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Feast of Epiphany commemorates baptism of Christ

The Rev. Michael Kabel and members of the congregation attend a past blessing of Barton Creek.

By KIMBERLY HURLEY

Special to The Times Leader

“Christ is Baptized! In the Jordan!”

Today we greet one another with this holy declaration, because it is the Feast of Theophany (Epiphany), the commemoration of the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River. The word, “Theophany” means “the showing forth, the manifestation, of God.” This feast has been annually commemorated since the very early days of Christianity, because it confirms the foundational Christian doctrine of God as trinity.

In Matthew, Chapter 3, we see Jesus Christ come to be baptized.

” … and when He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.'” (verses 16-17, New King James Version)

Notice that all three Persons of the Blessed Trinity appear in this passage. Some modern thinkers will point-out that the Latin-derived word, “Trinity,” which has been used to describe the Three Persons of the Godhead, does not appear in the Bible. This is true, but the early Church Fathers made sure that this Feast Day, and its accompanying hymnography (where much of the Church teaching resides), was given a prominent position in the Church calendar, because of the foundational truths it conveys. It is literally the first Major Feast of the New Year. The ancient hymn of the Feast clearly delineates this foundational Christian Truth:

“At Your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, worship of the Trinity was revealed. For the Father’s voice bore witness to You, calling You His beloved Son; and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words. O Christ God, Who appeared and enlightened the world, Glory to You!”

This year, Lord willing, I hope to bring you a series of articles on the major Sacraments of the Church, and demonstrate how participation in these Sacraments brings us into the Kingdom of God. Since today marks the Baptism of Christ, and since it is now a New Year, this is a good time to examine the first Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Whether a person is baptized as a baby, at the request of parents; or at a later date, when he or she has come to the knowledge of his or her need of salvation, baptism literally marks the beginning of a new life in Christ. It is literally our first imitation of Christ’s earthly life. We follow Him into the water, and symbolically experience the death of the old man, and rebirth into the new life of salvation. This sacrament is not optional. The Lord said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16 RSV).

I once knew a man who went to church regularly from childhood, but refused Baptism for many years. I do not know all of his reasons, but he said that he didn’t need Baptism to be a Christian. In this modern day and age, many people decide they don’t need to do this or that to be a Christian. Jesus said in John 3:5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water, and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the Kingdom of God.” You might hear some people try to say, “Well, Jesus does not mention the word Baptism here.” But the Apostle Peter makes no bones about the necessity of this Sacrament for salvation.

“Then Peter said unto them, ‘Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.'” (Acts 2:38, KJV)

If a person never knew the Lord in life, and then calls upon Him on his deathbed, will he be saved, even though he was not baptized? Well, the Bible does say that if a man calls upon the name of the Lord, he will be saved. But if I am using that scripture as an excuse to refuse this first sacramental encounter with God, if I spend my life refusing to imitate Christ in baptism, if I intentionally cherry-pick scriptures that support my rejection of clear biblical instruction, will my late deathbed call assure my place in Heaven? Maybe. Only God can judge. But I am not inclined to take that chance with my eternal salvation.

Reflecting back on recent holiday gatherings, our families lovingly prepared a feast with every intention that all comers might partake. God has prepared the Sacraments so that we might partake, so that we might physically meet and experience His spiritual bounty. In Galatians 3:27, the Apostle Paul writes, “For as many of you who were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.” If you have never “put on Christ” in Holy Baptism, may this be the year that you do. As always, all are welcome at the Divine Services at Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church, in Barton, Ohio.

If you are reading this early on Sunday morning, and want to drop in, services begin at 10 a.m. Bring a jar and take some newly blessed Holy Water home with you!

Hurley is a member of the Saint Nicholas Church in Barton and lives in St. Clairsville.

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