Hopko: Epiphany

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Jan 6, 2002, 8:59:15 AM1/6/02
The Lord's Epiphany in the Jordan

Like the liturgical celebration of the Lord's Nativity, the festival of
His Epiphany in the Jordan at the time of His baptism is inaugurated
with a prefeast celebration of five days. And also like the services of
the Nativity, many hymns of the Epiphany prefeast are patterned after
those of the springtime Pascha of the Lord's death and resurrection.
Once again just a few words in many of the songs are changed from those
sung during Holy Week in order to glorify the present mystery.

Come, 0 faithful,
Having enjoyed the Master's hospitality,
The Banquet of Immortality in the lowly manger,
Let us run to the Jordan,
There to see a strange mystery.
Revealing the Light from on high.1

The feast of Christ's Birth has passed;
It shone more brightly than the sun.
The day of His Epiphany is coming;
That day will be even more radiant.
There the shepherds gave glory with angels,
Worshipping God made man.
Here John's right hand will touch the Master
As he cries out in fear:
Sanctify both me and the waters,
0 Only Merciful One !2

Compline of the third day of the prefeast of the Epiphany, January 4.
2Matins of the first day of the prefeast of the Epiphany, January 2.

The feast which passed was radiant,
But the coming one is even more glorious!
There the Magi worshipped the Savior;
Here the servant baptizes the Master.
There the shepherds saw the Child and were amazed;
Here the voice of the Father proclaims the only-begotten Son !~

As we have seen, the word "epiphany" means "manifesta-tion" or
"appearance." It is used for the event of Christ's baptism because it
was in the Jordan, being baptized by John the Forerunner, that Jesus
appeared to the world and mani-fested Himself as the Messiah, the Son of
God, one of the Holy Trinity.
The Lord's first public appearance takes place at His bap-tism for very
good reason. Baptism is the symbol of death and resurrection; Christ
came to the earth in order to die and be raised. Baptism is a symbol of
repentance of sin, and its forgiveness; Christ came as the Lamb of God
who takes upon Himself the sin of the world in order to take it away.
Baptism is a symbol of sanctification; Christ has come to sanctify the
whole of creation. Baptism is a symbol, finally, of radical renewal.
When one is baptized the old is over and the new has come. And Christ
has appeared on earth to bring all things to an end, and to make all
things new. The act of baptism, therefore, contains in symbol the entire
mystery of Christ, the whole purpose of His coming.
Christ did not need to be baptized for Himself. This is made perfectly
clear in the gospels. He had to be baptized for our sake, in order "to
fulfill all righteousness" (Mt 3:15).

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, 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 thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he
consented. And when Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the
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."
(Mt 3:13-17)

The baptism of John was a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of
sins." The people came to John for baptism "confessing their sins" (Mk
1:4-5). The Lord Jesus had no need of repentance. As God's Son in human
flesh He com-mitted no sin. His baptism, therefore, manifests His
complete identification with His sinful creatures. He literally becomes
one of us, not only in our humanity, but in our sinfulness; not only in
our life on earth, but also in our death. For as the apostle Paul has
written, "For our sake He [God the Father] made Him to be sin who knew
no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor

But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels,
crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that
by the grace of God He might taste death for every one. . . . Since
there-fore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise
partook of the same nature, that through death He might destroy him who
has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who
through fear of death were subject to lifelong bond-age. . . . Therefore
He had to be made like His brethren in every respect, so that He might
become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to
make expiation for the sins of the people.
(Heb 2:9, 14-15, 17)

In the Church's celebration of the Lord's Epiphany in the Jordan, the
faithful are enabled to see Jesus made like them in every respect,
entering the waters to identify with their fallen condition in order to
bring it to an end and to create them anew for life in the kingdom of
God. They become
convinced through this liturgical experience that He is indeed the
Christ, the Son of the Living God, who has come to save the world.

Let us assemble in spirit, 0 faithful,
At the streams of the Jordan
That we may behold a great and mighty wonder.
We shall see the Creator of all made manifest
As He comes to be baptized.4
Let us pass, 0 faithful,
>From Bethlehem to Jordan.
For behold, the Light which came into the darkness,
There begins to overcome the night.5

Let us, the guests of God's banquet, Who feasted in Bethlehem, Giving
glory to the incarnate Lord with the angels, wise
men, and shepherds,
Now proceed in the spirit to the Jordan
To see Christ perform a great mystery.
Let us exalt Him throughout all ages.6

Your coming in the flesh, O Christ,
Fulfilled the law
And accomplished the first act of salvation.
Now in Your compassion You come to the Jordan;
Your head is bowed to the Baptist
And the completion of Your work is begun.
Cry out in faith, 0 people:
Blessed is our God made manifest!
Glory to You !7

4Vespers of the second day of the prefeast of the Epiphany. January 3.
5 Matins of the second day of the prefeast of the Epiphany, January 3.
6Compline of the third day of the prefeast of the Epiphany, January 4.
7Matins of the second day of the prefeast of the Epiphany, January 3.

[Taken from, "The Winter Pascha," by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, SVS
Press, available at: 800-204-book.]

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