Our Life in Christ

Our Life In Christ 

Baptism and Illumination –January 9 (Sunday after Theophany)

by Fr. Jonathan Cholcher
Saul gets his vision back

One ancient designation for the Feast of Theophany (the Baptism of Christ) is the Festival of Lights. This designation summarizes both the event itself and the result of the Baptism of Christ on the faithful, namely, illumination. Theophany, or its close cognate Epiphany, means “the appearance of God”: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared (Gk., epephani) to all men…” (Tit. 2:11; 3:4). To put it another way, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord…Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Eph. 5:8, 14).

This Sunday after Theophany, we hear these words from the Gospel, quoting the Prophet Isaiah: “’The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 4:16-17; Isa. 9:1). Thus following His Baptism by John in the Jordan, the temptation by Satan in the wilderness, and John the Baptist’s subsequent imprisonment, Jesus left His hometown of Nazareth and lived in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee to begin His public ministry. The Light of God revealed in Trinity at the Jordan now shone forth upon all who would hear and witness the deeds of Jesus the Christ.

Importantly, the great light of Christ overcomes the darkness of death through the process of repentance. Repentance (Gk., metanoia) is literally a change, or turning (meta-), of the inner human faculty capable of perceiving God (-noia; nous). Through repentance we re-orient ourselves, or rather, are re-oriented, away from the spiritual darkness devoid of godliness and life back to all things pertaining to God. We can now “see” as we should, and in seeing, clearly pursue the true path leading to God and eternal life in communion with God’s everlasting dominion.

The Apostle Paul recalled his conversion on the road to Damascus for the third time, which included this commission from the Lord Christ to preach to the nations: “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18). The New Testament is filled with this language of illumination relating specifically to Holy Baptism, which, as we read concerning Saint Paul (Saul) himself, coincided with “something like scales fall[ing] from his eyes” and “receiving his sight at once” (Acts 9:17-18).

Christian illumination consists of a whole constellation of divine lights: the act of Baptism itself; the knowledge of God in Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; renunciation of Satan and his deceptions; purification from and forgiveness of sins; sanctification, or holiness; faith in Christ; inheritance of God’s kingdom; resurrection from death; patience in hope of eternal life; persistence in righteousness; true worship of God. Illumination was manifested at Christ’s Baptism, and it is given through Baptism to the faithful striving for perfection in Christ in repentance and faith.

Now that the Light of Christ has appeared, we are to walk in that Light and seek to be ever illumined with increasing awareness of things divine. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12; Ps. 35:10). The Apostle John writes in his first letter: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should called children of God! Therefore the world does not us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3:1-3; see 1 Cor. 13:11-13).