Monday, July 23, 2012
THE HUMILITY OF CHRIST: THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST IN THE JORDAN
This icon is of the Baptism of the Lord celebrated on the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6th) in both East and West along with the Visit of the Magi and the Miracle at Cana. St. John Chrysostom rightly points out that this is the real Theophany when the divinity of Christ is revealed through the testimony of the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Christ stands in the midst of the Jordan while the Spirit in the form of a dove descends upon Him and from the Father (represented by the square and half-cirlce at the very top) who dwells in inaccessible light. To the right the angels stand in awed reverence while John on the left reaches out to touch the Son, the Incarnate Word and Image of the Father.
In the Eastern rites both the Feast of Epiphany and its Forefeast are days for the Great Blessing of the Waters. First the water for baptism is blessed and then the waters of the world around us. Here are references to the Salvation won for us by Christ and made active in us through Baptism and to the sanctification not only of all water but of all creation by the Incarnation.
In this icon we see the Invisible God made visible descend into the water, the immaterial fire of His Divine Being unquenched, to be baptised by John the one He had created and called to be a prophet. This is He Who created water, from Whom the water and blood will flow, from Whom the ever-flowing and life-giving stream of the Spirit flows in to the world and He is engulfed in the Jordan. It is anticipation of His descent into the dark waters of death, into the unknown beyond the world of the living and His re-emergence in the Resurrection. At the back, behind John, Jesus and two disciples turn to speak to a smaller version of the Forerunner of God. Jesus raises His hand in blessing.
Also on the left an axe is laid by a tree a reference to Luke 3:9 (see Matt. 3:10) "For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down and cast into the fire" as well as to Isaiah 10:15 "Shall the axe boast itself against him that cutteth with it? or shall the saw exalt itself against him by whom it is drawn? as if a rod should lift itself up against him that lifteth it up, and a staff exalt itself, which is but wood." (Douay Rheims) Christ the Son, the Incarnate Word comes to Israel seeking the fruit of righteousness. Before He worked through John but now He works directly, pruning and clearing out His vineyard.
In His humility He seeks to set Himself ever lower. When He tells us to seek the lowest and least honourable place it is because He is inviting us to draw close to Him.