome, or the 30th year of the Christian era. At that time, our Lord Jesus Christ was still living in the town of Nazareth, in the northern part of the Holy Land, Galilee, where the Holy Family had settled after Herodís slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem.
While the preaching of John the Baptist was simple, it penetrated the very souls of its hearers. "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," said the prophet. The setting for Johnís preaching was the Judean desert ó a sparsely populated area that occupied the western shores of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, dotted with rocky hills and dry riverbeds. Vegetation was quite sparse, and therefore the area was called a desert. Saint John was the son of the righteous Zacharias and Elizabeth. Zacharias was a priest, while Elizabeth was a descendant of King David. John was orphaned at an early age and had grown up in the desert, where he had become accustomed to a very austere way of life. He wore clothing made of camel hair, fastened by a leather belt around his waist. His food consisted of locusts and wild honey.
After the dreary lessons of the Jewish scribes, which were largely concerned with the correct performance of various religious rites, the preaching of John the Baptist swept through Judea like a stream of fresh air. The residents of Jerusalem and Judea, and even of Galilee and Samaria, flocked in droves to hear the living and inspirational words of Godís prophet.
Earlier, some 700 years before the birth of Christ, the famous Prophet Isaiah foretold the preaching of John the Baptist. Isaiah called Saint John "the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness" (Isaiah 40:3), who was to "prepare ľ the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." The last of the Old Testament prophets, Malachi, who lived more than 400 years before the birth of Christ, also foretold the coming of John the Baptist. Speaking on behalf of God, he calls John an angel of God and says: "Behold I will send My Angel, and he shall prepare the way before Me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Angel of the covenant (i.e., the Messiah), whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts." ("Angel" in Greek means messenger. See Mal. 3:1-2, cf. Mal. 4:5, Mark 1:1 and Mat. 11:14; 17:12).
In calling the Jews to repentance, Saint John was emphasizing that they needed to be fully aware of the error of their ways, to reject their sinful lifestyle and to begin a new life, one based on the commandments of God. In Greek, the word "to repent" (metanoein) means "to change your way of thinking," to begin to look at life anew. At the same time Saint John insisted that repentance be sincere and complete, and that it be accompanied by self-reform and good deeds. "Bear fruits worthy of repentance," the prophet told the Jews. To the question that was often asked, "What shall we do?" John answered, "He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none." In other words, do good and help the needy. He urged the publicans (tax collectors) not to extract more than the appointed taxes. He taught soldiers not to insult anyone and to be satisfied with their remuneration.
Not all the Jews that visited the prophet came with a thirst to hear the living word of God and the intention of amending their ways. Some came to him out of idle curiosity, while others wished to find fault with some careless saying and then denounce the prophet to the authorities. Among his antagonists were Jewish scribes and Pharisees, jealous of the prophetís fame and fearful of losing their own authority among the people. They took pride in their knowledge of the law and their "righteousness" based on rituals, and they regarded the common people and the uneducated with contempt. Seeing the hypocrisy and malice of the Jewish leaders and their unwillingness to turn to God, Saint John rebuked them openly and sternly, saying "Brood of vipers (a type of poisonous snake)! Who warned you to flee from the wrath (of God) to come?"
Those who repented and confessed (admitted openly) their sins, Saint John baptized in the river Jordan. Baptism consisted of the prayerful immersion of the penitent in water, which symbolically meant the cleansing of sins. (The word " baptize" ó in Greek baptizo ó means "to immerse"). Saint Johnís baptism was not the grace-giving baptism of a Christian, but simply a preparation for it.
In calling the coming kingdom of the Messiah heavenly, Saint John made it known that the Messianic kingdom would not be a rich and powerful earthly kingdom, as many of the Jews wrongly imagined. The Messiahís kingdom would be heavenly, a spiritual kingdom that would draw people toward God and provide them with the means for moral renewal.
On seeing John, some of the Jews asked themselves: Could this be the expected Messiah? Saint John, however, absolutely rejected this title for himself; he explained to them that his task was only to prepare people to receive the coming Messiah. He, John, was baptizing them in water as a mark of repentance, but the Messiah would baptize them with "the Holy Spirit and with fire." In other words, this new baptism would not simply be a symbolic washing, as Johnís was; it was to be manís regeneration by grace. In the Messianic baptism, the Holy Spirit Himself, like a searing fire, would burn away menís sinful impurities and ignite in their souls an ardent desire to serve God. Those who accept the Messiah will be gathered by God into His Kingdom, as wheat is gathered into a silo, while those who oppose Christ will, like chaff, be incinerated by God in an everlasting fire.
The Evangelists go on to narrate that "then", during one of the sermons given by Saint John the Forerunner on the banks of Jordan, "Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him." Why did Jesus, who was sinless, come to be baptized? We find the answer to that question in John the Baptistís own words, expressed on a number of occasions to members of the Sanhedrin (the religious high council of the Jews): "That He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water;" in other words, that through baptism the Messiahís identity would be revealed. Until this time Jesus had been living in the tranquility of Nazareth, known only to the inhabitants of that little town as the son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter. Now Jesus had reached the age of thirty, and in accordance with Jewish law, He had acquired the right to teach the people and to be called "rabbi" (teacher.) The time had come for Him to reveal Himself to the people, so that they could hear those things which testified to His being the long-awaited Messiah. This is what was happening on the banks of the Jordan.
When the Lord approached John, however, the prophet felt His mighty, divine holiness and said to Jesus, "I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?" To this Christ replied: "Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." By righteousness Jesus was referring to the will of God. The will of God was that all who wished to become members of the Messiahís grace-filled kingdom had to be baptized. Thus, baptism received the significance of the door to the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ, as Head of the new humanity regenerated by Him, had to be the first to enter the kingdom which He was establishing, to open the way to salvation and to teach people to fulfill Godís will. (As if foreseeing Christís constant desire to fulfill His Fatherís will, King David, in a prophetic psalm, utters Christís words: "Behold, I am come ... to do Thy will, O my God" [Psalm 40:7, see also Hebrews 10:5-9]).
Furthermore, Christís immersion in the water during His Baptism also had the purpose of sanctifying the act of baptism and making this symbolic rite a sacred, regenerating Christian sacrament.
All those who came to John first confessed their sins and then were immersed in the water. Only Jesus, Who was without sin, was baptized immediately upon coming to John. After His Baptism Jesus came directly out of the water and began to pray on the riverbank. Being the Son of God, He asked His heavenly Father to bless the beginning of His public ministry. Suddenly, while Jesus was still praying, the heavens opened and from them the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a white dove. At the same time the voice of God the Father was heard from heaven, saying: "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased." These words of God the Father served as an indication to John and the attendant multitude of the divine dignity of the Messiah, Who was not only a man but also the Only-begotten Son of God.
The triple miracle which took place on this occasion ó the opening of the heavens, the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and the testimony of God the Father ó completely convinced Saint John that Jesus Christ was the awaited Messiah. The visible descent of the Holy Spirit on the Messiah was exactly what Saint John was waiting for, because at the very beginning, when he was sent to preach as a prophet, God told him: "Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He Who baptizes with the Holy Spirit." Consequently, from that moment John the Baptist could unmistakably and without the slightest doubt testify to all that Jesus is the Messiah and the Lamb of God that takes upon Himself the sins of the world. Soon after the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, John sent some of his disciples to Him: the brothers Andrew (the First-called Apostle) and Peter and the brothers James and John (the Theologian). They joined Christ and became His first disciples and apostles.
The Significance of
the Baptism of Our Lord
On the day of our Lordís Baptism we recall the miracle of His divine epiphany, or manifestation ó the Theophany. Indeed, at the Baptism of our Saviour, the One Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth, for the first time revealed Himself to man in Three Persons: God the Father ó through His voice; God the Son ó by His baptism in the Jordan; and the Holy Spirit ó by His descent in the form of a dove. For this reason the troparion of the feast of the Baptism says that on this day "the worship of the Trinity was made manifest."
The feast day of the Theophany or the Baptism of Christ occupies a special place among the twelve great feast days of the Church. It reminds us how we were spiritually reborn when the priest thrice immersed us in the water of baptism. It also reminds us of the vows which we made before the holy font; if, as infants, we were not conscious of them, our spiritual sponsors, or godparents, made them on our behalf, and were later to explain to us the meaning of the sacrament of Baptism and the content of Christís teaching.
During the sacrament of Baptism, the priest recalls Christís Baptism and prays to God in these words: "All creation magnifieth Thee, Who hast manifested Thyself. For Thou, O our God, hast revealed Thyself upon earth, and hast dwelt among men. Thou didst hallow the streams of Jordan, sending down upon them from heaven Thy Holy Spirit, and didst crush the dragons who lurked there. Wherefore, O King Who lovest mankind, come now and sanctify this water by the coming of Thy Holy SpiritÖ And grant unto it the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan. Make it the fountain of incorruption, the gift of sanctification, the remission of sins, the remedy of infirmities; the final destruction of demons, unassailable by hostile powers, filled with angelic might.... Wherefore, O Lord, manifest Thyself in this water, and grant that he who is baptized therein may be transformed; that he may put away from him the old man, which is corrupt through the lusts of the flesh, and that he may be clothed with the new man, and renewed after the image of Him who created him: that being buried, after the pattern of Thy death, in baptism, he may, in like manner, be a partaker of Thy Resurrection; and having preserved the gift of the Holy Spirit, and increased the measure of grace committed unto him, he may receive the prize of his high calling, and be numbered with the first-born whose names are written in heaven, in Thee, our God and Lord Jesus Christ."
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, an early father of the Church, states that for a Christian the water of Baptism is "both a grave and a mother." It is a grave for our former sinful life without Christ, and the mother of our new life in Christ and in His realm of everlasting righteousness. Baptism is the door from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of light. "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." He who is baptized into Christ is also enrobed in Christís righteousness, becomes like unto Him and is made a partaker of His holiness. The power of baptism lies in the fact that a baptized person receives the ability and strength to love both God and neighbor. This Christian love leads a Christian to lead a righteous life and assists in overcoming attachment to this world with all its sinful pleasures.
The sad thing about a large number of our contemporary Christians is that they apply very little effort to enkindle more brightly in their hearts this grace-filled gift of love which they have received. An unhealthy attachment to the world has crowded spiritual love out of their hearts and replaced it with bitterness, malice and envy.
Consequently, in celebrating the great feast day of the Theophany, let us remind ourselves of the promise we made at baptism to love God and our neighbor. Let us thank God for making us worthy of spiritual birth and for inviting us into His realm of eternal blessedness. Let us try to be deserving of this great honor and Godís great mercy.
The Service for the Feast
In the ancient Church (before the 4th century), the Theophany of the Lord was celebrated on the 6th of January by the old calendar (the 19th of January by the new). This feast day incorporated the remembrance of two events: the Birth of Christ and His Baptism in the Jordan. At the end of the 4th century, when the Birth of Christ began to be celebrated separately on the 25th of December, it was left for the feast day of the Theophany to commemorate only the baptism of Christ, and thus it came to be called the Baptism of our Lord. The original combination of the two commemorations in the one holy day of the Theophany is reflected in a similarity in the structure of the feasts of the Nativity and the Theophany. On the vigil or eve of both days the Royal Hours are celebrated, followed by Vespers with the Liturgy. Before both feasts the Vigil service does not commence with Vespers, as is usual, but rather with Great Compline, during which "God is with us" is sung.
During Vespers on the eve of the Theophany, 13 lessons from the Old Testament are read. The reason for the large number of readings (usually on the eve of feast days only 3 lessons are read) is that on this day, in ancient times, the Church used to baptize many catechumens, and the baptisms were performed in the narthex of the church during the Old Testament readings. After their baptism, the newly-baptized entered the nave of the church, dressed in white garments and carrying lighted candles. The Christians inside greeted them by singing " As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." To this day, this is still sung during the Liturgy on the holy days of the Nativity and the Baptism of Christ.
On the eve of the feast day of the Theophany, the lessons which are read are biblical stories and prophecies concerning water: 1) Genesis 1:1-13 ó about the creation of land on the waters; 2) Exodus 14:15-18, 21-23, 27-29 ó the Israelitesí crossing of the Red Sea; 3) Exodus 15:22-27, 16:1-4 ó a triumphant hymn to God after the drowning of the Egyptians; 4) Joshua 3:7-8, 15-17 ó the miraculous passage of the Jews through the Jordan; 5) 2 Kings 2:6-14 ó the miraculous crossing of the Jordan by the prophets Elijah and Elisha; 6) 2 Kings 5:9-14 ó the healing of Naaman from his leprosy on the banks of the Jordan; 7) Isaiah 1:16-20 ó a call to repent and to be cleansed; 8) Genesis 32:1-10 ó the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau on the banks of the river Jordan; 9) Exodus 2:5-10 ó the Egyptian princess finds the infant Moses on the banks of the river Nile; 10) Judges 6:36-40 ó the miraculous wetting of the fleece for the confirmation of Gideonís faith; 11) 1 Kings 18:30-39 ó the Prophet Elijahís miraculous drawing down of fire, followed by rain; 12) 2 Kings 2:19-22 ó the Prophet Elishaís miraculous conversion of salt water into fresh water; 13) Isaiah 49:8-15 ó about spiritual rebirth.
At the Liturgy on the eve of the Theophany 1 Cor. 9:19-27 and Luke 3:1-18 are read.
At Vespers of the feast of the Baptism of Christ the stichera (hymns) constitute an artistic retelling of the story of this event: the conversation between Jesus Christ and John the Baptist and his reluctance to baptize Christ; the opening of the heavens; the voice from heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Apart from that, the stichera explain the interior meaning of the holy day: a) Jesus accepted baptism not for His personal cleansing, which He did not need, but in order to save mankind; b) Jesus wished to fulfill all the laws and rites of the Old Testament completely; c) His emergence from the water signified the lifting of earth to heaven, and finally, d) our contemporary sacrament of baptism confers the grace of God because the baptismal water has been blessed by Christ.
Troparion, Tone 1:
When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest. For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee, calling Thee the beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of His word. O Christ our God, Who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee!
The canon of Matins tells the story of Christís Baptism. The underlying theme is that Christ was baptized in order to cleanse us of our sins, to reveal to the world His Divinity and to enlighten mankind with the knowledge of God. The canon says that Jesus Christ, in taking flesh, accepted our body, which was weighed down with the burden of condemnation and death, and He was immersed in the waters of the Jordan in order to annihilate sin and give us Godís blessing. Through baptism, He delivers a mortal blow against our enemy, the devil, in all his secret crevices and abysses.
The prokeimenon at the Liturgy speaks of Godís appearance on earth: "Blessed is He Who cometh in the name of the Lord; God is the Lord and has appeared unto us." The Epistle reading (Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7) tells us that the appearance of the Saviour on earth brought the grace of salvation for mankind, while the Gospel (Matt. 3:13-17) narrates the story of the Baptism of our Saviour.
The C a n o n
First Canon, Tone 1
Irmos: The Lord mighty in battle uncovered the foundations of the deep and led His servants on dry ground; but He covered their adversaries with the waters, for He has been glorified.
(At the canon the irmos is sung and the troparia are read. The refrain between troparia is: Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.)
The Lord, King of the ages, in the streams of the Jordan formed Adam anew, who was fallen into corruption, and He broke in pieces the heads of the dragons that were hidden there: for He has been glorified.
The Lord, incarnate of the Virgin, having clothed material flesh with the immaterial fire of His divinity, wraps Himself in the waters of Jordan, for He has been glorified.
The Lord Who purges away the filth of men was cleansed in Jordan for their sake, having of His own will made Himself like unto them, while still remaining that which He was; and He enlightens those in darkness, for He has been glorified.
Katavasia: The Lord mighty in battle uncovered the foundations of the deep and led His servants on dry ground; but He covered their adversaries with the waters, for He has been glorified.
Irmos: Israel passed through the storm-tossed deep of the sea that God had turned into dry land: But the dark waters completely covered the chief captains of Egypt in a watery grave through the mighty strength of the right hand of the Master.
When the Light of the Dawn shone forth upon mortal men, coming from the desert to the streams of the Jordan, Thou, the King of the Sun, hast bowed Thy head before him, that so Thou mightest snatch our forefather from the land of darkness, and cleanse the creation from all its filth.
O Word without beginning, Thou hast buried man with Thee in the stream: He was corrupted by error, but Thou makest him new again. And the Father testified to Thee ineffably, saying with a mighty voice: "This is My beloved Child, equal to Me by nature."
Katavasia: Israel passed through the storm-tossed deep of the sea, that God had turned into dry land: But the dark waters completely covered the chief captains of Egypt in a watery grave through the mighty strength of the right hand of the Master.
Irmos: The Lord Who gives strength to our kings and exalts the horn of His anointed, is born of a Virgin and comes to baptism. Therefore let us, the faithful, cry aloud: "None is holy as our God and none is righteous save Thee, O Lord."
Rejoice today, O Church of Christ, that before wast barren and sadly childless. For through water and the Spirit sons have been born to thee, who raise their cry in faith: None is holy as our God and none is righteous save Thee, O Lord.
With a loud voice the Forerunner cries in the wilderness: "Prepare ye the way of Christ and make straight the paths for our God, raising your cry in faith: None is holy as our God and none is righteous save Thee, O Lord."
Katavasia: The Lord Who gives strength to our kings and exalts the horn of His anointed, is born of a Virgin and comes to baptism. Therefore let us, the faithful, cry aloud: None is holy as our God and none is righteous save Thee, O Lord.
Irmos: From the ancient snares have we all been set loose, and the jaws of the devouring lions have been broken: Let us, then, rejoice exceedingly and open wide our mouths, weaving with words a melody to the Word Whose delight it is to bestow gifts upon us.
He who once assumed the appearance of a malignant serpent and implanted death in the creation, is now cast into darkness by Christ's coming in the flesh: And by assailing the Master, the Dawn that has shone forth upon us, He crushes his own hateful and loathsome head.
The Master draws to Himself the nature made by God, which had been overcome by the tyranny of greed. A new birth He grants to the dwellers upon earth, fashioning them afresh, thereby accomplishing a glorious work: For He has come to deliver and protect mankind.
Katavasia: From the ancient snares have we all been set loose, and the jaws of the devouring lions have been broken: Let us, then, rejoice exceedingly and open wide our mouths, weaving with words a melody to the Word Whose delight it is to bestow gifts upon us.
Hypakoe: Tone 5.
When Thou broughtest light to all things by Thine Epiphany, the salt sea of unbelief fled and Jordan was turned back towards its source, thereby exalting us to heaven. By the height of Thy divine commandments, preserve us through the intercessions of the Theotokos, O Christ our God, and have mercy upon us.
Irmos: He whom Thou hast called, O Lord, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness," heard Thy voice when Thou hast thundered upon many waters, bearing witness to Thy Son. Wholly filled with the Spirit that had come, he cried aloud: "Thou art Christ, the wisdom and the power of God."
"Who has ever seen the sun that is bright by nature being cleansed?" the Preacher cried. "How, then, shall I wash Thee in the waters, Who art the Brightness of the Glory, the Image of the everlasting Father? How shall I that am grass touch with my hand the fire of Thy divinity? For Thou art Christ, the wisdom and the power of God."
"Moses, when he came upon Thee, displayed the holy reverence that he felt: perceiving that it was Thy voice that spoke from the bush, he forthwith turned away his gaze. How then shall I behold Thee openly, how shall I lay my hand upon Thee? For Thou art Christ, the wisdom and the power of God."
"Endowed with an understanding soul and honored with the power of reason, I yet respect the things that have no soul. For if I baptize Thee, I shall have as my accusers the mountain that smoked with fire, the sea which fled on either side, and this same Jordan which turned back. For Thou art Christ, the wisdom and power of God."
Katavasia: He whom Thou hast called, O Lord, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness," heard Thy voice when Thou hast thundered upon many waters, bearing witness to Thy Son. Wholly filled with the Spirit that had come, he cried aloud: "Thou art Christ, the wisdom and the power of God."
Irmos: Cleansed by the fire of a mystic vision, the Prophet sang the praises of the renewal of mortal man. Filled with the inspiration of the Spirit, he raised his voice, telling of the Incarnation of the ineffable Word, Who has shattered the dominion of the strong.
O Word all-shining, sent forth from the Father, Thou art come to dispel utterly the dark and evil night and the sins of mortal men, and by Thy baptism to draw up with Thee, O blessed Lord, bright sons from the streams of Jordan.
When he saw in very truth the glorious Word, the Preacher cried out plainly to the creation: "This is He Who was before me, though He comes after me according to the flesh. Like us in form, He has shone forth in the strength of the Godhead, to drive away our hateful sin."
That He may lead us back to the life-giving pastures of Paradise, God the Word goes searching for us in the lairs of the dragons. Destroying the terrible snares which the enemy had laid for man, He makes a prisoner of him who bruised all mankind in the heel, and so He saves the creation.
Katavasia: Cleansed by the fire of a mystic vision, the Prophet sang the praises of the renewal of mortal men. Filled with the inspiration of the Spirit, he raised his voice, telling of the Incarnation of the ineffable Word, Who has shattered the dominion of the strong.
Irmos: Jesus, the Prince of Life, has come to set loose from condemnation Adam the first-formed man; and though as God He needs no cleansing, yet for the sake of fallen man He is cleansed in the Jordan. In its streams He slew the enmity and grants the peace that passes all understanding.
A multitude without number came to be baptized by John; and standing in their midst he raised his voice, saying: "Ye disobedient, who has warned you to shun the wrath to come? Offer worthy fruits to Christ, for He is present now and grants peace."
The Husbandman and Creator stands in men's midst as one of them and searches their hearts. In His hand He has taken the winnowing fan, and in the fullness of His wisdom He cleanses the threshing floor of the whole world, dividing wheat from chaff, burning the barren and granting eternal life to those that bring forth good fruit.
Katavasia: Jesus, the Prince of Life ...
Irmos: By the cleansing of the Spirit have we been washed from the poison of the dark and unclean enemy, and we have set out upon a new path free from error, that leads to gladness of heart past all attainment, which only they attain whom God has reconciled unto Himself.
The Maker saw in the obscurity of sin, in bonds that knew no escape, the man whom He had formed with His own hand. Raising him up, He laid him on His shoulders, and now in abundant floods He washes him clean from the ancient shame of Adam's sinfulness.
In piety and eagerness let us run to the undefiled fountains of the stream of salvation, and let us look upon the Word Who gives us to drink from pure waters that satisfy our holy thirst; and gently He heals the disease of the world.
By the cleansing of the Spirit...
Irmos: The Voice of the Word, the Candlestick of the Light, the Morning Star and Forerunner of the Sun, cried in the wilderness to all the peoples: "Repent and be cleansed while there is yet time. For lo, Christ is at hand, Who delivers the world from corruption."
Christ was begotten without change from God the Father, and made flesh without defilement from the Virgin. And as the Forerunner teaches, it is not possible to loose the latchet of His shoes, the bond that joins the Word to our nature. He it is Who delivers those born on earth from error.
Christ baptizes in the fire of the Last Day those who are disobedient and believe not that He is God. But through the Spirit and by the grace that comes through water He grants a new birth to all who acknowledge His divinity, delivering them from their faults.
Katavasia: The Voice of the Word, the Candlestick of the Light, the Morning Star and Forerunner of the Sun, cried in the wilderness to all the peoples: "Repent and be cleansed while there is yet time. For lo, Christ is at hand, Who delivers the world from corruption."
Irmos: The Father, in a voice full of joy, made manifest His Beloved Whom He had begotten from the womb. "Verily," said He, "this is My offspring, of the same nature as Myself: Bearing light, He has come forth from mankind, My living Word, in divine providence made a mortal man."
The Prophet, mysteriously swallowed up for the space of three nights in the belly of the sea monster, came forth again, making manifest beforehand to all our regeneration at the last times and our deliverance from the dragon that slays mankind.
When the shining vaults of heaven were opened, He Who knew the mysteries saw the Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father and rests on the immaculate Word, descending in ways past speech in the form of a dove, and he commanded the multitudes to hasten to the Master.
The Father in a voice full of joy...
Kontakion Tone 4
Thou hast appeared today to the inhabited earth, and Thy light, O Lord, has been marked upon us, who with knowledge sing Thy praise: Thou hast come, Thou art made manifest, the Light that no man can approach.
Upon Galilee of the Gentiles, upon the land of Zabulon and the land of Nephthalim, as the prophet said, a great light has shone, even Christ. To those that sat in darkness a bright dawn has appeared as lightning from Bethlehem. The Lord born from Mary, the Sun of Righteousness, sheds His rays upon the whole inhabited earth. Come then, naked children of Adam, and let us clothe ourselves in Him, that we may warm ourselves. Thou who art a protection and veil to the naked, a light to those in darkness, Thou hast come, Thou art made manifest, the Light that no man can approach.
Irmos: The breath of the wind heavy with dew and the descent of the angel of God preserved the Holy Children form all harm, as they walked in the fiery furnace. Refreshed with dew in the flames, they sang in thanksgiving: "Blessed art Thou and praised above all, O Lord God of our fathers."
In trembling and wonder as if in heaven, the angelic powers stood by the Jordan, watching the great condescension of God: how He Who holds dominion over the waters that are above the firmament stood in the waters in bodily form, He Who is the God of our fathers.
The sea and cloud in which the people of Israel were once baptized by Moses the Lawgiver, as they journeyed from Egypt, prefigured the wonder of the baptism of God. The sea was an image of the water and the cloud an image of the Spirit, whereby we are initiated and cry aloud: "Blessed art Thou, O God of our fathers."
O let us all, the faithful, discoursing on divine things, join the angels in never-silent hymns to glorify the God in Whom we have received initiation, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, consubstantial in Persons yet one God, to Whom we sing: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord God of our fathers."
Katavasia: The breath of the wind...
Irmos: He Who stilled the heat of the flame of the furnace that mounted high in the air and encircled the godly children, burnt the heads of the dragons in the stream of the Jordan. And with the dew of the Spirit He washes away all the stubborn obscurity of sin.
The fierce Assyrian flame that prefigured Thee hast Thou quenched, changing it to dew. And now Thou hast clothed Thyself in water, O Christ, and so dost burn up the evil spoiler hidden in its depths, who calls men to follow the path that leads to destruction.
Of old the Jordan was parted in two, and the people of Israel passed over on a narrow piece of dry land, prefiguring Thee, O Lord most powerful, Who now makest haste to bear the creation down into the stream, bringing it to a better and a changeless path.
We know that in the beginning Thou hast brought upon the world the all-ruining flood, unto the lamentable destruction of all things, O God Who revealest wonders most great and strange. And now, O Christ, Thou hast drowned sin in the waters unto the comfort and salvation of mortal men.
He Who stilled the heat...
Irmos: The Babylonian furnace, as it poured forth dew, foreshadowed a marvelous mystery: how the Jordan should receive in its streams the immaterial fire, and should encompass the Creator, when He was baptized in the flesh. Him do ye peoples bless and exalt above all for ever.
The Deliverer said to the Forerunner: "Cast aside all fear and, obedient to My command, draw near Me, for by nature I am good and full of love. Yield to My ordinance and baptize Me, Who have come down in condescension, Whom the peoples bless and exalt above all for ever."
When the Baptist heard the Master's words, he stretched out his hand in trembling; and as he touched the head of his Creator, he cried aloud to Him Who was baptized: "Sanctify me, for Thou art my God, Whom the peoples bless and exalt above all for ever."
The Trinity was made manifest in the Jordan. For, supreme in Godhead, the Father proclaimed, saying, "He Who is here baptized is My beloved Son," and the Spirit rested upon His Equal in Godhead, Whom the peoples bless and exalt above all for ever.
We praise, bless and worship the Lord, singing and exalting Him throughout all ages.
Katavasia: The Babylonian furnace, as it poured forth dew, foreshadowed a marvelous mystery: how the Jordan should receive in its streams the immaterial fire, and should encompass the Creator, when He was baptized in the flesh. Him do you peoples bless and exalt above all for ever."
Irmos: The creation finds itself set free, and those in darkness are now made sons of light. Alone the prince of darkness groans. Let all the inheritance of the nations, that was before in misery, now bless with eagerness Him Who has wrought this change.
The three godly children who were sprinkled with dew in the fire plainly prefigure how the Most High God, Who shines with the bright rays of a threefold holiness, should mingle with mortal men, to their great blessing, consuming all deadly error in the fire of dew.
Let the whole earthly creation clothe itself in white, for this day it is raised up from its fall from heaven. The Word Who preserves all things has cleansed it in the flowing waters. Washed and resplendent, it has escaped from its former sins.
The creation finds itself set free ...
Megalynarion: Magnify, O my soul, her who is greater in honor than the hosts on high.
Irmos: Every tongue is at a loss to praise thee as is due: even a spirit from the world above is filled with dizziness, when it seeks to sing thy praises, O Theotokos. But since thou art good, accept our faith. Thou knowest well our love inspired by God, for thou art the Protector of Christians and we magnify thee.
Magnify, O my soul, Him Who is come to be baptized in Jordan.
O David, come in spirit to those who are now to be enlightened and sing: "Approach ye now to God in faith and receive enlightenment. Fallen Adam, the poor man, cried and the Lord heard him. He has come and in the streams of Jordan He has made him new again, who was sunk in corruption."
Magnify, O my soul, Him to Whom the voice of the Father bore witness.
"Wash you, make you clean," says Isaiah. "Put away the evil of your doings from before the Lord. Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the living waters. For Christ will sprinkle with the water of renewal those who hasten to Him in faith, and He baptizes them with the Spirit unto life that grows not old.
"O Prophet, come to Me: stretch out thine hand and baptize Me swiftly."
Let us, the faithful, keep ourselves safe through grace and through the seal of baptism. In the past the Hebrews fled destruction by marking the door posts with blood; so also this divine washing unto regeneration shall be our Exodus, and going hence, we shall behold the light of the Trinity that never sets.
Katavasia: Every tongue is at a loss to praise thee as is due: even a spirit from the world above is filled with dizziness, when it seeks to sing thy praises, O Theotokos. But since thou art good, accept our faith. Thou knowest well our love inspired by God, for thou art the Protector of Christians and we magnify thee.
Irmos: O most pure Bride, O blessed Mother, the wonders of thy birth-giving pass all understanding. Through thee we have obtained salvation in all things, and, as is right and meet, we rejoice before thee our benefactor, bearing as gift a song of thanksgiving.
Today John baptizes the Master in the streams of Jordan.
Today the Master buries in the waters the sin of mortal man.
Today the Master receives testimony from on high, that He is the beloved Son.
That which was revealed to Moses in the bush we see accomplished here in strange manner. The Virgin bore Fire within her, yet was not consumed, when she gave birth to the Benefactor Who brings us light, and the streams of Jordan suffered no harm when they received Him.
Today the Master has come to sanctify the nature of the waters.
Today the Master receives baptism at the hand of the Forerunner.
Magnify, O my soul, the power of the undivided Godhead in three Persons.
O King without beginning, through the communion of the Spirit Thou dost anoint and make perfect the nature of mankind. Thou hast cleansed it in the undefiled streams, putting to shame the arrogant force of darkness, and now Thou dost translate it unto endless life.
Magnify, O my soul, her that has delivered us from the curse.
O King without beginning ...
The Blessing of Water
In cleansing the sins of humanity in the river Jordan, Christ crushed the heads of the invisible serpents (the demons) in the waters and sanctified the nature of water. In commemoration of this event the Great Blessing of Water is performed on the feast of the Theophany. (In fact, on this day, there are two blessings of water: one is inside the church on the eve of the feast, while on the day itself the second is performed outside, at rivers and wells).
At the beginning of the procession, the clergy come forth through the Royal Gates. The rector carries the holy Cross, preceded by people bearing banners, icons and lighted candles. During the procession, the choir sings: "The voice of the Lord upon the water cries aloudľ" and other hymns of the feast. Then there are readings from the Old Testament, the Epistle and the Gospel relating to the Baptism of Christ.
The Old Testament lessons are prophecies concerning the regenerative power of Godís grace, which the Prophets compare to water.
"The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the roseľ Then (during the time of the Messiah) the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of waterľLo, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come yeľ Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation. And in that day shall ye say ĎPraise the Lord, call upon His name, declare His doings among the peopleí" (See Isaiah 35:1-10, 55:1-13, 12:3-5).
After the reading of the Gospel, the deacon reads a litany with special petitions for the blessing of the water. The priest reads a prayer, in which he asks God to bestow purification, sanctification, health and blessings upon all those that partake of the blessed water or splash themselves with it. After the prayer, the priest immerses the cross in the water three times, as the troparion of the feast is sung: "When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord ..." Following this, the priest sprinkles the church, the people and their homes with the blessed water.
The practice of blessing water on the day of Christís Baptism was already existent in the 3rd century. St. John Chrysostom calls this water "agiasma" ó a holy thing. It has been known from ancient times that the Holy Water of the Theophany does not go bad. This holy water is used to sprinkle and bless icons, liturgical articles, priestly vestments and crosses. It is also used to bless houses, food, automobiles and other articles. When received with faith, it has the power to cure both physical and spiritual infirmities. Although holy water cannot replace Holy Communion, it can be taken instead of Communion by one who is, for one reason or another, deprived of the consolation of the Sacrament. During times of despondency, confusion and spiritual turmoil it offers tranquility and relief. For this reason Christians keep this blessed water in a special place in their homes and partake of it in the morning, before eating any food.
Thus, let us greet the glorious feast of Christís Baptism with joy, thanking our Saviour for regenerating us by water and the Spirit and for opening to us the path to His heavenly kingdom.
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Missionary Leaflet # E39
Copyright © 2001 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
Edited by Donald Shufran