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Water Blessing at North Melbourne Cathedral
Water Blessing at North Melbourne Cathedral

Christ Our Pascha – Catechism UGCC: Theophany

At the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan, the public ministry of the Saviour begins (see Mt 3; Mk 1). John the Baptist points to Christ in the Jordan and identifies Him as the “Lamb of God who takes away the  sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).

During the baptism of Jesus, the Most Holy Trinity is made known: “Worship of the Trinity was revealed; the voice of the Father bore witness to You, naming you the beloved Son, and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the word’s certainty.”

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“The voice of the Father” is the voice of the Heavenly Father, and the “Spirit in the form of a dove” is the Holy Spirit, who descends upon Christ, revealing him to be the Son of God. For this reason, Church tradition refers to the Baptism of Jesus Christ as the Theophany (from the Greek, meaning divine appearance).

Christmas Mass

 

The Theophany at the Jordan is liturgically connected with the feast of the Nativity. In her celebration of both these events, Church tradition emphasizes that both the Incarnation and the Baptism of the Lord are when God appears (in Greek, theophania). In accordance with the text of the Great Blessing of Water at Theophany, “in the preceding feast we have seen you as a babe, and in this present feast as perfect human, appearing as our perfect God.” At the Nativity, God the Word “was born,” but now he “appears in the flesh to the human race.” At the Nativity, the “Sun of Righteousness” rose, and now it “shines forth.” In the liturgical tradition of the Church, the feast of Theophany is also called the feast of Illumination. The sticheras of the feast of Theophany elucidate the bond between the feasts of the Nativity and Theophany: What was announced by the angel is now announced to the people by the Baptist; the spilling of infant blood caused Bethlehem to become childless, but through the sanctified waters of baptism, the Jordan now has many children. What was announced by the star to the magi in Bethlehem is now revealed to the world by the Father himself.

In Holy Scripture, water is a symbol of elemental forces and death, and simultaneously a symbol of cleansing, rebirth, life, and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The Son of God, “who covers himself with light as with a garment … today is covered by the streams of the Jordan.” Christ himself “has no need to be cleansed by them; but through the cleansing that he him-self receives he bestows regeneration on us.”168 “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness’” (Mt 3:13-15). The God-man enters into the Jordan waters: “As a man he came to be baptized, and the Jordan feared him as God and turned back. As a man he bared himself and entered the water, and the Father testified that he was God, saying: ‘This is my beloved Son.’”

Christ brings regeneration to humankind, and he chooses the waters of the Jordan to signify this. In Holy Scripture, water is a symbol of elemental forces and death, and simultaneously a symbol of cleansing, rebirth, life, and the grace of the Holy Spirit. By means of water, God “drowned sin… in the days of Noah… [and] at the hand of Moses he set free the Hebrew nation from the bondage of Pharaoh… [and] by fire and water through Elijah brought back Israel from the error of Baal.” By immersion into water (baptism), Christ washes away the record of Adam’s sins. The waters of the Jordan regenerate all creation. In the Jordan, Christ “has renewed through water and the Spirit our nature grown old through sin.”

In the Ukrainian Christian tradition, the symbolism of Jordan water is closely connected with the memory of the Baptism of Rus-Ukraine by Grand Prince Volodymyr.

“Transformed into waters of healing,” the waters of the Jordan become “a source of incorruption.” For by means of water, God offers to the world “a salvation of baptism.” Upon receiving it, a human being and all creation are filled with “mysterious streams.” With the sanctification of the human being begins the sanctification and eschatological (from the Greek, meaning final ) transfiguring of creation.

In the Ukrainian Christian tradition, the symbolism of Jordan water is closely connected with the memory of the Baptism of Rus-Ukraine by Grand Prince Volodymyr. The river Dnipro, in which the people of Kyiv were baptized, is figuratively called the “Ukrainian Jordan.” On the feast of Theophany in Ukraine, an ice cross is erected as a sign and a memorial of baptism; during the Great Blessing of Water, three tri-ple-branched candles are immersed into the waters. Bringing the holy water home, the faithful partake of it at the beginning of the Theophany Eve supper Shchedryi vechir (Ukrainian, meaning Abundantly Generous Eve). They bless their homes and farms, and keep the water throughout the year to partake of it, and to bless themselves in times of difficulty and illness.

Ukrainian Catholic Church, Christ – Our Pascha

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