This is the last blog of three looking at the imagery found in the Orthodox hymns of Theophany. The previous blog: Hymns of Theophany: The Jordan Fleeing God. In this blog we will consider disparate images from various hymns which are used around the Feast of Theophany in the Orthodox Church. First, from the Theophany Matins Canon:
With the trembling and wonder of heaven, the angelic powers stood by the Jordan, beholding God’s great condescension: how He Who holds dominion over the waters above the firmament stood in the waters in bodily form! He Who is the God of our fathers!
One of the common themes of Theophany hymns is the incarnation: God is in the flesh standing in the Jordan River. In the hymn above it is the angels who marvel over the mystery of the Lord of creation standing in the waters He created. Theophany theologically affirms the incarnation of God: God is present in the midst of His people. The Forerunner John when baptizing Jesus is physically immersing a human in the waters. And, the hymn affirms that this Christ is not merely like God but is fully God: for standing in the river is the One who has dominion over the firmament of the heavens and the chaos the waters symbolize.
From the Matins of the Eve of Theophany, Christ again is affirmed as the creator of Adam:
“You fashioned the first-created man; now he is cleansed by baptism, O Christ! You have wrapped the vault of heaven in clouds, You are clothed with light as with a garment, yet now You are seen naked in Jordan’s streams. You uphold all things in Your hands, but now You are held in the Baptist’s grasp.”
Christ as God creates Adam at the beginning of creation and then recreates the fallen Adam in the incarnation. Adam’s sins are washed away in Christ’s baptism. Here again we see the ancient Christian idea that it is not the crucifixion alone which saves us, but from the time of the Annunciation, we are being saved in and through the incarnation. Christ as God is clothed with light as with a garment, and yet as man is also clothed in human flesh and stands naked in the Jordan, reminiscent of Adam’s own nakedness before God after the fall.
“Once You clothed the shameful nakedness of our forefather Adam; now You are stripped naked of Your own will! You covered the roof of heaven with waters; Now You wrap Yourself in the streams of Jordan, only merciful Christ.”
The hymns of Theophany continue a pattern of thinking which we see at Christmas and which was popular in early Christian thinking: in every way imaginable Christ undoes what Adam did in the Fall. Adam through sin lost his glorious robe and stood naked before God. Orthodox thinking usually attributes the anthropomorphic acts of God found in the Old Testament to the pre-incarnate Christ. It is Christ who clothed the naked Adam long ago, but who now voluntarily humbles Himself and appears naked before all in His baptism. We see in both of the above hymns the contrasts between Christ who created the heavens and the earth (Hebrews 1:2,10; 11:3) and the Christ who appears humbly as a human, though still the incarnate God.
Theophany not only affirms the incarnation but also proclaims the theology of the the Holy Trinity. Christ is one of the Holy Trinity who has become incarnate. Christ comes to save not only humanity but all of creation. Theophany is completely a feast of Trinitarian theology. For we encounter in the Feast the voice of the Father, the Spirit in the form of a dove, and Christ the incarnate Word of God.
“The same waters that existed at the beginning of the Old Creation are present at the beginning of the New Creation, only they must now be exorcised of the demonic presence. It is not that Christ’s body is cleansed in the Jordan, but, rather, it is that Christ purifies the waters and prepares them for the Holy Spirit, who sweeps over them to engender new life within them as it did in the beginning.” (Vigen Guroian, The Melody of Faith: Theology in an Orthodox Key, Kindle Loc. 226-29)
A final image from Theophany: a couple of weeks ago I offered a blog which looked at the relationship between the light and the lamp and the differences between them as presented in the scriptures, Lamp and Light. In Proverbs the lamp is called the commandment while the light is the teaching. In Revelation, the lamb of God is the lamp and the glory of God is the light. In one of the hymns from the 1st Royal Hour of Theophany, we encounter another lamp and light image:
The Forerunner cried out with trembling, saying: “How shall the lamp illumine the Light?”
Christ is the Light of the world – baptism is called holy illumination in Tradition. Christ at Theophany in His baptism illumines the world.