Epiphany: The Icon of Baptism of our Lord
Today according to the Indian Orthodox liturgical calender we celebrate the Feast of baptism of our Lord. Below I will try to explain one of Holy Icon of Baptism of our Lord.
“And straight coming up out of water, he saw the heavens opened and spirit like a dove descending upon him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying , thou art my beloved son, in whom I am pleased” Mark 1:10,11
Icons of Baptism of the Lord are an exact reproduction of the Gospel testimony, with the addition of detail corresponding to the divine service of the day in Orthodox Churches, for instance angels and allegorical figures at the feet of the Savior. The festival of baptism is alos called Epiphany, since Baptism is the manifestation of the Divinty of Christ, when he openly begins his Service to redeem the World.
“It is not the day when Christ was born that should be called Epiphany, but the day when He was baptized” St John Chrysostom, ” not through his birth did He become known to all, but through His baptism.
The Baptism of Christ has two fundamental aspects: on this day, the truth of God in three person was revealed to men. “God, the Trinity, has this day revealed Himself to us indivisibly; for the Father bore witness to his Parenthood with manifest testimony, the spirit descended from heaven like a Dove, and Son bowed His most pure head to the forerunner and was Baptised….”
Holy Trinity: The Mystery of the Three person in one Godhead, which is beyond all understanding, was here made manifest not spiritually but plainly, in sensory forms. John the forerunner heard the voice of the Father and saw the Holy spirit in the form of Dove , confirming this voice- both of them testify to the appearance among men of the son of God in the person of Baptised. He establishes the New Testament sacrament of Baptism.
Heaven: In Accordance with the Gospel text cited above, in the upper part of the Icon there is a segment of a circle symbolizing the opening Heavens, which adam and eve had closed for them and their descendants, just as he had closed the Garden of eden by the flaing sword. Thus part seems like a sword of light descending on Son. Unfortunately this most important detail is not there in our Icon. In general it is depicted in the same manner as in Nativity of Christ.
Dove:The holy Father of the Church explains the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the Form of a Dove at the Lord’s Baptism by analogy with the Flood : just as then the World was purified of its iniquities by the waters of the flood and the dove brought olive branch into Noah’s ark, announcing the end of the Flood and peace returned upon earth, so too now the Holy spirit comes down in the Form of a dove to announce the remission of sins amd God’s Mercy to the world.
“There an Olive barnch, here the Mercy of our God” St John of Damscus.
Whole body in water and Jordan like a cave :To sanctify the waters for our purification and renewal, He who has taken upon Himself the sins of the world. In Symbolic language of the Icon this is expressed by the fact that savior is represented standing , as it were , against a background of water, as though in a cave. This gives us to understand that not a part of his body, but His whole body is immersed in token of His burial, for baptism signifies the death of the Lord (Col 2:12)
Trembling water :Some creature can be seen moving away from the body of Christ, as pslams 77:16 sings
When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled.
The waters of Jordan cleansing Christ, it is Christ Who cleans the waters. This is why in the bottom of most Theophany Icons, little creatures appear to be fleeing from the feet of Christ. This is a reflection of the words of the Psalmist regarding the Messiah Christ:
“the sea saw and fled, the Jordan turned back” Psalm 114:3
St John the forerunner officiates, his right hand placed on the head of the savior . This sacramental gesture has always been part of the rituals of Baptism. In his left hand he sometimes holds a scroll, the symbol of his preaching or a gesture of prayer. Near to John is a tree with an axe laid at the root, recalling John’s own preaching to those who came to him:
“And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matt 3:10).
Angels: The Icon represented here is distinguished but the very rhythmic, light , elegant Angel with their cloak welcoming Christ as he comes out of water. The Inclination of figure toward Christ takes all attention of the onlooker.
The Meanings of Icon: Vladmir lossky