, , , ,

As we near the end of the season of Theophany, I would like to call attention to something that has particularly struck me this year while celebrating the Baptism of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Within the poetry of Orthodox hymnody is a willingness to anthropomorphize and give voice to creation. This is particularly true during Theophany:

Jordan River, do tell us, what did you see and were amazed? I saw naked Him whom none can see, and shuddered in fear. And how was I not to shudder at Him and be frightened. The Angels, when they saw Him also shuddered in awe. And heaven was Astonished, and astounded was earth. The sea recoiled along with all things both visible and invisible. For Christ appeared in the River Jordan, to sanctify the waters. — Kathisma from the Orthros of Theophany

The created world exults in its liberty, and sons of the light are they who once were darkened. Only the champion of darkness is groaning. Now let the formerly wretched inheritance of the Nations bless eagerly Him who caused this. — Katavasia Ode viii Second Canon of Theophany

Beyond the beauty of these words, there is theology at work here. The reason we give creation a voice in our hymns is best expressed by St. Leontios of Cyprus at the Seventh Ecumenical Council (arguing for the use of iconography in our worship):

Through heaven and earth and sea, through wood and stone, through all creation visible and invisible, I offer veneration to the Creator and Master and Maker of all things. For the creation does not venerate the Maker directly and by itself, but it is through me that the heavens declare the glory of God, through me the moon worships God, through me the stars glorify Him, through me the waters and showers of rain, the dews and all creation, venerate God and give Him glory.

This view is founded upon the role God gave to Adam in Genesis 2:15, “Then the Lord God took the man He formed and put him in the garden to tend and keep it.” As the only part of creation endowed with the image and likeness of God, it is our role to represent God to creation and represent creation to God. In this Adam failed, creation fell, and death and sin entered the world. This is why God sent us His Son:

The true Light has appeared and bestows illumination on all. Christ is baptized with us, even though He is above all purity; and thus He infuses sanctification into the water, which then becomes the purifying agent of our souls. What is seen belongs to earth; but what is understood transcends the heavens. By means of a bath comes salvation; by means of water comes the Spirit; by means of immersion does our ascent to God come to pass. How wonderful are Your works, O Lord! Glory to You. — Lauds from the Orthros of Theophany

Our humanity participates in the sanctification of the water in the person of Jesus Christ. He takes on our humanity so that we might be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our activity in the world — through our prayers, our hymns, our way of life — we bring the Holy Spirit with us to sanctify the world around us. We participate as co-creators in the restoration of creation from its fallenness.

Thus, through us the Jordan river speaks, creation exults and we participate in salvation. Amen.