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Christ is Baptized! In the Jordan!

January 6, 2011

Sixteen of us celebrated the feast today at Divine Liturgy and thereafter shared a delicious festal agape. Last night, twenty-five persons gathered for Great Vespers and the Blessing of Water. Splashing water on each person’s head after they drank from the font and venerated the Holy Gospels, I recalled many joyous past occasions at this feast. Water anointing seems to bring out a more playful, or perhaps a surprised reaction, on the part of the recipient, as opposed to oil anointing. Here is a feast where getting wet – at least in a very small way – is clearly part of the event.

(Above: Bob Williams assists parishioners in filling bottles to bring some of the water back to their homes.)

What seems to be the central moment in these services, Vigil, Liturgy and Water Blessing, is the immersion of the Holy Cross into the water of the font. Few gestures or symbols bring together so much in such a powerful and moving way. Here we see Christ baptized, but it is neither the infant Christ nor as a thirty-year old man, it is Christ on the Cross. With this gesture, which strictly speaking is not historical, the Church offers an insight into the feast that is most helpful. Just as the swaddling clothes at the Nativity look forward to the winding sheet of his burial, and His Circumcision looks forward to the piercing of His flesh in the passion, the immersion of the Cross points to the close relationship between baptism, death and resurrection. As we are frequently reminded, baptism is a ritual drowning by which we can participate in Christ’s death and resurrection. But as well, with Our Lord’s baptism and particularly as seen in the Gospel from St. Matthew (Mt. 3: 13-17), Christ was aware of and obedient to the design of the Father. Thus it was necessary that He be baptized, even though He was truly blameless and without sin. The baptism was a baptism of acceptance of this plan, a plan that would involve His suffering, crucifixion and death. And it is these things that lead to the Holy Resurrection, what we anticipate and truly celebrate in this feast, because through baptism we are given to partake of the effects of the Holy Resurrection.

The wood of the first tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, standing at the center of the garden of paradise, was the source of mankind’s fall. In great contrast, the wood of the Cross has the opposite effect: it is the wood by which mankind is restored to its created destiny, to be in union with God. It is under the sign and image of this Cross that the water is sanctified before it is drunk, sprinkled and carried out of the Church to our homes, into our lives.

S’Prazdnikom!

Photos from our celebration of the feast are posted here.

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