Sunday after Feast of the Theophany – Orthodox Homily on Theophany

The Theophany of God the Holy Trinity, this revelation and manifestation of God as the unity in essence He is—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is revealed to the world He created and proclaimed by His Word as “very good”. That world fell into sin and despair, but by Christ’s Incarnation, the new Adam, our human nature and all creation are renewed. By Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, baptism becomes the means of getting ourselves into that redeemed race for, as St. Paul says, “as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). We are then equipped to live out our baptism through Chrismation, the ‘sealing’ of which St. Paul refers to in Ephesians 1:13. Truly, God’s grace and love for mankind are fully visible here.

Because Christ God, the Creator, enters into the water, this most basic element of His creation becomes what it first was. It takes on a ‘spiritual’ attribute, that is, it is renewed as a means of communicating God’s grace. With Christ’s baptism into the waters of the Jordan, this water becomes at that moment and every moment thereafter in the calling into the present of His sanctifying presence by the Holy Spirit (anamnesis), the means of our healing and renewal. Those who partake in faith of this water, are anointed with it and have their houses blessed with it, truly take Christ’s healing into themselves. It is, likewise, this sanctified water of the Jordan made present at each baptism by the power, grace, and operation of the Holy Spirit.

Those who are baptized into Christ and put on Christ through the waters that He has made ‘the laver of regeneration’ are made new, are born again, and enter the new race of Adam Christ has inaugurated through His Incarnation and personalized for us by our baptism into Christ after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As St. Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away: behold, all things have become new.” (II Cor. 5:17). This “new creation” of which St. Paul speaks is the new birth Christ reveals to Nicodemus, saying, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5).

This is the Good News, the Gospel, given to us today; it is an invitation to new life in Christ God, for renewal of our baptism for those who’ve already ‘put on Christ.’ And so that this water can have its deifying effect on us, it’s necessary for us to break through the monotony of our often complacent ‘every day’ existence where God is on the periphery or where we have not yet surrendered ourselves or our passions fully to Him, or where we fall into laziness, complacency, or despair of a deeper communion with God. Our faith is manifested in that desire for more of God and that which is admonished upon us today: our repentance and willingness to repent.

Our Gospel today ends with the words of Christ, “‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’.” To repent means that we turn back to God with our hearts and minds, with all that we are, so that we can move forward in growth in faith and continue to become that for which Christ became incarnate and was baptized to make us: His beloved adopted sons and daughters.
Repentance is not just a one-time experience, but rather the ongoing ‘attitude’ of the faithful Christian. Our life in Christ, deification, is a journey, a pilgrimage. For this reason, the faithful Christian understands that repentance, turning back to Christ continuously in mind and heart, is the ongoing living out of our baptism and Chrismation, the ongoing work and prompting of the Holy Spirit that we respond to with our “Yes” to God and our “No” to sin. Without ongoing repentance, without the acknowledgement that we are, as St. Paul says, “working out our salvation with fear and trembling,” not assuming we’ve already ‘arrived,’ we cannot keep the Kingdom of Heaven as the goal of our lives that we are still journeying to attain.

For this reason, on this day, we hear the words in the Gospel from Deuteronomy, that “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” Today, those fulfilled words are offered us as refreshment, renewal as new birth by water and the spirit. All of us, through our ongoing repentance and the renewal of our baptism, are given the opportunity this day to experience more of our life in God the Holy Trinity, to further our faith, to grow in communion.

The sanctifying, deifying grace-filled presence of Christ meets us in this water through our participation in the Feast itself, our being anointed with this holy water, and the blessing of our homes and dwellings with this sanctified water. Sadly, in America many do not avail themselves of the fullness of this Feast. In Romania, it is a pious practice, for instance, in the first eight days after the Feast, to partake in faith of the sanctified water every day at morning prayers, that this spiritual water may have its deifying, faith strengthening, and healing effect upon us, may minister Christ’s presence to us. But also, that we make a priority in our otherwise busy lives to have our homes blessed with this sanctifying water that there too Christ may be King.

This blessing of our homes requires great faith from us: we make it a priority in this otherwise secular culture. We believe that the priest’s blessing by Christ’s command will bring us Christ’s blessing and bring this sanctifying water to us in a unique way that will make a difference for us and our families in protecting and keeping us in Christ and growing us in our communion with Him this year. Indeed, the Church proclaims that the “central sign” of God’s sanctification of all things through His Theophany to the world is the act of blessing the homes of the faithful.

If you wish to break through any complacency or lukewarmeness in your spiritual life, if we want to progress in our relationship and communion with God this new year, we need the sanctifying and blessing of Christ in our homes. The family, our homes, are considered “a little church” in our Orthodox theology, so how important it is that these ‘little churches’ receive the special prayers and blessing of the Church so that all we hope to achieve in Christ in this year can be more fully realized. When the priest blesses the house, he not only asks God’s mercy for those living in the house, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, he drives from it every evil and fills it with Christ’s blessing so that the Feast of Theophany is appropriated by us into our dwellings. It’s vital to our spiritual growth that we make this blessing of our homes a priority.

It is my prayer that this blessing with holy water and your partaking of this water will defend you against all the snares of the evil one, will focus you again and again on Christ through active repentance, not just through the season of Theophany but throughout this next year of life. Receive it in faith and repent, knowing that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and has been revealed to us! Christ is in our midst!

Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Mission
Sunday After Theophany
7 January 2018

Epistle: Eph. 4:7-13
Gospel: Matt. 4:12-17