Baptism Means Crossing the Jordan

The ark of the covenant led the people of God across the Jordan. The priests and the Levites halted, and the waters, as though out of reverence to the ministers of God, stopped flowing. They piled up in a single mass, thus allowing the people of God to cross in safety. As a Christian, you should not be amazed to hear of these wonders performed for men of the past. The divine Word promises much greater and more lofty things to you who have passed through Jordan’s stream by the sacrament of baptism: he promises you a passage even through the sky. Listen to what Paul says concerning the just: We shall be caught up in the clouds to meet Christ in heaven, and so we shall always be with the Lord. There is absolutely nothing for the just man to fear; the whole of creation serves him. Listen to another promise that God makes him through the prophet: If you pass through fire, the flame shall not burn you, for I am the Lord your God. The just man is everywhere welcome, and everything renders him due service.

So you must not think that these events belong only to the past, and that you who now hear the account of them do not experience anything of the kind. It is in you that they all find their spiritual fulfilment. You have recently abandoned the darkness of idolatry, and you now desire to come and hear the divine law. This is your departure from Egypt. When you became a catechumen and began to obey the laws of the Church, you passed through the Red Sea; now at the various stops in the desert, you give time every day to hear the law of God and to see the face of Moses unveiled by the glory of God. But once you come to the baptismal font and, in the presence of the priests and deacons, are initiated into those sacred and august mysteries which only those know who should, then, through the ministry of the priests, you will cross the Jordan and enter the promised land. There Moses will hand you over to Jesus, and He himself will be your guide on your new journey.

moses parting the red sea painted

Mindful, then, of all the mighty works of God, remembering that he divided the sea for you and held back the waters of the river, you will turn to them and say: Why was it, sea, that you fled? Jordan, why did you turn back? Mountains, why did you skip like rams, and you hills, like young sheep? And the word of the Lord will reply: The earth is shaken at the face of the Lord, at the face of the God of Jacob, who turns stones into a pool and rock into springs of water.

The early Church saw the sacrament of baptism not only as the crossing of the Red Sea, but also as the crossing of the Jordan into the promised land. This reading, used in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for Wed of the Tenth week of the year, is taken from a homily on Joshua (Hom 4, 1: PG 12, 842-843) by Origen, an early church father who died in 252AD.
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Origen

Origen, born into a Christian family from Alexandria Egypt around 185AD, was only a teenager when he witnessed his father, Leonidas, dragged from his home by Roman soldiers and ultimately martyred. He was inspired by his father’s heroic example to dedicate himself to a strict life of prayer, fasting and study. The bishop of Alexandria, Demetrius, recognized the talent and holiness of this young man and named him head of the catechetical school of this great center of early Christianity. Origen ultimately became one of the greatest Scripture scholars and preachers of the early Church. Though he began his teaching ministry as a lay catechist, Origen was ultimately ordained a priest and wrote commentaries and homilies that influenced subsequent Early Church Fathers from both East and West. Though he did not receive the grace of martyrdom, Origen was imprisoned and brutally tortured for his faith during the persecution that took place under the emperor Decius. Weakened by his ordeal, he died a few years later in 254 AD. Though several of Origen’s teachings were condemned after his death by Church authorities, it must be remembered that his erroneous opinions were expressed in matters that had not yet been defined by official Church teaching. In his lifetime, Origen was always a loyal son of the Church whose correct opinions far outnumbered his errors. Origen’s writings were profuse indeed, though only a limited number survive. He wrote commentaries on almost every book of the Bible, with his treatise on Song of Songs, Romans, and many homilies on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) surviving either intact or in large portions. He was the author of one of the earliest attempts at textual criticism of the Old Testament, the Hexapla, and was responsible for the first attempt at systematic theology in his famous De Principiis (On First Principles). His two works of spiritual theology, Exhortation to Martyrdom and On Prayer were widely read in the Early Church and are still read today, with many excerpts used in the Roman Office of Readings.