The Deeper Meaning of the Baptism of Christ and the Sacrament of Baptism.
a) Man’s Return to the True God. The Baptism of the Forerunner was a “baptism of repentance,” which signaled man’s return to God by obedience to the divine will. It was necessary in view of the coming of the Messiah and the kingdom of God which He would bring into the world. It was a kind of prelude and preparation which looked towards God’s intervention through the Messiah, that is, the justification of human beings and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is most clearly manifested in the words of Christ to John the Baptist, “This is necessary, so that all righteousness might be fulfilled” (Mt. 3:15). So, when Christ came forth to receive the baptism of John as a man, he accepted the divine will on behalf of the entire humanity. And then, the witness of the heavenly Father which recognized him as His beloved Son and the descent of the Holy Spirit in a bodily manner “in the form of a Dove” signaled the acceptance of Christ by the Father as the Messiah who would bring the kingdom of God into humanity. This kingdom was mainly and primarily represented by the communion of the Holy Spirit, as the prophet Isaiah had foretold: “Jacob is my son and I will take him up. Israel is my elect, whom my soul has accepted, and to whom I gave my Spirit so that he might judge among the nations“(42:1).
b) The Humanity of Christ as the Basis of Man’s Salvation. Both the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah as well as the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him refer to his humanity, which he assumed for our sake, and made it the basis of our justification and salvation. As the ecclesiastical hymnology declares:
“Having put on the form of the servant, O Christ, you came forth to be baptized by a servant in the waters of Jordan, so that you may redeem from the ancient slavery and sanctify and enlighten all of us human beings” (Vespers of the eve of Theophany).
“It is redemption that Christ is coming forth to bring to all believers through his baptism. Because through this, he purifies Adam, he raises the fallen, he puts to shame the tyrant who caused the fall, he opens the heavens, he brings down the Holy Spirit, and he grants incorruption and participation” (8th Praise).
“Today the Lord comes to the waters of Jordan, and says to John: Be not shy for baptizing me, because I came to save Adam the protoplast” (Oikos).
“As man you came to the river, O Christ, King, and you hasten to receive baptism from the hands of the Forerunner, for our sins, O Lover of mankind” (Sophronios of Jerusalem)!
c) The Revelation of the one God in Trinity and His Communion with Man. In the last analysis, however, what happened in the Jordan refers to the divinity of Christ, and especially to his eternal filial identity, which reveals the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Christ is the eternal Son of the Father who also became man in order to bring man back to the kingdom of the Holy Trinity. It is for this reason that the Sacrament of Baptism which grants to us regeneration and brings us into the life of Christ is celebrated in the name of the Holy Trinity, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The feast of Theophany, then, refers not only to man’s return to the true God, the creator and Savior through Christ, but also to the revelation of the mystery of God, i.e. to the truth that God is one in Trinity and as such he must be worshiped. As the ecclesiastical hymnology states it:
“When you were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, it was then, that the worship of the Holy Trinity was manifested. Because it was then that the voice of the Begetter bore witness by calling you His Beloved Son. And then also, that the Spirit in the form of a Dove confirmed the assurance of the word. We glorify You in Your Epiphany, O Christ, as the God who enlightens the world” (Apolytikion).
“You manifested yourself to the world today, and your light, O Lord, was marked upon us who praise you with full understanding” (Kontakion).
The enlightenment about the One God in Trinity is also the reason for the feast of Theophany being called the feast of “The Lights.” The Lights in this case are the three blessed persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are one divine Light unapproachable!
The Great Sanctification of the Waters. The Great Sanctification of the Waters, which is observed on the eve and on the day of Theophany, is a calling to remembrance of the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan by John the Baptist and the sanctification of the waters which was done by Christ at that time. Saint John Chrysostom speaks about this Great Sanctification of the feast of Theophany and says that the sanctified water was kept by the faithful and used for purifications, support, healing, etc. We realize its importance when we recall the words of the prayer which the priest offers at the epiclesis (invocation) of the Holy Spirit and the sanctification of the water: “…and make it a source of incorruption, a gift of sanctification, a release of sins, a cure of maladies, a extermination of demons, unreachable to the opposing powers, a plenitude of angelic potency…” What is particularly important in this case is the repentance and the fasting which is observed on the eve of the Feast. When we receive the sanctified water of the Great Sanctification with contrite spirit and true faith, then it truly becomes a healing means of soul and body and undoing of all opposing powers.
The feast of the Theophany is an invitation to renewal and return to the Lord of glory, who humbled himself, though he was God, and became man – a true man, sinless, forgiving and merciful, the way, the truth and the life. Let us follow him on the path of righteousness, along with his all-holy Mother the Theotokos, St. John the Baptist, the holy Apostles and all the Saints.
~By Protopresbyter George Dion Dragas, Phd, DD, DTh, taken from Mystagogy, the Weblog of John Sanidopoulos, (http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2012/01/theophany-or-epiphany.html).