Russia Religion Subjects Jesus Christ The Baptism of Christ

The Baptism of Christ

All four Gospels describe how Jesus Christ was baptised in the River Jordan by John the Baptist: “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?’ And Jesus answering said unto him, ‘Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he suffered Him. And Jesus, when He was baptised, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him. And lo a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:13–17).

The Baptism of Christ is one of the twelve major festivals of the Russian Orthodox Church and is celebrated on 6/19 January. The festival marks the start of Christ’s service on earth as the Saviour of Man and His first appearance as the Son of God. The event is also known as the Epiphany or Theophany (Manifestation of Our Lord), for it was then that the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity first appeared to the world – the voice of God from the heavens, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

Russian icons of the Baptism of Christ traditionally repeat images formed during the early Byzantine period. John the Baptist bends over Christ, who stands in the River Jordan. The blankets in the hands of the four angels standing on the opposite side of the river symbolise the custom of drying babies after their baptism in the font. Their covered hands are also a sign of profound reverence. The fish and the two figures in the water personify the sea and the River Jordan and are mentioned during the Epiphany church service. These images have a long tradition dating back to the fifth century, explained in the Old Testament – “The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back” (Psalms 114:3).

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