It is during the church season of Ephiphany that the Orthodox Church celebrates the baptism of Jesus during an annual feast called Theophany. The overarching theme of the season of Epiphany is Jesus manifesting himself as God (the English word, epiphany is translated from a Greek word for manifestation).
The original meaning of the word “Theophany” describes an appearance of a god to humanity. During Theophany, we remember the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism and how God’s presence was manifest in Christ and further accentuated by a dove (Holy Spirit) and a voice from heaven (Father).
After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” – Matthew 3:16-17
So what? I’m not Orthodox! (neither am I)
Baptism, by-and-large, has been mistranslated by a rugged American individualism into a ritual of an individual’s testimony of belief in Christ instead of a person being a partaker of Christ’s baptism and death (my friend Drew has really been unpacking our participation in Christ’s baptism from Romans 6 in his blog). The feast of Theophany reminds us of why our baptism matters. It assures us of the Trinitarian testimony of Jesus’ own baptism. It reminds us that we are baptized into a community of believers, the body of Christ. It is fitting that Theophany is a feast, because Christ’s baptism led to the cross and our baptism leads to the the table of Holy Communion.
As Thomas A Kempis puts it in his poem, O Love, How Deep:
O Love, how deep, how broad, how high,
It fills the heart with ecstasy,
that God, the Son of God, should take
our mortal form for mortal’s sake.
For us he was baptized, and bore
his holy fast, and hungered sore;
for us tempation sharp he knew,
for us the tempter overthrew.
For us he rose from death again;
for us he went on high to reign;
for us he sent his Spirit here,
to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.
To him whose boundless love has won
salvation for us through his Son,
to God the Father, glory be
both now and through eternity.