The Mystery of Theophany

This week, the Church moves from the feast of Christmas to the feast of the Theophany – the celebration of the Baptism of Christ. The intent of this feast is not to celebrate a succession of historical events (the Baptism of Christ is at least 30 years later than His birth). Rather this feast takes us into the depths of the mystery of Christ and His salvation of the world.

Many Christians, reading the gospel accounts of Christ’s Baptism, are not sure what to make of the event. They accept Christ’s own explanation to St. John, “It is necessary to fulfill all righteousness,” though they are not entirely sure what He means by this. They have no particular understanding of why Christ submitted Himself to this action of John (it was not required by the Law – but is rather a prophetic action on the part of St. John).

St. John himself does not seem to understand the purpose of Christ’s Baptism. He is told that “whoever you see the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain” is the Messiah – but he is given little information beyond that. Witnessing Christ’s Baptism and the Spirit resting upon Him, he hears the voice, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew, Mark and Luke all bear witness to the voice).  The Church later celebrates this manifestation of the Trinity (Christ in the water, the Spirit descending, the Voice of the Father – hence the title “Theophany”).

But with the text alone, on its literal level, leaves the mystery of Christ’s Baptism alone, without context or meaning. The Tradition of the Church, however, sees the Baptism of Christ in the context of Pascha (Easter) as it sees everything in the context of Christ’s Pascha. Christ’s Baptism is a foreshadowing (and on more than a literary level) of His crucifixion and descent into Hades (just as our own Baptism is seen by St. Paul as a Baptism into Christ’s “death and resurrection.”

Such possibilities of multiple means and revelations of greater meanings within the literal telling of the story suggests that the world itself is not to be comprehended entirely in its literal manifestation. Something more is at work, particularly in the workings of God. Some thoughts I have offered earlier on Fr. Andrew Louth’s thought seem appropriate to the occasion:

Andrew Louth, writing in his book, Discerning the Mystery, says:

If we look back to the Fathers, and the tradition, for inspiration as to the nature of theology, there is one thing we meet which must be paused over and discussed in some detail: and that is their use of allegory in interpreting the Scriptures. We can see already that for them it was not a superfluous, stylistic habit, something we can fairly easily lop off from the trunk of Patristic theology. Rather it is bound up with their whole understanding of tradition as the tacit dimension of the Christian life: allegory is a way of entering the ‘margin of silence’ that surrounds the articulate message of the Scriptures, it is a way of glimpsing the living depths of tradition from the perspective of the letter of the Scriptures. Of course the question of allegory in the Fathers is complex (and often rendered unduly complicated by our own embarrassment about allegory): but whatever language the Fathers use to describe their exegetical practice (and there is no great consistency here), they all interpret Scripture in a way we would call allegorical, and allegoria is the usual word the Latin Fathers use from the fourth century onwards to characterize the deeper meaning they are seeking in the Scriptures.

I have quoted Louth at some length to make a point. His characterization of a search for a “deeper meaning” is a hallmark of Patristic thought about Scripture. They do not all call it “allegory,” indeed, it was and is called by many names (theoria, etc.). But all shared a common sense that there was something behind or beyond the text that confronted them.

I have written about this topic primarily under the heading of iconicity – a word I use to connote the referential character of not just the text we read, but the world we inhabit. The world as pure object, as a collection of self-contained and self-explaining things (of which people are but examples) is a world that is foreign to the perception of traditional Christianity. Though this is true, it is, nevertheless, the world-view that is increasingly offered to us in a secularized world. Others may afford us the luxury of believing that something has reference beyond itself, but only do so as a courtesy, a social bargain. We allow others to infer meaning (where secularly none exists) simply out of respect for their will. If you want the world to be referential, I will respect that, remembering, however, that this is only “true for you.”

The classical Christian claim is not the same thing as relativist courtesy. The text has a deeper meaning not because I infer it but because I discern it. The meaning is real and true. Indeed the classical Christian claim is that the truth of things (and not just texts) is to be found precisely in their referential character and in that to which they refer.

To know the personal God is to know God in the manner in which persons are known. The content of a person always has an infinite quality (and this is especially so of God). And that content always has a referential quality as well. Thus, to know Christ is also to know Him as Son, and hence the Son of the Father. “No one knows the Father but by me,” Christ says. For the person of the Father (as is indicated by the name revealed to us) is always referential to the Son (as the Son is to the Father).

And this must be said even of human persons. We never know each other exhaustively nor in the crass manner of modern objectivism. For each of us, fearfully and wonderfully made, is also infinitely referential. Thus knowledge of another is perhaps better described as relation or participation. It cannot mean comprehension.

The same is true of the text of Scripture. To read the text of Scripture without the constant and abiding sense that there is more here than I can see or understand is not to have read Scripture at all, or at least to have read it badly.

St. Antony the Great was once asked by a philosopher where were his books. He replied, “My book, O philosopher, is the world.” St. Paul also sees this aspect of creation: “For since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20).

This capacity of creation, for much of the modern world, has become the opacity of creation. We can see no further than the thing itself. Modern man is in danger of losing his ability to read the references of everything about him. And with that loss comes the diminution of everything, including himself.

The world and all that is in it is given to us as icon – not because it has no value in itself – but because the value it has in itself is the gift of God – and this is seen in its iconicity.

At Theophany, the waters of the world are revealed to be both Hades and the gate of Paradise. In Christ’s journey within and through the Church, everything is revealed to be such a place. You are my entry into Paradise as clearly as you may also be my entry into Hades. Love alone reveals things for what they are, and transforms them into what they were always intended to be. It is the gift of God.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





29 responses to “The Mystery of Theophany”

  1. Daniel Avatar

    Dear Father,

    I sent you an email a few weeks back in regards to a new book. Just wondering whether you received it as had some issues with attaching?

    In Christ,


  2. mike Avatar

    ….interesting post Father Stephen…I appreciate the fact that in your posts you frequently point out for us the ‘other’ meaning behind the literal text as you described:..”all shared a common sense that there was something behind or beyond the text that confronted them”..for me this entails a necessary bit of mysticism which i dont think most individuals are capable of without the practice of Hesychasm..otherwise it could easily lead to Gnosticism..imo…….also I loved this:” The world and all that is in it is given to us as icon”…man..thats good!

  3. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless! Thank you for this post. I never tire of hearing/reading this truth, but it really takes the Holy Spirit to understand it. Mike’s right–some will understand it in a gnostic way, but that is all in God’s providence. The bottom line is clear, and you have underscored this: Everything (whether in Holy Scripture or in Creation) points to Christ and His Pascha, and nothing can be properly understood (or understood in its true depth and spiritual meaning) apart from Him and Pascha.

    Joyous Feast to you and to all!

  4. Darlene Avatar


    I think it to be a gift of God to see “the world and all that is in it given to us as icon,” as Father Stephen has said. Some earnestly contend that all of creation is a witness to the existence of God as per Romans 1:19 & 20. This is true but not the whole story. Often, they fail to see these things that have been created as icon. Rather, they argue from a merely rational point of view only as if to say, “See here, it’s in the text of the Bible. That should be enough for you to believe there is a God.”

    It is grace and wisdom from on high that enables us to see the fingerprint of the Almightly in all of His creation; to see His fingerprint even beyond what is written. The priest who wrote the Akathist of Thanksgiving titled “Glory to God for All Things” considered to be Gregory Petroff, gazed in wonderment at all of creation. Never had I encountered a soul that was able to express as a master wordsmith, the beauty he so deeply appreciated in God’s creation, before hearing his akathist. I don’t doubt that many of God’s children have had similar experiences but have not written them down for posterity.

    I had one such experience when visiting the Grand Canyon. As I walked toward the canyon at sunset for the first time, viewing the panoramic view of colors, sounds, and smells, tears welled up in my eyes. I was speechless! One of the persons I was with also had a similar experience and attributed such inexplicable beauty in creation to the Artist, that is God, saying man could never create such beauty.

  5. […] The Mystery of Theophany […]

  6. Ibn Battenti Avatar
    Ibn Battenti

    An icon worth a thousand words, thanks for this Fr. Stephen!

  7. Lina Avatar

    A friend just loaned me a book to read entitled, “A Guest in God’s World. ” According to the author, this phrase was coined by two Benedictines several centuries back, Kevin and Bridgette. Reading the above essay and comments I put the two together. We live in God’s world, He is the host, and lots of times we do not even acknowledge who he is even when He goes out of his way to get our attention.

  8. Ibn Battenti Avatar
    Ibn Battenti

    Darlene (if I may),

    Simply put, we have forgotten why we were created (and by inference, by Whom). God is everywhere, but He has made His home in the heart of man:

    “We are looking for our similarity with God… we search in all directions…we will never stop looking for our prototype with God”…

    (From Mother Gabriella’s Lenten lectures available on AFR).

  9. mike Avatar

    …“A Guest in God’s World ”…..that makes for a great meditation Lina…Thanks

  10. Yannis Avatar

    Thank you for the thoughtful post.

    Could you say a few words about the (particular) icon that accompanies it?

  11. kevien Avatar

    And so the pseudo-scientific theory of evolution is so destructive to modern man. It infers that every thing is impersonal, that nothing can reference something else in creation, and that there is no meaning. It is counter intuitive to every thing Orthodox. And yet so many give it a place in their thinking. Going to elaborate lengths to excuse it. Love should compel every Orthodox to resist it to the uttermost for the sake of his fellow man. But instead many try to show how “enlightened” they are by making allowances for it. Inventing destructive heiresses that give it cover.

  12. Yannis Avatar

    Right, in absence of an answer, i tried to search about the icon used for the post on the net without result. It seems certainly greek from the inscription. I asked because i was intrigued by the technotropy and certain features like say the heavens/background depicted black, and wanted to know why that is.

    Anyway, thanks.

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    I do not remember the name of the particular iconographer, but it is Greek. The darkness is particularly effective. Christ’s entering the waters is also an entrance into Hades (thus Theophany is a little Pascha). This icon very effectively portrays that. The gates of hades (in the shape of a cross) are beneath Christ feet, much as in the Pascha icon. The “snakes” are the “dragons whose heads are crushed” mentioned in the Psalms who prefiguring Christ’s defeat over the enemy. It’s an extremely rich icon. Sorry to be late in answering. I’ve been both sick (some sort of very nasty cold) and very busy in my parish life – thus little attention to the blog for a couple of weeks.

  14. Yannis Avatar

    No worries, thank you for the reply; hope you get better soon.

  15. Marie Avatar

    Father Bless,

    Thank you for another thoughtful post. What of the significance of the two small figures in the waters? My son is asking, we haven’t been able to find much on them. Hope you are well soon. In Christ.

  16. Yannis Avatar

    Ah, but this i found on the net:
    “…the woman (often with a crown and scepter) is a symbol of the sea. The man (usually holding a water-pot from which water rushes) is a symbol of the river. These two figures are brought into the scene in accordance with Psalm 113 (114) verse 3. “The sea saw and fled, the Jordan turned back”, one of the verses chanted at Epiphany.”

  17. Marie Avatar

    Wonderful, thank you Yannis.


  18. Yannis Avatar

    Ok, by sheer chance, as i was looking for something completely different, i came across what seems to be the original icon:

    It seems that it was originally a 6th century mosaic in the St. George’s Church in Madaba, Jordan, that is famed for its Byzantine era mosaics.

    For those interested, there is a nice specialist article about the Church and its mosaics in this blog:

  19. fatherstephen Avatar

    The icons of Theophany and their content reflect the Church’s understanding of Christ’s Baptism. Even a 6th century mosaic shows how ancient such a perception was. The same thing can be seen by reading the text of the festal menaion for Theophany (which is not easily found online).

  20. Yannis Avatar

    Could you explain then, how can you tell then from reading the menaion?

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    I am including the 2 Canons (9 odes) from the Vigil for Theophany. It is a wonderful poetic form found in the vigils. Using references and images from the Scriptures it offers a theological reflection (that is sung). Such passages in the services are probably the verbal equivalent of icons with the richness and variety of content.

    There are subtle interplays that take place within them. Each ode is a development of a Biblical Ode (ode one is a poetic echo of the Song of Moses in the book of Exodus – the 9th ode echoes the Magnificat of the Virgin in the New, etc.). The richness of the whole is much like an icon – though expressed in words – the words carry references and allusions that themselves become part of the canon, though unspoken.

    The text (excuse or enjoy the length)

    The Canon

    (Two canons are used. The two heirmoi are repeated as the katavasia at the end of each ode. The refrain “Glory to You, our God, glory to You” precedes the troparia.)

    First Canon Tone 2 (by Cosmas)

    Ode 1 – Heirmos

    The Lord uncovered the floor of the deep
    and on the dry ground drew His people out.
    But his enemies He covered in the deep.
    The Lord did this, the Lord mighty in battle;
    for He has been glorified.

    Glory to You, our God, glory to You!

    The Lord refashions broken Adam in the streams of the Jordan.
    And He smashes the heads of dragons lurking there.
    The Lord does this, the King of the ages;
    for He has been glorified.

    The Lord clothed material flesh
    with the immaterial fire of divinity.
    Now He wraps Himself in the flowing waters of the Jordan.
    The Lord does this, the Lord born in the flesh from the Virgin;
    for He has been glorified.

    The One Who cleans away the filth of people
    is Himself cleansed for their sakes in the Jordan.
    By His own will He became like them while remaining what He was.
    The Lord enlightens those in darkness;
    for He has been glorified.

    Second Canon Tone 2 (by John of Damascus)
    Ode 1 – Heirmos

    Israel crossed the stormy sea
    which was turned into dry land.
    But the dark sea, like a watery grave,
    completely covered the Egyptian captains
    by the might of the Master’s right hand.

    When the light-bearing Dawn from the wilderness
    had shone forth to mortals,
    You, the Lord of the Sun, bent Your neck beneath the streams of the Jordan,
    to snatch our forefather from the land of darkness
    and cleanse creation from all filth.

    O Word without beginning, You make anew
    the one destroyed by error,
    who was buried with You in the waters.
    You were ineffably affirmed by the mighty voice of the Father:
    “This One is called My beloved Child, equal to Me by nature.”

    Ode 3 – Heirmos (First Canon)

    The Lord gives strength to our kings;
    He exalts the horn of His Anointed.
    Now He is born of a Virgin
    and comes to be baptized.
    Therefore, let us the faithful cry:
    “No one is holy as our God,
    and no one is righteous but You, O Lord.”

    Rejoice today, O Church of Christ!
    Once you were barren and childless,
    but now children have been born to you
    through water and the Spirit.
    They raise their cry in faith:
    “No one is holy as our God,
    and no one is righteous but You, O Lord.”

    With a loud voice the Forerunner cries in the wilderness:
    “Prepare the way of Christ;
    make straight the paths of our God;
    and raise your cry in faith:
    ‘No one is holy as our God,
    and no one is righteous but You, O Lord.’”

    Ode 3 – Heirmos (Second Canon)

    Since we have been freed from the ancient snares
    and the teeth of young lions have been smashed,
    let us rejoice and open wide our mouths,
    weaving a melody of words to the Word
    Who delights to give us gifts!

    He who once implanted death into creation
    by taking the form of a malicious serpent
    is cast into darkness by the coming of Christ in the flesh;
    and he crushes his own most hateful head
    by striking the Master, the Dawn that has shone forth.

    The Master draws to Himself the nature He created.
    Though it was overcome by tyrannous greed, He begets it anew.
    By refashioning those born on earth
    He brings His greatest work to completion.
    For He came wishing to defend it.

    Tone 5 Hypakoe

    When You enlightened all things by Your Epiphany,
    the salty sea of unbelief withdrew in fear
    and the Jordan turned back against its flow,
    carrying us up to the heights of heaven.
    By the heights of Your divine commandments,
    through the prayers of the Theotokos,//
    preserve us, O Christ God, and have mercy on us!

    Ode 4 – Heirmos (First Canon)

    He whom You called “The voice of one crying in the wilderness”
    heard Your voice, O Lord,
    when You thundered upon many waters
    and bore witness to Your Son.
    Filled completely with the Spirit Who had come he cried:
    “You are Christ, the Wisdom and the Power of God.”

    “How can the Sun be cleansed,” the preacher cried aloud,
    “since it is by nature bright?
    How can I wash You in the waters,
    You, the Radiance of the glory,
    the express Image of the eternal Father?
    And how can I who am but grass touch the fire of Your divinity?
    For You are Christ, the Wisdom and the Power of God.”

    When Moses came upon You he displayed the God-inspired reverence
    that he felt;
    realizing that it was You Who spoke from the Bush
    he immediately turned away his gaze.
    How then can I look openly upon You?
    How can I lay my hand on You?
    For You are Christ, the Wisdom and the Power of God.

    Endowed with a rational soul
    and honored with the power of reason,
    I yet respect the things which have no soul.
    For if I baptize You, they will be my accusers:
    the mountain that smoked with fire,
    the sea that fled on either side,
    and this very Jordan that turned back.
    For You are Christ, the Wisdom and the Power of God.

    Ode 4 – Heirmos (Second Canon)

    Cleansed by the fire of mystical vision,
    the Prophet praises the renewal of mortals.
    Filled by the Spirit, he raises his voice
    to manifest the incarnation of the Word beyond words
    Who has shattered the might of the strong.

    Sent from the Father, O most radiant Word,
    You come to dispel the evil darkness of night
    and to uproot the sins of mortals,
    and to draw up by Your baptism, O blessed Lord,
    radiant children from the streams of the Jordan.

    The preacher looked at the celebrated Word,
    and proclaimed to creation in a loud voice:
    “This is He Who was before me,
    though in the flesh He came after me.
    Like us in form, He shone forth with the strength of God
    to dispel our loathsome sin.”

    God the Word hunts in the lairs of dragons.
    He destroys their terrible snares
    and overthrows the one who bruises the heel of the human race.
    By capturing him, God saves creation from danger,
    and leads it to the pastures of life.

    Ode 5 – Heirmos (First Canon)

    Jesus, the Source of life,
    came to free from condemnation Adam, the first-formed man.
    As God He needs no cleansing,
    yet for the fallen He is cleansed in the Jordan.
    In it He brings an end to hostility
    and grants peace beyond all comprehension.

    When a multitude had gathered to be baptized by John,
    he stood in their midst and raised his voice:
    “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee the wrath to come?
    Bear worthy fruit for Christ;
    for He has now come, granting peace!”

    After standing in the midst of human beings as one of them,
    the Creator now takes hold of human hearts like a thresher;
    His winnowing fork is in His hand;
    in His wisdom he clears the whole world, His threshing floor,
    separating wheat from chaff.
    The chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire;
    to the wheat He grants eternal life.

    Ode 5 – Heirmos (Second Canon)

    Washed by the cleansing of the Spirit
    from the venom of the dark and unclean foe,
    we have started without error on a new path,
    that leads to a joy which cannot be attained,
    except by those who are reconciled by God to Himself.

    Seeing the work of His own hands in the gloom of sin,
    in bonds from which no one can escape,
    the Maker raised him up and laid him on his shoulder.
    Now in abundant waters He washes away
    the shameful disposition of old Adam.

    With piety and vigor let us run
    to the pure springs of salvation’s stream
    and gaze on the Word born of the all Pure One,
    He gives living water to satisfy our holy thirst,
    and gently heals the sickness of the world.

    Ode 6 – Heirmos (First Canon)

    The Voice of the Word, the Lamp of the Light,
    the Forerunner of the Sun, the Morning Star,
    cries to all peoples in the wilderness:
    “Repent now and be cleansed; for behold,
    Christ comes to deliver the world from decay!”

    Christ, Who was begotten without change from God the Father,
    without corruption is made flesh from the Virgin.
    As the Forerunner teaches, it is impossible to loose
    the thong of His sandals, the bond between the Word and us.
    He delivers those born on earth from falsehood.

    In the fire of the Last Day Christ baptizes the disobedient,
    those who do not know Him as God.
    But by grace through the water He renews in the Spirit
    those who acknowledge His divinity.
    He delivers them from their faults.

    Ode 6 – Heirmos (Second Canon)

    With a joyous voice the Father revealed His Beloved,
    Whom He had brought forth from the womb.
    “Truly,” he said, “this is My Son Who shares my nature.
    Bearing light, He has sprung from the human race,
    My living Word, Who by My providence became a mortal man.”

    The Prophet spent three nights in exile,
    swallowed up in the belly of the sea monster.
    Then he came forth again,
    in anticipation revealing to all the salvation of rebirth,
    deliverance on the last day from the man-eating dragon.

    When the radiant heavens were opened,
    he who knew the mysteries saw the Spirit,
    Who proceeds from the Father and rests on the immaculate Word,
    marvelously descend in the form of a dove.
    He revealed the Master to the people, that they might run to Him.

    Tone 4 Kontakion of the Feast

    Today You have shone forth to the world, O Lord,
    and the light of Your countenance has been marked on us.
    Knowing You, we sing Your praises:
    “You have come and revealed Yourself,//
    O unapproachable Light.”


    On Galilee of the Gentiles, as the Prophet said,
    on the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali,
    Christ, the great Light, has shone.
    A bright Dawn has appeared to those who sat in darkness,
    shining like lightning from Bethlehem.
    The Lord born of Mary, the Sun of righteousness,
    sheds His rays on the whole universe.
    Come, all the naked children of Adam,
    let us clothe ourselves in Him, that we might be warmed.
    A covering for the naked, light for those in darkness,
    You have come and revealed Yourself,
    O unapproachable Light.

    Ode 7 – Heirmos (First Canon)

    By the descent of an Angel of God
    and by the whistling wind of dew,
    the holy Youths walked in the fiery furnace free from harm.
    Refreshed with dew in the flames,
    in thanksgiving they sang:
    “You are blessed and highly exalted,
    O Lord God of our fathers!”

    Trembling and amazed as if in heaven,
    the angelic powers stood by the Jordan.
    They watched the great descent of God;
    how the One who upholds the waters above the heavens
    stood in the waters in bodily form;
    He is the God of our fathers.

    The wonder of the baptism of God was prefigured
    by the cloud and the sea through which the people passed.
    In them the people were once baptized into Moses the lawgiver.
    The sea was a type of the water and the cloud a type of the Spirit.
    Perfected by water and the Spirit we cry out:
    “You are blessed, O God of our fathers!”

    Since we have all received perfection in God,
    let us the faithful speak of God without ceasing;
    and with the Angels let us glorify Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
    For it is the Trinity, in persons of one essence yet one God,
    to Whom we sing:
    “You are blessed, O Lord God of our fathers!”

    Ode 7 – Heirmos (Second Canon)

    He stilled the furnace’s towering flame
    when it encircled the pious Youths,
    and He burned the heads of the dragons in the waters.
    With the dew of the Spirit He washes away
    all the blindness born of sin.

    By changing the fierce Assyrian flame to dew,
    You stilled the fire that prefigured You;
    For now You have clothed Yourself in water, O Christ,
    as a flame that burns the evil trickster hidden in its depths,
    who entices us to the path of destruction.

    When of old the Jordan was parted in two,
    the people of Israel crossed on dry land.
    They thus prefigured You, O almighty Lord,
    as You make haste to bear creation through the waters
    to a better and changeless path.

    We know that at first You sent the all-destroying flood
    for the lamentable destruction of all,
    You Who do things most wonderful and strange;
    now in the waters You have drowned sin, O Christ,
    for the salvation and welfare of mortals.

    Ode 8 – Heirmos (First Canon)

    When the furnace in Babylon poured forth dew,
    it foreshadowed a marvelous mystery:
    the Jordan accepted the Immaterial Fire into its streams
    and encompassed the Creator when He was baptized in the flesh.
    Him the peoples bless and highly exalt for ever.

    “Put away all fear,” said the Redeemer to the Forerunner.
    “Obey Me and come to Me, for I am good by nature!
    Yield to My command and baptize Me Who have descended,
    Whom the peoples bless and highly exalt for ever!”

    The baptizer heard what the Master said,
    and, trembling, he stretched out his hand.
    But when he touched the head of his Maker,
    he cried aloud to the One being baptized:
    “Sanctify me, for You are my God,
    Whom the peoples bless and highly exalt for ever!”

    The Trinity was made known in the Jordan,
    for the Father, supremely divine, loudly proclaimed:
    “This One Who is baptized is My beloved Son.”
    And the Spirit was present with His equal,
    Whom the peoples bless and highly exalt for ever.

    Ode 8 – Heirmos (Second Canon)

    Creation has been set free;
    and those who were in darkness are made children of light.
    Only the prince of darkness groans.
    Let the inheritance of the nations, which was once in misery,
    now eagerly bless Him Who has brought this about!

    The three godly Youths, wet with dew in the fire,
    plainly showed how divine nature,
    brightly radiant with three-fold holiness,
    would mingle with mortal nature
    to consume all deadly error with a fire of dew.

    Let us bless the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Lord,
    now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

    Let all earthly nature be clothed in white;
    for now it is raised from its fall from heaven.
    It has been cleansed in the flowing streams
    by the Word Who preserves all things.
    Washed and resplendent, it has escaped from its former sins.

    We praise, bless and worship the Lord, singing and exalting Him
    ` throughout all ages.

    Ode 9 – Megalynaria and Heirmos (First Canon)

    Magnify, O my soul, the most-pure Virgin Theotokos,
    more honorable than the heavenly hosts!

    No tongue knows how to praise you worthily, O Theotokos;
    even angels are overcome with awe praising you.
    But since you are good, accept our faith;
    for you know our love inspired by God!
    You are the defender of Christians, and we magnify you.

    Magnify, O my soul, Him Who comes to be baptized in the Jordan!

    O David, come in spirit
    and sing to those who are to be enlightened:
    “Draw near to God in faith and be enlightened!
    The poor man, fallen Adam, cried, and the Lord heard him.”
    The Lord came to the streams of the Jordan,
    and in these streams restored the broken man.

    Magnify, O my soul, Him who receives baptism by the Forerunner!

    (Repeat: “O David, come in spirit….”)

    Magnify, O my soul, Him who was attested by the voice of the Father!

    “Wash yourselves,” says Isaiah, “make yourselves clean!
    Put away the evil of your doings from before the Lord!
    Everyone who thirsts, come to the living water!”
    For Christ will sprinkle those who run to Him in faith
    with the water that gives renewal.
    He baptizes them with the Spirit unto life that grows not old.

    Magnify, O my soul, One of the Trinity Who bent his neck and received baptism!

    (Repeat: “Wash yourselves, says Isaiah….”)

    O Prophet, come to Me, stretch out your hand and baptize Me quietly!

    Let us, the faithful, keep ourselves through grace and our baptismal seal!
    For as in former times the Hebrews fled destruction by marking the doorposts with blood,
    so the divine washing of regeneration will also be an exodus for us.
    Passing through it, we will see the light of the Trinity, which never sets.

    O Prophet, let it be so now! Baptize Me willingly,
    for I have come to fulfill all righteousness!

    (Repeat: “Let us the faithful ….”)

    Ode 9 – Megalynaria and Heirmos (Second Canon)

    Today the Master bends His neck beneath the hand of the Forerunner.

    O most pure Bride, O blessed Mother,
    the wonders of your childbearing pass understanding.
    Through you we have gained perfect salvation.
    We extol you, our benefactor, as is right;
    and we bring you a gift, a song of thanksgiving.

    Today John baptizes the Master in the streams of the Jordan.

    (Repeat: “O most pure Bride….”)

    Today the Master buries the sin of mortals in the waters.

    (Repeat: “O most pure Bride….”)

    Today the Master is attested from on high as the Beloved Son.

    We now see accomplished in a remarkable way
    what was revealed to Moses in the Bush;
    for the Virgin bore Fire and was not consumed
    when she gave birth to the Benefactor Who brings us light;
    and the streams of the Jordan welcomed Him and were not harmed.

    Today the Master has come to sanctify the nature of the waters.

    (Repeat: “We now see accomplished….”)

    Today the Master accepts baptism at the hand of the Forerunner.

    (Repeat: “We now see accomplished….”).

    Magnify, O my soul, the power of the undivided Godhead in Three Persons!

    O King without beginning,
    having washed mortal nature in unpolluted streams,
    thus putting the arrogant power of darkness to shame,
    You anoint and perfect it in the communion of the Spirit
    and lead it into endless life.

    Magnify, O my soul, her that has delivered us from the curse!

    (Repeat: “O King without beginning….”)

    (Katavasia: the first megalynarion and the heirmos from each canon.)


    The Savior, Who is Grace and Truth,
    shone forth in the streams of the Jordan,
    and enlightened those who slept in darkness and shadow;
    for He has come and revealed Himself,
    the Light unapproachable. (thrice)

  22. Yannis Avatar

    Its always fun when He says “…brood of vipers…”

    I wonder how the biblical images and references were stitched together. Clearly they go hand in hand with what is depicted in the icon, so one must have followed the other – unless they both spring out of a particular reading of the Scriptures – “theoria” etc that you were talking about in a recent posting.

    But you can answer that some other time : )

    Thank you very much.

  23. Darlene Avatar


    How gloriously beautiful! One could do a study on these Biblical Odes till the eschaton! How worshipful! When were these odes written? I have so many questions about the text swimming around in my head, but for now I will lay them aside to bask in the beauty of such heavenly praise.

  24. Andrew Battenti Avatar
    Andrew Battenti

    Darlene, my thoughts entirely. I don’t think I can add one iota to what you’ve said here — thank you for saying it!

  25. fatherstephen Avatar

    This particular canon was written, I believe, by Cosmos the Chanter (7th century). He was the adopted brother of St. John of Damascus who also wrote many hymns and canons. They both lived at the monastery of St. Sabba in the Judaean desert. Cosmos eventually became a bishop.

    The hymnography of Orthodoxy is without comparison. The depths of its theological reflection, use of Scripture, etc., have no equal. The bulk of this material is only heard in a very active monastery in which all of the services would be done every day. I have 12 thick volumes (one per month) at the parish, to provide material for as needed. The books are known as the “Menaion”. There are also the “Festal Menaion” with the material for the major feasts and the Triodion with the material for Great Lent, and the Pentecostarion with the material for the days between Pascha and Pentecost. The hymnographer, Cosmos, also composed much of the hymnography for Holy Week.

  26. Yannis Avatar

    Μηνας is greek for month – so menaion (μηναιον i guess) is litteraly “the monthly”.

  27. T h e o • p h i l o g u e Avatar

    “Christ’s Baptism is a foreshadowing (and on more than a literary level) of His crucifixion and descent into Hades (just as our own Baptism is seen by St. Paul as a Baptism into Christ’s ‘death and resurrection.’” I appreciate your sensitivity to your audience as you patiently explain this interpretation with those of us who are used to looking only for the meaning in the text that the author would have been consciously aware of, or interpretations that assume there is “a” meaning of the text rather than multiple meanings.

    “Love alone reveals things for what they are…” Amen and Amen.

    T h e o • p h i l o g u e

  28. Dean Arnold Avatar
    Dean Arnold

    Beautiful piece.

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