Praying with Icons
Windows into Heaven
Reflections on Growing in Our Friendship with Christ
by Bishop David Motiuk, Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton
Our Lord’s Baptism and Life in the Trinity
Last year, in a series of monthly reflections on the Eucharist, we rediscovered and renewed our love for Holy Communion, Jesus’s body and blood.
This year, join me in another series of monthly reflections on the theme of Praying with Icons, Windows into Heaven, as we strive to grow in our friendship with Christ.
Icons are Theology in Colour, where God draws near to us and we draw near to God. Icons are Windows into Heaven through which we peer, experiencing God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. And icons are Holy Doors through which the Divine and the human embrace.
We begin our series with a reflection on the events described to us in the Bible regarding Our Lord’s Baptism, captured in colour in the icon bearing the same name.
The Feast of Our Lord’s Baptism or Theophany celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. It is celebrated in the Eastern Christian Churches on January 6 and in the Roman Catholic Church and others on the first Sunday following the Epiphany of Our Lord (January 6).
The Sacred Scriptures tell us that Jesus’ public ministry begins with his baptism. Amidst the crowds, Jesus comes up to John and asks to be baptized. Pure and innocent of all sins and so without Adam’s shame, Christ, the New Adam, went down into the watery grave to signify his impending descent into the darkness of death and his sojourn into the tomb, foreshadowing his resurrection on the third day.
During Jesus’ baptism, the Most Holy Trinity is made known, as we learn from our Catechism: “‘Worship of the Trinity was revealed; the voice of the Father bore witness to You, naming you the beloved Son, and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the word’s certainty.’ The voice of the Father is the voice of God the Father, and the Spirit in the form of a dove is the Holy Spirit, who descends upon Christ, revealing him to be the Son of God. For this reason, Church tradition refers to the baptism of Jesus Christ as the Theophany, meaning divine appearance” (Christ Our Pascha, Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, no. 197).
Baptism. Our Lord’s baptism. Our baptism.
We were baptised into the Life in the Trinity. The formula that was used to baptise us was: “The Servant of God [your name] is baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is our entry into the Life in the Trinity.
In Andrei Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity, Life in the Trinity becomes clearer. In the Icon, the Three Persons depicted represent the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-8). In terms of the Trinity, they represent, from left to right, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are seated around the Table of Love, in deep communion and conversation, an expression of spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love, and humility.
Many books have been written explaining the Icon. Above all, the Icon of the Trinity is an invitation to Life in the Trinity. If you look at the icon closely, you can imagine the outline of a cup forming between God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, with the base of the cup at the bottom of the table, and with Jesus, God the Son, sitting as it were in the cup itself. The cup reminds us of the Chalice of the Eucharist, which contains Jesus, his Body and his Blood offered to us in the Divine Liturgy. And notice, that around the Table of Love there is room for you and me to enter into the Communion of the Cup and of the Trinity, the very invitation into Life in the Trinity. How cool is that!
But Life in the Trinity starts with baptism, our baptism, and Our Lord’s first public appearance takes place at his baptism for very good reason.
Baptism is the symbol of death and resurrection. Christ came to the earth in order to die and be raised.
Baptism is a symbol of repentance of sin, and its forgiveness. Christ came as the Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sin of the world in order to take it away.
Baptism is a symbol of sanctification. Christ has come to sanctify the whole of creation.
And baptism is a symbol of radical renewal. When one is baptized, the old is over and the new has come. Christ appeared on earth to bring all things to an end and to make all things new.
Baptism therefore contains in symbol the entire mystery of Christ, the whole purpose of his coming.
As we celebrate the Feast of Our Lord’s baptism, let us recall our own baptism.
The Church teaches us that “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons and daughters of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church, and made sharers in the Church’s mission” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1213).
“All you have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, Alleluia.”
May the Feast of Our Lord’s Baptism, together with the manifestation of the Holy Trinity, and our baptism accomplish the building up the Kingdom of God, its renewal and sanctification. And let it make our entire Christian life an unceasing Theophany, a revelation of the light of the glory of God.
Praying with Icons. Windows into Heaven. Growing in Our Friendship with Christ.