Today is the seventh day of Bright Week, the joyful celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. In today’s Apostolic Reading, St. Peter again proclaims, “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15). The gospel returns to the theme of baptism, for our life in Christ through the mystery of baptism is the beginning of our share in Christ’s eternal resurrection.
The gospel today begins, “After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing” (John 3:22). This is the only passage in the gospels that tells of Jesus baptizing, and he raised a theological problem: if Jesus baptized, would this be already the saving baptism in water and the Spirit. St. John, therefore, corrects himself in the next section of his gospel, “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, just his disciples), he left Judea and returned to Galilee” (John 4:1-3).
The icon posted here, from the Novgorod School, nonetheless depicts Jesus baptizing, a baptism that is life-giving. Whatever the meaning of John 3:22, as a people reborn in the Holy Trinity in the font of baptism, the life-giving baptism of water and the Spirit, today we seal the feast in the joy of our baptism, in which we died with Christ, so that we could rise with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:3-4).
Meditation by Archpriest David Petras
One the key parts of the Great Fast is attending to Baptism. Do we realize the import of Baptism and its roots?
St. John Damascene lists eight baptisms:
1) the Flood, which was the eradication of sin;
2) the sea and the cloud, the baptism of Moses;
3) the baptism of the Law, in which every unclean person washed himself with water (Leviticus 14:8);
4) the baptism of John;
5) the baptism of our Lord;
6) the baptism of repentance and tears;
7) martyrdom, the baptism of blood;
8) the last baptism in hell, which is not saving, but which destroys the soul.
One common theme in all of this is that baptism is a fire, a death, a purification, as we say in the Creed, “I profess one baptism for the remission of sins.”
In this third week of the Great Fast, we remember the first of these, the flood. We are reminded that the Great Fast is a journey, but also a preparation for baptism. It is our weakness today that we do not evangelize people to come into the faith. We no longer see the connection between baptism and the passion and resurrection, as St. Paul did, and which is proclaimed in the Great Paschal Vigil, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). Our goal in Pascha is to renew our baptisms, renouncing the evil of Satan and committing ourselves again to Christ, so that “We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. (Romans 6:6)”
The flood is a foretelling of the true baptism of our Lord. In both the power of sin is destroyed. The ark represents the loving providence of God; it represents the strength of his grace, working in our human weakness; it represents our faith that life is found in God’s creative wisdom. We must hear last Sunday’s reading, “we must attend all the more to what we have heard, so that we may not be carried away. For if the word announced through angels proved firm, and every transgression and disobedience received its just recompense, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3)