Each year, on January 5th & 6th, Orthodox Christians celebrate the feast of Theophany (“Manifestation of God), also called Epiphany (Manifestation). The Feast, which celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ, comes after the celebration of His birth and can be understood as the beginning of Christ’s manifestation to the world as God’s Only-begotten Son, one of the Holy Trinity. Indeed, at Christ’s baptism, the three Persons of the Holy Trinity were revealed to mankind.
At first glance, the biblical narrative of Christ’s baptism may seem a nice story but of little consequence. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ancient Church attached profound and cosmic meaning to this beginning of Christ’s public ministry.
First, it is understood as part of the Lord’s condescension toward his sinful creatures. Although He is sinless, He accepts baptism at the hands of His creature (St. John the Baptist), emptying Himself of the glory due to Him by nature and identifying Himself completely with fallen and sinful humanity. His baptism has been called “the cross before the cross” inasmuch as He begins to take upon Himself the weight of our sin and forshadows the offering of Himself for us “even unto death” on the cross.
Secondly, at His baptism Jesus is explicitly and publicly attested to as God’s eternal and Only-begotten Son, being confirmed by the voice of God the Father and a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it is the most significant theophany of the Holy Trinity since the creation of the world.
Thirdly, Christ’s baptism has tangible, cosmic physical consequences. Instead of the waters purifying Him when He enters them, Christ purifies and sanctifies the waters. He enters into the material reality of His creation in order to redeem it and bring it back to it’s pristine glory and sanctity. In a sense, this feast is the Christian environmental celebration. We not only see God’s love for the whole physical creation, we being to participate in it’s renewal and sanctification. God reclaims creation for Himself and reestablishes the sacramental vocation of the material creation. It is by His baptism that Christian baptism (“of water and the Holy Spirit”) is inaugurated and made possible. As it was in Paradise, water once again becomes a means of cleansing and of union with God.
And so on the days of this feast, the Church (The “Body of Christ”) blesses the waters as a continuation of the Lord’s blessing of creation through His baptism. Through the Church, Christ’s incarnation and redemptive work are continued and renewed, and His members live and participate in them by the Holy Spirit. The blessing of drinking water allows us to receive the healing and sanctification imparted by Christ in His baptism. And the blessing of homes and other material objects with this water sanctifies the whole spectrum of our lives. The blessing of the waters of creation (rivers, lakes, etc.) renews the sanctification and victory over death initiated by Christ and extends it throughout the whole creation until the time that all things will be consummated and joined again perfectly to its Creator.