Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Divine Theophany by His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

The Feast of the Theophany refers to the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan by Saint John the Forerunner, who is called the Baptist. This took place when Christ reached the age of thirty (30) years, before He began His formal work (His earthly Ministry) of teaching and before His later Sufferings for the salvation of the human race.

The choice of thirty years for the beginning of Christ's formal activity in the world is related to the fact that the biological formation of the human organism reaches its fullness at that time. Moreover He would have been more acceptable to the Israelites at this time.

This event is described by the Holy Evangelists (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34). We shall not go into all its details, but will emphasize some basic theological and Christological Truths.

Not many events are mentioned in Holy Scripture in the interval between the Meeting of Christ and Baptism of Christ. What we know about are the flight into Egypt and the return from there, as well as the presence of Christ in the Temple when he was twelve years old.

This is not without reason and purpose. The Gospels were not written to describe the whole history of Christ, but to present the Incarnation Son and Logos/Word of God, and what Christ taught, what He did and what He suffered for the human race. In essence the Gospels were catechetical aids. So the historical events of Christ's life and the references to His childhood years were not needed. His appearance in the Temple was included in the Gospel because it was the early evidence that He was the Son of God.

The absence of the events of His childhood and adolescent age does not mean that Christ was absent from Judaea. Christ lived close to His mother and foster-father Joseph and was "subject to them" (St. Luke 2:51). The things that some people say without any evidence are not valid but are the invention of imagination, that Christ went to other countries, such as the Indies, and there spent his life until the age of thirty years, when He suddenly made His appearance in Nazareth and at the River Jordan. For if such a thing had happened, it would have made an enormous impression on His compatriots when He appeared.

"...The event of Christ's Baptism by St. John the Baptist and Forerunner in the River Jordan is called Theophany and Epiphany. In the early Church the feasts of the Nativity and the Theophany were celebrated together on the same day (6th January). In the 4th century the feasts were separated, and Christmas was transferred to 25th December, the day on which the Gentiles (pagans) celebrated the sun god and the Christians the Sun of Righteousness. Likewise it is called the Feast of Lights (Tων Φώτων), as Saint Gregory the Theologian characterizes it, because of the baptism, illumination of the catechumens, and because of the lighting of fires.

The Greek word 'theophany' comes from the Apostolic passage "God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by Angels, preached among the Gentiles (pagans), believed on in the world, received up in glory" (1 Timothy 3:16), and relates mostly to Christ's Nativity. The Greek word 'epiphany' comes from the Apostolic passage "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men" (St. Titus 2:11), and is related mostly to Christ's Baptism, for it was then that people recognized the Grace of Divinity.

In any case it is a fact that on the day of Christ's Baptism, with the manifestation of the Holy Trinity and the confession of the Worthy Forerunner, we have the official confession that the Son and Logos/Word of God is the "one of the Holy Trinity" Who became man to save the human race from sin, the devil and death.

The person who played a major role in Christ's Baptism is the Worthy Forerunner, John the Baptist. He is a great Prophet, a great character placed between the Old and New Testaments. He is the last of the Prophets of the Old and the first of the Prophets of the New Testament.

"...The Greek word Baptism (ΒάπτισιςΙ), as Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite interprets it, which means plunging (to immerse), is a verbal noun that comes from the verb 'vapto', meaning to plunge, immerse. Thus baptism is connected with water.

The Holy Fathers 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 (believers) 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.

"...The River Jordan has remained famous for various events in history, but chiefly for the preaching and Baptism of St. John the Forerunner, but also for Christ's baptism in it.

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 its former life...

"...During Christ's Baptism the Holy Trinity appeared. One of the purposes of the Divine Incarnation, as well as of the Baptism of Christ was the revelation of the Trinitarian God, that although God has one essence and nature, yet He is of three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So the voice of the Father is heard witnessing and giving assurance that He Who is in the Jordan at the moment is His Son, while the Holy Spirit also appears "like a dove", as a dove...

"...The Father's witness that He Who was baptized was not an ordinary man but His Beloved Son points to the Divinity of the Logos/Word, His consubstantiality (of one Essence) with the Father. According to Orthodox Christian Theology, the voice of the Father is a vision of God, it is a revelation and not something grasped by man's senses. To be sure, the body has a share in the vision of God, but the senses are transformed in order to see the glory of God. The fact that the witness of the Father is a revelation, a vision of God, can be seen from the same witness of the Father which took place on Mt. Tabor, when the Disciples fell to the ground because they could not bear the brightness of the vision.

The Son of Whom the Father bore witness is shown to be "brightness of the glory of God", since the essence and energy of the Trinitarian God are common to all three persons. In his letter to the Hebrews the Holy Apostle Paul uses this phrase to indicate the Divinity of the Logos/Word: "Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person" (Hebrews 1:3).

"...The word for brightness is used to indicate some theological Truths as Saint Theophylaktos expresses them. First, to show that, just as brightness is produced by the sun, so also the Son is produced by the Father. Secondly, in order to show that the Son is produced without passion by the Father, like the glory of the sun. Thirdly, just as the sun is not diminished by its brightness, so also the Father was not diminished in giving birth to the Son. Fourth, just as the glory, the radiance of the sun is inseparable from it, so also the Son shines everlastingly and without beginning from the Father.

The Holy Spirit as well took part in the manifestation of the Trinitarian God at the River Jordan. The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity and is no lower than the other two, for He too is consubstantial (of one essence) with the Father and the Son. Saint John the Baptist "saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him" (St. Matthew 3:16). "Upon Him" refers to Christ. At the moment when the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and alighted upon Christ, the witness of the Father was also heard...

"...Apart from this, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit "like a dove" indicates the innocent and meek. It also reminds us that, just as a dove is very clean and does not stay where there is a foul smell, so also the Holy Spirit is very pure and does not remain where there is the foul smell of sin...

"...It is important to say that the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and came upon Christ. This is closely connected with the voice of the Father. And it suggests that the voice saying "this is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased" does not refer to Saint John the Baptist, but to Christ. The simultaneous indication of the dove by the voice of the Father points to the consubstantiality of the Persons (Hypostasis) of the Holy Trinity. Until then the people had respected John very deeply, while Christ was unknown. The indication by the Holy Spirit connected with the voice of the Father pointed to Christ the Son of God sent to save man (Saint Theophylact). 

By His Eminence Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, HIEROTHEOS
The Feasts of the Lord: An Introduction to the Twelve Feasts and Orthodox Christology

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