The River Jordan’s Witness to God


An ancient Syriac poem has the River Jordan talking and describing its experience of the baptism of Christ.  The River Jordan is often anthropomorphized in icons of Theophany, so it is not surprising to find poems in which the Jordan speaks for it encountered God when Jesus entered into the river to be baptized by John the Forerunner.

“In me did the Only-Begotten Son reside,

over me was the exalted Father revealed,

upon me did the living Spirit descend

in deed and not just in word.

In me have all debts been cancelled,

in me all those baptized receive salvation,

in me all fountains are blessed

– in deed and not just in word.

Theophany2The seas and rivers grew weak

as astonishment fell upon them,

and victory was the Jordan’s

in deed and not just in word.”

(Anonymous,  Treasure-house of Mysteries: Explorations of the Sacred Text Through Poetry in the Syriac Tradition, pg. 35)

Numerous Orthodox hymns and poems from Orthodox theologians anthropomorphize inanimate objects or towns or animals to have them bear witness to God.  We find such language also in the Scriptures themselves.   The Orthodox Church in its hymns for Theophany famously makes use of Psalm 114 which has the sea fleeing and Jordan deciding to flow backwards when it encounters God.

When Israel went forth from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea looked and fled, Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs? Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.   (Psalm 114)

The presence of God in Orthodox poetry brings to life everything  in creation and every aspect of creation consciously chooses to serve the Creator.  The question raised of course is that all of creation serves God, why don’t we?


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