Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
And when Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on Him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17 (Gospel of Epiphany)
Good morning Prayer Team!
The Feast we celebrate on January 6 is known by several names. One is the “Baptism of Christ.” This commemorates an event where Jesus Christ received baptism at the hands of Saint John the Baptist, taking part in a ritual that was part of the Jewish faith. Even though He had no sin, and thus did not need this ritual washing, He was fulfilling the conditions of the Law, even as He prepared to supersede them in His ministry.
The most commonly used name for today’s feast is “Epiphany.” If you look up the word “epiphany” in the dictionary, it means that something previously hidden or unknown is revealed. For example, through some intense life experience, a person might have an epiphany about what they are supposed to do with their life, or what life is all about. Sometimes this is called a “light bulb moment.” Epiphany is the revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and is the first public act of Christ’s ministry. Up until this point in history, the “Messiah” was written about in prophecy. This is the moment that the prophecy was fulfilled, the announcement of the Son of God to the whole world. (Of course, the prophecies were fulfilled with Christ’s Incarnation but that event was not witnessed by many.)
The most powerful term used for today’s feast is the “Theophany,” for this refers not only to the appearance of Christ, but the revelation of the rest of the Holy Trinity. To this point in these reflections, we have focused most specifically on Jesus Christ. At the moment of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by Saint John the Baptist, the Spirit of God alighted on His head in the form of a dove, and a voice was heard from heaven, saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The voice of the Father gives endorsement to the Son, who is about to begin His earthly ministry. This establishes the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. It also establishes the presence of the Holy Trinity towards mankind, as for the first time in human history, all are made known to people at the same time. Just as it was at the Creation of the world, all three are present for the “re-creation” of the world, through the baptism of Christ, which not only manifests the Holy Trinity, but re-consecrates Creation.
As we mark this feast of the manifestation of God at the baptism of Christ, let us spend a few moments speaking of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. In previous reflections, we have examined the “names” given to God the Son—Word, Son of Man, Son of God, Messiah, Savior, Jesus Christ, etc. Let us make comment on the names of the Father and the Spirit as well.
Jesus reveals God as “Father”: “For I have not spoken on My own authority; the Father who sent Me has Himself given Me commandment what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49)
God is revealed as Creator: “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 40:28)
God is called the “Almighty”: “When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless.’” (Genesis 17:1)
Jesus called God the Father “Abba”: “And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt.’” (Mark 14:26)
God the Father is never seen: “No one has ever seen God; the Only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.” (John 1:18) But the Father speaks and is heard. At the baptism: “And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:17) And at the Transfiguration: “And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.’” (Mark 9:7)
The Holy Spirit is known as the Counselor (in some translations He is referred to as the Comforter, and the Paraclete): “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to Your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
The Holy Spirit is also unseen but is made known in various ways. At the baptism, He appears as a dove: “And when Jesus came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.” (Mark 1:10) And at Pentecost, He appears as fire: “And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:24)
We began these reflections with the Creation of the world, how all three persons of the Trinity were present from before Creation and how all co-created everything that was created. The first chapter of humanity was the Old Testament, which included the Creation, the Fall, and the Prophecies of a Savior. Faith was based on the “old covenant” with God, based on commandments and laws.
The next chapter of humanity is the period of the New Testament, which includes the ministry of Christ, the New Covenant, and the path to salvation opened by the Crucifixion and Resurrection. The “prologue” to this chapter is the Incarnation, which was, as we now know, a relatively quiet affair. Jesus grew up as every other boy of His time did. The time of preparation now over, Jesus is revealed as the Christ to all of humanity, and thus begins His public ministry. The “re-creation” of the world is begun with His baptism. There is even a tradition that holds that the Jordan River reversed its course when Christ stepped into it, because the waters were afraid and in awe. And the “re-creation” begins as the Creation did, with an action of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As You were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, then the worship of the Trinity became manifest, for 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 certainty of the word. O Christ God, who appeared and illumined the world, glory to You. (Apolytikion of Epiphany, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Show the world how God has manifested Himself in your life!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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