Season of the Glorious Epiphany - Baptism of the Lord

(By Father Anthony J. Salim as printed in the parish of St. Joseph's bulletin)

The Baptism of the Lord as a Model for Initiation
The Gospels speak of his baptism in the Jordan River as the first event of Jesus’ adult life. In fact, both Mark and John begin their historical treatment of Jesus’ life with the events surrounding the Baptism. (Only Matthew and Luke tell us about the Birth and Infancy of Jesus. Luke adds the theological account of the Finding in the Temple and moves from Jesus at 12 years old to his adult baptism. There is no need to ask what happened to Jesus between twelve and thirty; Luke just says that Jesus lived obediently in Nazareth.) The importance of the Baptism story, from a Gospel standpoint, is that Jesus is revealed as Messiah and divine Son of God (also a new phase in his ministry) and sent by the Spirit to the desert to ponder in depth his mission in the Plan of the Father. For the East the Baptism of Jesus, with its voice from the Father in Heaven and the appearance of the Holy Spirit “like a dove,” is a “theophany,” or revelation of the divinity of Jesus. (The Western emphasis at Epiphany on the visit of the Magi to the stable to worship the same divine Child serves the same purpose—Christ is the “Light to the Nations” Is 42:6b].) As an analogy in the life of the Christian, our baptism elevates us to a new relationship with the Trinity and to the Church. Our Chrismation gives us a deeper share in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and propels us on our missionary goal of living and sharing new life in the Spirit. This might be termed our “Chrismational” calling.

The Liturgical Year: Denho, the Season of Epiphany
The Eastern Churches in general begin the post-Christmas Season of Epiphany with the commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan River (6 January). (The West celebrates the Baptism slightly later.) At one time this feast was not separate from Christmas but became distinct when the Church began to celebrate the Birth of the Messiah on 25 December. The Maronite Church values the Epiphany Gospel truth so much that a whole liturgical season is built around it. It is a time when the Maronite Church takes between two to six Sundays (depending on how early or late Lent begins) to reflect upon the consequences of Initiation for the Christian. Both feast and season are important from the point of view of the catechumenate as well. The tradition of some of the Syriac Churches sees the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord as the proper day of reception of catechumens and of candidates (note the distinction) into the Church. (Any catechumenate process yet to be developed for the Syriac East will have to take this into account.)