The Baptism of the Lord icon depicts the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, at which point the worship of the Trinity was made manifest and God revealed himself for the first time in the person of Jesus.
The preparation for the baptism of Jesus began at the creation of the world, when God, the Creator of all things, presided. Images in the icon that symbolize this include: the mandorla, the half circle full of rays of light and three concentric half circles in the upper center of the icon depicting God the Father; the three rays of light descending from the Father to the Son representing the Holy Spirit, shown in the bodily image of a dove; and, of course, the central figure of Jesus himself, second person of the Holy Trinity, standing in the waters of the Jordan River. He intentionally enters into the baptismal waters not for his sake – for he is sinless – but for ours, telling us, through our own baptism, that he is with us at all times and in all circumstances. At our baptism we experience symbolically the death and resurrection of Christ, and the triple immersion in the water of our baptism – in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – represents the three days in the tomb, through which the Savior has vanquished death (Rom 6:3-11).
With his right hand Jesus blesses us, and symbolically, through the two raised fingers and the three touching fingers, indicates two primary dogmas of Christianity: the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity. Each baptized person has received a priestly anointing through the Holy Spirit; humanity recovers its true vocation. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (Peter 2-9).
Angels are important images in this Icon on the shore of the Jordan River, bowing before the Lord, their hands covered indicating reverence and respect. Angels, as messengers and protectors, are a part of God’s created world, ministering to Jesus after his time in the desert. They surround and accompany the person of Jesus throughout his earthly life.
Water, connected to the Spirit, is the indispensable element for all life. The flood (Gen 6:5-8:22) signifies the first purification of the earth, the first baptism of the world; the passage of Moses through the Red Sea was a passage – through water – from slavery to freedom. This is the water of our own lives that Jesus comes to “be” in and into which Jesus is compelled. Interestingly enough, though not in this icon, images that are often depicted in the waters surrounding Jesus in icons of the baptism are those of paganism, evil spirits, and servants of the old gods. Jesus, however, sanctifies all matter, setting us all set free.
The baptism in this icon is also a baptism performed by John, the last prophet of the Old Testament. Overcoming his reluctance, John stretches out his hand and baptizes Jesus, the Son of God: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path.”