Reading yesterday a Romanian Akathist Hymn dedicated to Epiphany (You can read it here in Romanian) I was moved by the following verse
“Glory to you cause with Your body You broke down the dividing wall of hostility, so even us, who are far of upon the sea, will get closer to you. “
Doing a bit of biblical digging I found the corresponding scriptural context
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:13-14)
From another source I found out that it was the ancient tradition of the Jews when living among the Gentiles to have a river or a wall separating them from their idolatrous neighbors. If we apply this to the context of the Baptism of our Lord the river Jordan symbolizes such a barrier, between the Promised Land, delivered to the Jews by God after their desert wandering, and the rest of the world, the Gentiles.
Christ comes to be baptized in the river Jordan to put an end to this very barrier. He wants first to break down the difference between the Jews and the Gentiles, by showing that salvation is universal and is not dependent on the customs of the Law, or on a holy origin, but on God Himself.
“Bear fruit in keeping with repentance”, says John to those that came to him for baptism, “ and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”(Mat 3:8-9)
Despite our origin, in Christ we are all united into one universal Baptism
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:27-28).
The entire world is called with a holly calling to follow Him into the river to be cleansed of sin and gain salvation.
Christ Himself did not need to be cleansed, he was the only one without sin, but He came and as a lamb and in humility accepted baptism from John so we will accept it also at our turn. Humility is the greatest weapon against the adversary and Christ was the first to show it. Show us that we are all equal, that we are all sinners who need salvation through water and Spirit.
The entire nature was in awe at His condescension, seeing the Only Sinless one entering in the river. John was humbled, the angels were amazed, Jordan changed its course when the Master came as a slave to be baptized.
“Why do you turn back your waters, O Jordan? Why do you stop your streams, and why do you not proceed upon your natural course? I cannot bear the fire that consumes me, said the river. I am filled with wonder and with dread before His extreme condescension. For I am not used to wash Him Who is clean; I have not learned to bathe the sinless, but to purge filthy vessels. Christ Who is baptized in me, teaches me to burn the thorns of sin.” (Stichera of the 9th hour of the Feast)
The other aspect of Christ’s wall breaking is the renewal of the unity between God and man, unity broken through sin. The river Jordan becomes from this perspective a symbolical barrier between our material world and the promised spiritual kingdom. Man could not cross the barrier to God’s kingdom because the demons of sin were lurking in the water so no one could cross. That’s why we see depicted in the Theophany icon a serpent demon in the river Jordan.
Christ comes to destroy these demons and save us from sin:
“Be in no doubt at all; for I hasten to slay the enemy that is hidden in the waters, the prince of darkness, that I may now deliver the world from His snares, granting eternal life in My love for mankind.” (Stichera from the 6th hour of the Feast).
Thus the entrance into the Kingdom is opened by Christ at Theophany, and paradise is again accessible to man.