Theophany and Theology

John Baggley writes in his book about the festal icons, that the Feast of Theophany and the Feast of Christmas are closely intertwined in Orthodox hymns and theology.

“The material creation is seen as ministering to Christ at his Baptism as it did at his Nativity; this text extends the ideas expressed in the Kontakion for Christ’s Nativity … :

O Lord, wishing to fulfill that which Thou hast appointed from eternity, Thou has received from all the creation ministers at this Thy mystery: Gabriel from among the angels, the Virgin from among men, the Star from among the heavens. and Jordan from among the waters; and in the stream Thou hast washed away the transgression of the world.

As in the Christmas liturgy there is a great stress on the humility and self-emptying of the Son of God in taking our humanity, coming to human birth and to his baptism, and following this path through to his death, descent into Hades, and resurrection from the dead. The influence of Philippians 2:5-11 is obvious: ‘Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men….’ As we have seen in earlier chapters this kenotic imagery and its paradoxes pervades a great deal of the Orthodox hymns for the feasts.

That Thou mightest fill all things with Thy glory, Thou hast emptied Thine own self, even unto the form of a servant. And now as a servant Thou dost bow down Thy head beneath the hand of the servant, granting me restoration and cleansing. Let us sing together the praises of Him who is beyond all understanding, who was in flesh made poor and came to baptism, working thereby our restoration, for He is God rich in mercy….”

(Festival Icons for the Christian Year, p 52)

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