Orthodox Homily for the Great Feast of Theophany

At this Great Feast of Theophany we bring into the present Christ’s holy Baptism into the waters of the Jordan.  At first glance, the Feast of the Holy Theophany may appear to be solely the remembrance of Christ’s baptism.  Indeed, some non-Orthodox teach that we celebrate Christ’s baptism solely that we may be obedient and “follow Christ’s example.” But such a simplified understanding of baptism belies a far greater and more beautiful divine truth and mystery revealed by God through His Church—a truth and a mystery so important for our salvation. For our Orthodox forefathers, Theophany was celebrated on par with Nativity and at one time even joined with Nativity and next only to Holy Pascha in significance.  Indeed, there are no fewer than 34 Scripture readings assigned to this Feast—so great is its importance,

Christ’s baptism is of so much significance to us, first, because God is revealed to us in this Feast—hence the name, “Theophany”, a manifestation or appearing of God.  God reveals Himself to us as Holy Trinity here.  The Father speaks, declaring before the world, “You are My Beloved Son in Whom I am well-pleased” even as the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ in the likeness of a dove, setting Christ on equal par with the Father and the Spirit.  

Here at the Jordan, mystically present for us in the blessing of the waters we partake of this day, God reveals Himself to us as three in one, undivided yet distinct in Persons.  Here, God shows Himself to be a relationship of love and perfect unity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is here who begets the Word by Whom He speaks all things into being and proclaims them “good,” He who made the heavens and the earth and the waters in which He’s baptized. Here, the Father declares this truth to the whole world, revealing Jesus as His beloved Son.  The Spirit is also here present, filling all things, and descending as a dove, ever proceeding from the Father.  

Christ is not a messenger, not just a good teacher or example.  If He is not also God, there is no renewal of our human nature, no “new Adam,” no salvation from sin and death.  Who else can defeat sin and death and renew the race of man save Him who first created us, the very Word of God?  As St. Athanasius writes in the 4thcentury, “It was in the power of none other to turn the corruptible to incorruption, except the Savior Himself, that had at the beginning also made all things out of nought: and that none other could create anew the likeness of God’s image for men, save the Image of the Father” (On the Incarnation, XX)

Second, Christ God pours out His redemption, His love, His calling on our lives through this Feast, inviting us to be made anew in His image and likeness, the image of the Father.  By entering into the waters of Jordan, it becomes the means through which we enter into the spiritual race of the new Adam, that Christ inaugurated by His Incarnation.  St. Paul assures us, “as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27), that is, have died to the old man and been raised to the new spiritual man in Christ:  This is the water that Christ refers to when He says to Nicodemus in John 3:5, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Fittingly, the Jordan where Christ God is baptized is also the river that for Israel was the means of temporalrescue: Here Jacob crossed over to flee from Esau. Joshua commanded the priests carrying the Holy Ark to cross the Jordan so the Israelites could enter the Promised Land—and the Jordan parted for them as the Red Sea had for Moses when Israel fled Egypt.  Here Elijah took his mantle, struck the water, dividing it, he and Elisha crossed as on dry land.   

Now, Christ by His baptism, sanctifiesthis water. He makes it the means of eternalrescue and salvation for those who put on Christ and live out their baptism through repentance throughout their lives.  Indeed, Creation itself is renewed here:  All creation is sanctified by means of Christ’s Baptism, beginning with that most basic element of His creation—water.  It was the mystical waters that were separated to form the heavens and the earth.  So, with the sanctification of water, all creation is renewed: The Creator, God the Word, has entered into it and it becomes what it first was and returns to its first beauty.  It takes on a ‘spiritual’ attribute through its blessing and becomes the means through which God communicates His grace.

By being born anew by “water and the Spirit,” Baptism and Chrismation, through this water made present at each baptism, we have the potential to become what God, in His great love for us, first created us to be—truly alive, deified beings capable of growing in holiness and communion with the one God in Trinity.

We modern people are preoccupied by so many things, so many cares that we think are so, so important. But here is the one thing needful—that we put on Christ in Baptism and then live outthat baptism, growing in relationship and communion with the living God, glorifying Him with our lives.  This is the Gospel, the Good News of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan. This is the most important truth for us to apply as we begin 2020 and receive again this water of our salvation.  

All that God created is good.  It’s our cooperation with sin that leads to darkness, despair, and death in the world and in our creation, which we’re called to love and steward.  But, as we live out our baptism, as we sanctify ourselves by this holy water, as we guard ourselves against further pollution and stain of sin, our light glows brighter, our love grows stronger, and all are affected, healed, changed, renewed, and invigorated who desire such change and continued growth and participation in the life of God the Holy Trinity.

For this reason, we not only receive this sanctified water today and take it into our homes for anointing, but we ask that our houses be blessed, that we in our ‘little churches,’ the family, may make Christ King and our homes a place of spiritual refreshment, renewal, light, and blessing.  

As you partake of this holy water, pray that by God’s grace it may work noetically in your heart, quicken your soul, bring you to remembrance of God’s love and salvation for you, and defend you against the snares of the evil one, even as it focuses you again and again on Christ, the Word made flesh.  Behold: Christ has made all things new!

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

Jan. 6, 2019, Holy Theophany

Epistle:            Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7

Gospel:            Matthew 3:13-17