Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan

Fr. Stephen at Glory to God for All Things, has a wonderfully clear explanation of the symbolism of tomorrow's feast of the Baptism of Christ.  He says that in icons depicting Christ's baptism in the Jordan, the water is often shown as being dark, similar to the darkness of the cave in which Christ is born, (the darkness, Father says, of the world)  and the darkness of Hell in which Christ descends on Holy Saturday before the Resurrection. Jesus brings Light to the darkness in his birth, baptism and in his Resurrection.  This so clearly brings out the meaning of Jesus' baptism and of His coming to earth!

In each case, he descends--God made man--"goes down" and humbles Himself for the sake of His creation.

The little figure at the bottom of the icon of Christ's baptism is probably symbolic of the "dragon" spoken about in Psalm 74:12-13--Yet you, God, are my king from of old, winning victories throughout the earth.You stirred up the sea in your might; you smashed the heads of the dragons on the waters.

In the story of Jonah and the whale, we see another instance of water being connected to death and new life. This passage is used in the Orthodox Vespers for Theophany (The Baptism of the Lord).
For You had cast me into the deep into the heart of the seas and the current engulfed me.  All Your breakers and billows passed over me.  So I said, 'I have been expelled from Your sight.  Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.'  Water encompassed me to the point of death.  The great deep engulfed me.  Weeds were wrapped around my head.  I descended to the roots of the mountains.  The earth with its bars was around me forever.  But You have brought my life from the pit, Oh Lord my God.  While I was fainting away I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to You into Your holy temple. ~Jonah 2:3-7
Also, I heard on the radio yesterday that in Christ's case, Baptism doesn't sanctify Him. By descending into the Jordan, He santictifies the waters and makes them efficacious for our own cleansing, not only in Baptism but in its sacramental use as holy water.

Christ descending into the darkness of the water points, symbolically, to His releasing the souls from the abode of the dead at His resurrection, and releasing our souls from the sin we commit when we "do the very thing (we) hate".  It also points to the need for each of us to die to self, and rise from the now sanctified waters, a new person, which can only occur with God's help.

Jesus, Mercy!

4 comments:

Anne said...

Wonderful thoughts. He sanctified the waters. I never would have thought of it that way!

Dymphna said...

Me neither. This makes the Baptism of the Lord so much more meaningful and its placement at the end of the Christmas season so much clearer!

TACParent said...

I'm not sure if this pertains ... but we are made up of mostly water. Without water there would be no life. Even Earth is mostly water. So the idea of water being connected to new life carries meaning that way as well. It is great symbolism.

Dymphna said...

Oh, that's right! That makes sense, doesn't it? And of course, the "waters" of gestation and birth tie into it as well.

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"Slavery ended in medieval Europe only because the church extended its sacraments to all slaves and then managed to impose a ban on the enslavement of Christians (and of Jews). Within the context of medieval Europe, that prohibition was effectively a rule of universal abolition. "— Rodney Stark

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