Baptized into Christ

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” And baptism into Christ means incorporated into the diverse community of fellow baptized, co-crucified, co-resurrected, justified inhabitants of Christ”  (Gal 3:28).

. . . justification is an experience of both death and resurrection, and both must be stressed. But the resurrection to new life it incorporates is a resurrection to an ongoing state of crucifixion: I “have been” crucified means I “still am” crucified. Therefore, justification by faith must be understood first and foremost as a participatory crucifixion that is, paradoxically, life-giving (cf. 2 Cor 4:7-15). The one who exercises faith, and is there by crucified with Christ, is systauroo in Gal 2:19 – as in Rom 6:6), because he or she is animated by the resurrected Christ, who always remains for Paul (and the New Testament more generally) the crucified Christ (e.g., 1 Cor 2:2; cf. John 20:20, 27; Rev. 5:6). As Miroslav Volf says in commenting on this text, the self “is both ‘de-centered’ and ‘re-centered’ by one and the same process, by participating in the death and resurrection of Christ through faith and baptism…” Volf continutes:

By being ‘crucified with Christ,’ the self has received a new center – the Christ who lives in it and with whom it lives…The center of the self – a center that is both inside and outside – is the story of Jesus Christ, who has become the story of the self. More precisely, the center is Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected who has become part and parcel of the very structure of the self.

This understanding of faith as crucifixion is reinforced by Paul’s insistence that the believer’s experience (narrated representatively by Paul in first-person texts) is not only a death with Christ but also a death to the Law (Gal 2:19), to the world (Gal 6:14), and of the flesh (Gal 5:24). The mention of death of the flesh and to the world also demonstrates that Gal 2:15-21 should not be read only as a Jewish experience of liberation from the Law. Rather, every believer begins and continues his or her existence in Christ by co-crucifixion. Gal 2:19-21 suggests that co-crucifixion is both the way in and the way to stay in the convent.

Once again, we must stress that it is the resurrected crucified Christ with whom believers are initially and continually crucified. This is important, both christologically and soteriologically, in two ways. First, as an experience of the risen or resurrected Christ, co-crucifixion is not merely a metaphor but an apt description of an encounter with a living person whose presence transforms and animates believers: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me by giving himself for me.” As Douglas Campbell says, this is no mere imitatio Christi! For “God is not asking [believers]…to imitate Christ – perhaps an impossible task – so much as to inhabit or to indwell him,” such that “the Spirit of God is actively reshaping the Christian into the likeness of Christ.”

(Michael J. Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, pp. 70-71)

Christ Ascending and Descending

The Sunday after Theophany

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended” – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.    (Ephesians 4:7-13)

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Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  (Matthew 4:12-17)

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Our Epistle today, Ephesians 4:7-13, quoting from Psalm 68:18, mentions Christ  ascending and descending.  He ascended to God’s throne above the heavens after His resurrection, and also descended into Hades upon His death on the cross.   This Ephesians reading for the Sunday after Theophany is tying together for us several ideas that the Church wishes to emphasize in its proclamation of the Good News.   Of course there is that cosmic picture of Christ who is God the Word descending to earth to be born in a cave and laid in an animal manger  – an event we celebrate as the Nativity of Christ.  But Christ continued His descent, dying on the cross, being buried and descending into Hades to free all the dead from imprisonment and slavery to Satan.  Christ ascended from Hades to appear on earth to show us all His resurrection.  He then continued His ascent all the way to the throne of God’s Kingdom above the heavens.

And this cosmic picture of Christ ascending from Hades to the height of heaven which is also our salvation is foreshadowed in the events of Christ’s descending at his baptism down into the Jordan River and then ascending out of the River to be proclaimed God’s own son.  Baptism as we all should know is exactly an image of being buried beneath the waters and then raised from the dead to new life.   Christ foreshadows his death and resurrection with His dying and rising at his baptism in the River Jordan.

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Additionally, at the baptism of Christ, the feast we call Theophany, the Holy Trinity is revealed to us as well as to the entire world.  This is the great Light which has dawned for us that is mentioned today’s Gospel lesson.

The connection between Theophany and Christ’s descent into Hades was made at one point in Orthodox history when numerous Orthodox churches took to painting on the back (west) wall of the Church, two icon frescos, one on top of the other.  The upper panel/fresco had the Baptism of Christ from Theophany in which the Trinity is revealed to us.  Beneath that icon was the icon of Christ’s Descent into Hades with those saved souls looking up to the icon of the Baptism of Christ.  They understood the Baptism of Christ was the prefiguring of His descent into Hades.  In those churches with the large fresco icons one on top of the other, the door to the church was located in Hades as well.  On Holy Saturday, the congregation in the church would watch as the newly baptized were brought into the church literally passing through their own death and sojourn to Hades where they were united to and saved by Christ.  All of that is still remembered in our Church on Holy Friday when we enter the church after our procession and all pass beneath the winding sheet and we have the ideas that we are passing into the tomb of Christ as into Hades itself where we proclaim and celebrate the resurrection!

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The Epistle mentions Christ leading the captives out and bestowing on them gifts.   We understand this as our being led out of imprisonment in Hades, slaves to death.  The gifts given to us are those Christ bestows on His church as mentioned in today’s epistle.

Christ creates the Church and all the offices of the Church and gives spiritual gifts for all the personnel He needs to carry on His ministry.  He gives us spiritual gifts so that we can accomplish His will on earth.   For Christ passes on to us that we as members of the parish and as members of the Body of Christ are to be the light of the world:

46718055141_fe4d57b0f9_n“You are the light of the world.  . .  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.   (Matthew 5:14-16)

The Great light which has dawned and which people see is not Christ alone, but us as the Body of Christ.  All of us united to Christ as His Body, the Church, for as St. Paul says in 1 Cor 3:16

 – You (plural) are God’s temple.  You (people) have God’s Spirit living in us.

The Church is not a building, but the people of God.  The Church is you and I doing God’s will on earth.

When people come and see the Orthodox Church, they might come and look at the beautiful, interesting and ancient icons on the walls of the building, but they should come to see the living temple, the living icons – namely you!

It is not the building that makes us Orthodox.  It is not the building that makes the Orthodox Church.  It is you people, the parishioners, the members of this parish!

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We extend an invitation to others to come and see the Orthodox Church, we should also be inviting them to see

How we live

How we love God and neighbor

How we worship God.

How we love one another.

How we are like Christ.

People need to come here not only to see icons or to see the Liturgy and Orthodox worship but to see us –

To see:

24765159445_b73aee26d1_nLove               Faith

Hope              Joy

Beauty           Light

Truth             Peace

In us!

St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 –

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  . . .  For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.

God entrusts us to make His Holiness present on earth and available to all who wish to enter into Communion with Him.  God wants us to be witnesses to the Light, but also to be that Light to the world.

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The Forerunner John and Knowing One’s Limits

“Yet as John is baptizing, Jesus approaches, perhaps also to sanctify the baptizer, and certainly to bury all the old Adam in the water, but before these things and for the sake of these things to sanctify the Jordan. As indeed he was spirit and flesh, so he initiates by the Spirit and the water. The baptizer does not accept it; Jesus debates [with him]. ‘I need to be baptized by you,‘ the lamp says to the sun, the voice to the Word, the friend to the bridegroom, the one above all born of women to the firstborn of all creation, the one who leaped in the womb to the one worshiped in the womb, the one who was and will be the Forerunner to the one who was and will be manifest.

I need to be baptized by you...’”

(Gregory Nazianzus, Festal Orations, pp. 91-92)

Many Patristic writers were particularly taken by the dialogue between Jesus and John the Forerunner when Christ came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.  It is a dialogue only St. Matthew reports in Matthew 3:13-17 –

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The Patristic writers saw in John great humility as he recognizes his Lord and Master.  They saw John as the creature being awed and fearful at the presence of his Creator.  They saw John marveling at how the sinless One desires to be baptized for the remission of sins.  John recognizes his own need for salvation and God’s grace, but submits to God’s will even if he can’t fathom its depth, meaning or purpose.  They saw John’s hand trembling as he but a servant places his hand on the head of the Master to submerge the Creator under the waters of His own creation.  They saw John worried about whether this was the right thing to do but knowing he as servant needed to obey what Christ the Lord said.

Everything Jesus Does Is a Sacrament

“…each thing that Jesus accomplished, no matter how apparently insignificant, had salvific effects.

‘Everything that Jesus does,’ writes Jerome in his explanation of why the Gospel of Mark found it necessary to record the detail that Jesus rode on an ass when he entered Jerusalem, ‘is a sacrament. He is our salvation For if the Apostle tells us, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever else you do, do all things in the name of the Lord” [1 Corinthians 10:31], are not these much more our sacraments, when the Savior walks or eats or sleeps?’ As the Gospels themselves indicate, the dynamism or radiant energy possessed by Christ extended also to his clothing, which Hilary comments on apropos of the story of the healing of the woman with the flow of blood in Matthew 9:20-22: “The power abiding in his body added a health-giving quality to perishable things, and a divine efficacy even when as far as the fringes of his garments. For God was not divisible and able to be contained, as if he could be shut up in a body.”

A striking instance of the energy that radiated from Christ, finally, is associated with his baptism in the Jordan River. Jesus’ mere physical contact with the Jordan was enough to cleanse it and, along with it, all the waters of the earth, so as to make them suitable in turn for cleaning those who would be baptized. We find this idea as early as the beginning of the second century in Ignatius of Antioch and frequently thereafter.

(Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers, pp. 83-84)

Blessing Water

At Theophany we Orthodox bless water, a practice for Christians that can be traced to the early church.   We also bless water before every baptism reciting many of the same prayers and ideas at both services.  The Apostolic Constitutions, a Christian document from the 4th Century, mentions the blessing of water before a baptism:

“… let the priest even now call upon in baptism, and let him say:

Look down from heaven, and sanctify this water, and give it grace and power, that so he that is to be baptized, according to the command of Your Christ, may be crucified with Him, and may die with Him, and may be buried with Him, and may rise with Him to the adoption which is in Him, that he may be dead to sin and live to righteousness.

And after this, when he has baptized him in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, he shall anoint him with ointment…”     (Kindle Loc. 3817-21)

In the prayer, baptism is clearly our dying with Christ – we are identifying ourselves with Christ, to be crucified with Him and die with Him and be buried with Him so that we can rise with Him to eternal life.  The prayer asks God to grant this sanctifying power to the baptismal waters, not just to the rite of baptism.  The incarnation is our salvation – we are saved in, with and by creation itself.  The spiritual life is not separating ourselves from the physical world but rather transfiguring the physical world to be the spiritual reality which God created.  Theophany is revealing God to us, but also revealing that creation itself is meant to be for our salvation.  Faith is not just a noetic exercise: it is the transformation of our bodies, the formation of our hearts and souls , not just the informing of our minds.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.    (Romans 6:3-11)

The Warmth of Putting on Christ

Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great! You are clothed with honor and majesty, who covers yourself with light as with a garment…   (Psalm 104:1-2)

A very common idea among early Christians and also found in ancient Jewish writings is that Adam and Eve in Paradise were clothed with garments of light, given to them by God.

These garments were removed from them when they sinned, and thus they became aware of their nakedness and tried to cover themselves with leaves and hide themselves in the trees so that they would not have to stand naked before God.  The reversal of this in the early Church occurred when each person undressed before their baptism.  In baptism, they had nothing to hide, having confessed their sins (unlike Adam and Eve who tried to hide themselves and the fact that they had sinned), and so could stand naked before God and feel no shame.  Following baptism, a special white garment was placed on the newly baptized signifying their putting on the garments of light again.  And we sing the words of Galatians 3:27 – “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

As one early Syriac Christian notes:

At  the incarnation the Son ‘put on body’, and at His baptism in the Jordan He deposits the garment of glory in the river, so that it becomes once again available for human beings to put on. (Treasure House of Mysteries, p. 16)

Thus the baptism of Christ which we Orthodox commemorate in the Feast of Theophany is organically connected to our own baptisms.  Christ, the incarnate God, is clothed in the garment of glory since He has not sinned.  In His baptism, it is Christ who sanctifies the water rather than being sanctified by the water.  In the Syriac Christian tradition, Christ deposits the garment of glory into the Jordan River.  Before we baptize the catechumens, we pray over the water that God will send down upon the water “the blessing of Jordan”.  That blessing is the garment of glory which the baptized receive as they emerge from the triune baptism.

St. Romanos the Melodist writes poetically:

In Galilee of the nations, in the country of Zavulon and the land of Naphthalim,

as the prophet said, a great light has shone – Christ.

For the darkened, a shining beam has appeared, blazing out of Bethlehem,

or, rather, out of Mary – the Lord, the sun of justice,

has made his rays dawn on the whole inhabited world.

Therefore let us all, Adam’s naked children,

put him on that we may be kept warm;

for as a covering for the naked and a light for the darkened

you have come, you have appeared,

the unapproachable Light.

(On the Life of Christ, p. 80)

Romanos’ poem is sung at the Matins of Theophany as the Ikos hymn after the sixth ode of the Festal Canon.

The Jordan River: Giving Birth to Christ

Thoughts about the Feast of Theophany from St. Ephrem the Syrian:

Ephrem’s second standpoint shows a more specific concern to associate Christ’s baptism with Christian baptism. In a remarkable hymn on Christ in the river Jordan and in the womb of Mary Ephrem links these two aspects: Christ’s baptism in ‘the womb’ of the Jordan looks back in time to His conception in Mary’s womb. Both wombs, Mary’s and the Jordan’s, by bearing Christ the Light, are clothed with light from His presence within them; Mary’s womb thus becomes the source of her own baptism, the Jordan’s womb becomes the fountainhead of Christian baptism:

The river in which Christ was baptized

conceived Him again symbolically;

the moist womb of the water

conceived Him in purity,

bore him in chastity,

made Him go up in glory.

In the pure womb of the river

you should recognize Mary, the daughter of humanity,

who conceived having known no man,

who gave birth without intercourse,

who brought up, through a gift,

The Lord of that gift.

 

As the Daystar in the river,

the Bright One in the tomb,

He shone forth on the mountain top

and gave brightness too in the womb;

He dazzled as He went up from the river,

gave illumination at His ascent.

The brightness which Moses put on

was wrapped on him from without.

whereas the river in which Christ was baptized

was clothed in light from within;

so too did Mary’s body, in which he resided,

gleam from within.

(Sebastian Brock, The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of Saint Ephrem the Syrian, pp. 91-92)

The Son and the Sons of God

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.  (Galatians 4:4-7)

When St. Paul wrote his epistles, he refers to Jesus as God’s son, and also refers to us Christians as “sons.”  For our modern sensitivities and for the sake of political correctness, we might prefer to refer to Jesus as God’s child and to believers as God’s children so that women and daughters do not feel left out of the Church by the patriarchal language Paul uses.   Yet the differences in our modern understanding and that of St. Paul about sons and daughters can also help us better understand the exact point Paul is trying to make.

St Paul is not making a point that women/daughters are less valued that males/sons, for it is this same St Paul who stresses in this same letter that in Christ “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).   And our Lord Jesus Himself said,  “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).  Angels have no gender, and Christ seems to imply that in heaven, in the resurrection, gender no longer matters – an ideal which monasticism tried to live out in its celibacy, its desire to live the angelic life in the flesh, and in the stories of the women saints who strove to live as men.

What St Paul is doing with his emphasis on sonship is to take the assumed values of his time to show that the rights and privileges of the son are being extended to all believers.  Sons, in the world that he knew, “sons” had special rights and privileges when it came to inheritance, that daughters did not have.  He is saying the values of the Kingdom of God are different from the values of the world, because in the Kingdom, all those who believe are adopted with the same rights as a son has – all will receive their full inheritance in the Kingdom.

So though our cultural understanding of inheritance is different than his, and we think of sons and daughters both having rights of inheritance, in Paul’s world this was not the case.   He knows what the rights and privileges of a son are in his world and he is making the clear connect that Jesus is the first-born son of the Father with all the rights and privileges that comes with that position, and we each and all, male and female, have been adopted by God with the full rights of sons of the Father.

In the ancient world, there were clear differences regarding inheritance for sons, daughters and slaves.  St. Paul’s exact point is that within that understanding of inheritance, we are being adopted as sons with all the rights of inheritance of sons.  We are not being adopted either as daughters or as slaves with the diminished rights they would have had in Paul’s world.

We can call to mind the parable Jesus tells of the Prodigal Son  (Luke 15:11-32) who wishes to return to his father’s house with nothing more than the status of a servant.  The Prodigal  knows he is not a son. He has not behaved like a son but disowned his father by claiming his inheritance before his father had died.   However in the parable, his father welcomes him as a son (my son who was dead is alive!).  The father treats the prodigal as a son, not a captured runaway slave.  And this is made even more notable by the reaction of the older brother who wants nothing to do with his prodigal brother.  The father claims the prodigal as a son, but the elder brother rejects him as a brother, though recognizing his brother is the son of his father [“this son of yours” (Luke 15:30)].  What the elder brother is not willing to accept is that his brother has any filial right of inheritance left.  Note the Prodigal son demanded his inheritance as if the father was dead, but the father welcomes the son back as if the son had been dead!  The Father shows how a son is treated and welcomed.  This is what it is to be called God’s sons, even if adopted.  This is Paul’s point in saying we are adopted as sons (and not as daughters of his day, who had few rights of inheritance).  I think St Paul is trying to make this point clearly, he is not commenting on whether treating daughters and sons differently is proper or correct, he is noting clearly that all believers have the same rights as the sons of his culture had.

As many of us as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” – this is quoted by Paul in Galatians 3:27, the same epistle that he speaks about us as being God’s “sons”.  As many as – all of us, females and males have put on the Son of God in order to receive all the rights and blessings of inheritance of sons as understood by Paul’s culture, and also to be treated every bit as good as the Prodigal son was treated by his loving and merciful father.  We sing those words at every baptism and at every feast which was a traditional baptismal feast (such as Christmas and Pascha).  We sing the same words for males and females because all put on Christ, all put on Christ’s sonship.    If we adopted the language of our modern times and said “children” instead of sons, we might miss the very point Paul is trying to make – we received our sonship from and through Christ the only-begotten son of the Father.  We will be received by God, all of us, male and female and even prodigals, with the full rights of sons.  The values of the Kingdom are not the values of this world.

Again we only have to think about the parable of the workers hired at various hours by the master of the house (Matthew 20:1-13).  In the Kingdom, the last are first and all get the same wages, all inherit the full blessings of God, no matter when in their lives they agreed to serve the master.  This is the Kingdom’s fairness.  This is the master’s hospitality and generosity.  This is what Paul wants to emphasize in his epistle.

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”   (John 14:1-3)

Christ prepares for us, male and female, all things which belong to the children of God.  Our inheritance is the eternal abundance of the Kingdom.  We don’t receive the blessedness of the Kingdom because we are sons (male), nor do we receive the blessings as sons (males).  Rather, whether male or female,  we each and all receive all the blessings the biblical culture sometimes limited to the son.  The Son’s blessings are ours as well.

 

The Incarnation: So We Can See Christ

For humility is the raiment of the Godhead. The Word Who became man clothed Himself in it, and therewith He spoke to us in our body. Every man who has been clothed with it has truly been made like unto Him Who came down from His own exaltedness, and hid the splendor of His majesty, and concealed His glory with humility, lest creation should be utterly consumed by the contemplation of Him. Creation could not look upon Him unless He took a part of it to Himself, and thus conversed with it, and neither could it hear the words of His mouth face to face.

The splendour of His glory appeared on Mount Sinai; and the mountain smoked and quaked in fear of the revelation that was in it, so that even the beasts that approached the lower parts of it died. The sons of Israel made ready and prepared themselves, keeping themselves chaste for three days according to the command of Moses that they might be made worthy of hearing the voice of God, and of vision of His revelation. And when the time was come, they could not receive the vision of His light and the fierceness of the voice of His thunders. But now, when He has poured out His grace upon the world through His own coming, He has descended not in an earthquake, not in a fire, not in a terrible and mighty sound, but ‘as the rain upon a fleece, and rain-drops that fall upon the earth’ softly, and He was seen conversing with us after another fashion.

This came to pass when, as though in a treasury, He concealed His majesty with the veil of His flesh, and among us spoke with us in that [body] which His own bidding wrought for Him out of the womb of the Virgin, even Mary the Theotokos. All this He did so that on beholding Him Who was of our race conversing with us, we should not be smitten with terror by the vision of Him.

Wherefore every man has put on Christ when he is clothed with the raiment wherein the Creator was seen through the body that He put on.

(St. Isaac the Syrian, The Ascetical Homilies of Isaac the Syrian, pp. 381-382)

The Cross as the Garment of Salvation

One of the many images we find in the Scriptures are those of garments and their relationship to God and God’s salvation.

In the hymns of the Church and in the writings of many Patristic writers we note that Eve and Adam are stripped naked by their own sinfulness.  A nakedness which God in His love and mercy chooses to cover as God covers both our sin and shame:

In Paradise of old, the wood stripped me bare, for by giving its fruit to eat, the enemy brought in death.  But now the wood of the cross that clothes mankind with the garment of life has been set up in the midst of the earth, which is filled with boundless joy.  As we behold it exalted, people, in faith, let us cry out to God with one accord: Your house is full of glory!    (Matins hymn, Feast of the Elevation)

In Genesis 3:21, after Eve and Adam had sinned, it is God Himself who is said to cover their nakedness:

And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.

It is an act of mercy on God’s part for His human creatures who have through sin rebelled against Him.  But we are pitiable creatures in God’s eyes, and God provides for us so that we can survive in the world of the Fall.  The hymns of the Cross suggest it is through the Cross that we are clothed again with a garment of life.

In Exodus 19, the people of Israel are all told to wash their garments in preparation for the theophany that Moses was to experience on the mountain.  The people themselves are forbidden from even approaching the mountain, and yet they are commanded to wash their clothes in preparation for what Moses would receive from God on their behalf.  The washing of their clothes was a sacramental act as part of their cleansing themselves to meet the Holy God.  In Christianity, we take that all a step further in baptism when we wash not our clothes but ourselves in order to put on Christ.  We strip off our old garments belonging to the fallen world, and put on Christ as a garment as a sign of the new life we have embraced in Christ.

Garments play a significant part the sacramental life of Christians – through baptism we are given a special spiritual garment which we ask God in the petitions to help us “keep the garment undefiled”)  and for which we will have to give an account on Judgement Day (“and preserve the baptismal garment undefiled unto the day of Christ our God”).  This is symbolized in the white garment the newly baptized put on when they come up from the watery grave and rise to the new life.  As it says in Revelation 16:15 –  “Blessed is the one who keeps watch and preserves his garments in order not to walk naked and be shamefully exposed.

So we pray at the baptismal service:

Preserve pure and unpolluted the garment of incorruption with which You have clothed him (her), by Your grace, the seal of the Spirit, and showing mercy to him (her) and to us, through the multitude of Your mercies.

The priest declares immediately after baptizing the person that:

The servant of God, ______, is clothed in the robe of righteousness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

And then everyone at the baptism sings:

Grant to me the robe of light, O Most Merciful Christ our God, Who clothe Yourself with light as with a garment.

And

As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)

The newly baptized is said to clothe himself/ herself in  Christ our God.  Which also resonates with the the Transfiguration account in which the very clothes of Christ are said to show forth a brilliant whiteness (Mark 9:3; Matthew 17:2; Luke 9:22).

Not only is each newly baptized Christian spiritually clothed with the garment of salvation at baptism, but also, the priests who serve God since the time of Aaron in the Book of Exodus, have been commanded by God to wear special garments.  When Aaron is chosen with his sons to serve as priests, one of the first things God commands is:  “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty”  (Exodus 28:2).

In Isaiah 61:10, we read these words which the priest prays as he vests himself with the priestly garments before the Liturgy:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

The garments as a sign of salvation are not just for this world but belong to the eternal life in God.   In 2 Esdras 2:39, we encounter this prophecy of what we will receive in the glorious age to come:

Those who have departed from the shadow of this age have received glorious garments from the Lord.

St Isaac of Nineveh writes:

For the Cross is Christ’s garment just as the humanity of Christ is the garment of the divinity.   (Contemplating the Cross)

We put on Christ, Christ puts on our humanity.  We are clothed in each other.  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil stripped us bare when we ate of its fruit.  Now the cross clothes Christ who is stripped naked and nailed to it.  The images of clothing and salvation are common throughout the scriptures.

Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  (2 Corinthians 5:2-4)