Baptismal Waters are the Jordan River

During any Baptismal Serivice or during the Great Blessing of Water in the Orthodox Church we pray that the waters before us – and any water we are blessing – might become imbued with the blessing of the Jordan.   We pray that the waters in our church might become those of the Jordan River.

This petition in prayer is based upon an ancient Christian idea about what the Jordan River really is (and here we again see how theology takes us beyond any literalist thinking into the realm of poetic theological reality).   St. Gregory of Nyssa writes about the River Jordan (the reference to Jesus Son of Nave is to Joshua Son of Nun.  Jesus Son of Nave is how Joshua is called in the Septuagint and thus the Patristic writers readily saw Joshua as a type of Christ.  In our English translations of the bible we lose this typological reference because we use the name Joshua):

“For indeed the river of grace flows everywhere.  It does not rise in Palestine to disappear in some nearby sea: it spreads over the whole earth and flows into Paradise, flowing in the opposite direction to those four rivers which come from Paradise, and bringing in things far more precious than those which come forth.   …  Imitate Jesus, the son of Nave.  Bear the Gospel, as he bore the ark.  Leave behind the desert, that is, sin: cross the Jordan, and hasten to the life according to the commands of Christ; hasten to that land which brings forth fruits of joy, where flow, as was promised, milk and honey.  Overturn Jericho, your former way of life, and do not let it be built up again.  All these things are types for us, all prefigure truths which are now revealed…”

Jean Danielou commenting on the above quote of St. Gregory writes:

But there is another interesting point in St. Gregory of Nyssa.  The Jordan is shown in a new light.  It is no longer through as the river which flows into the Dead Sea, but as a mythical river, which encircles the whole world and is contrasted with the mythical rivers of Paradise.  We are brought up against the junction of the idea of the Jordan as the source of Baptism . . . the idea found in all Christian ligurgies that all baptismal water is the Jordan … Jordan, as the frontier between the world of the sense and the spiritual world…”   (Jean Danielou, FROM SHADOWS TO REALITY: STUDIES IN THE BIBLICAL TYPOLOGY OF THE FATHERS, pp  271-272)

Thus our Orthodox liturgical prayer preserves an idea that was common in the ancient Church.  When we pray over water to bless it in the Church we are praying that the water, and thus ourselves, might be lifted beyond this world into the world as God intended it to be.   This means freeing our thinking from the limits of literalism into the truth of theology. For theology reveals to us the spiritual world which is ever present on earth, yet often hidden from our eyes.

Post-Apostolic Writings on Virtue

In the generation of Christians which followed the first apostles, we can find some of the ethical teachings and concern which were emphasized by these new converts to Christianity.

The Didache (1st C  AD) teaches:

“Commit no murder, adultery, sodomy, fornication, or theft. Practise no magic, sorcery, abortion, or infanticide. See that you do no covet anything your neighbor possesses, and never be guilty or perjury, false witness, slander or malice. Do not equivocate in thought or speech, for a double tongue is a deadly snare…you must resist any temptation to hypocrisy, spitefulness, or superiority. You are to have no malicious designs on a neighbor.”

In the Epistle of Barnabas (2nd C AD) we are taught:

“ Practise singleness of heart,  and a richness of the spirit….Abhor anything that is displeasing to God, and hold every form of hypocrisy in detestation. Be sure that you never depart from the commandments of the Lord. Do not exaggerate for your own importance, but be modest at all points, and never claim credit for yourself. Cherish no ill-natured designs upon your neighbor. Forbid yourself any appearance of presumption. Commit no fornication, adultery, or unnatural vice…Never be in two minds…Love your neighbor more than yourself. Never do away with an unborn child.” (Frances Young, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture, pg.132)