Theophany (The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ)
6th of January
The Orthodox Church celebrates the Baptism of our Lord by St John the Baptist in the river Jordan in the Holy Land on the sixth of January; this is considered as one of the greatest feasts of Orthodoxy.
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar — when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee” (Lk. 3,1), St John son of Zechariah “came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near'” (Mt. 3,1-2). St John called those who had come to him to repent of their sins, confess and be baptized in the river Jordan so as to show their decision to change their way of life.
One of those days “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me'” (Mt. 3,13-14)? This meant that St John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, knew that Jesus was sinless and superior to him. But “Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness'” (Mt. 3,15), i.e. to fulfil all God’s orders, including the one given to St John to baptize the Jews. “Then John consented” (Mt. 3,15), and Jesus was baptized in Jordan; but He came out of the water immediately, because He had no sins to confess like the rest of the people who stayed in the river as long as they were confessing their faults. This meant that Jesus was sinless and therefore the only person who could redeem mankind from evil.
Then, “as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased'” (Mk. 1,10-11).
This was a great moment in our Lord’s work for the salvation of men: He was going to start the work for which He had come to Earth, i.e. to teach the people and reveal the only true God to them, perform miracles and later be crucified and rise from the dead for our Salvation. The people had to be prepared for this: so God the Father testified that Jesus was His only-begotten Son through Whom forgiveness of sins would be given to men, I.e. Jesus was the expected Messiah. Also the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove – as this bird is very mild and harmless – confirmed that truth by coming upon the Lord.
Thus in Jesus’ Baptism the most important teaching of the Christian Church was revealed, the dogma of the Triune God, since the Son who had taken human nature was baptized in the river, the Holy Spirit appeared like a dove, and God the Father’s voice assured people that Jesus was His beloved Son through Whom Salvation would be brought about.
Soon after His Baptism, our Lord started His work; He was “proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come’, he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mk.1, 14-15)!
-From An Abridged Calendar of the Feasts of the Orthodox Church (including all the fixed feasts of our Lord and His Mother and selected Saints’ day based on authentic ecclesiastical sources) by M. Tsami-Dratsellas, vol. 1: January to June, Myrioviblos Publications: Athens, 2008.