Sermon on the Epiphany7 min read
St. Philaret of New York
On the day of the feast of the Theophany – the Baptism of the Lord, it is not superfluous for every Orthodox Christian to remember yet another baptism, that baptism which was performed over each one of us Orthodox Christians, a baptism in which each one of us gave a promise to God, through the lips of our sponsors, that we would always renounce satan and his works and that we would always be united “cleave” to Christ.
This, I repeat, is particularly appropriate for today. Right now, the solemn order of the great blessing of the water will be performed. Its center, one might say its main part, is the magnificent prayer in which the Lord is glorified and the grace of the Holy Spirit is called down upon the water being sanctified. This prayer begins with the beautiful words: “Great art Thou o Lord and wondrous are Thy works and there are no words which sufficeth Thy wonders.” Those who have been present at the performance of the mystery of baptism and were present attentively, those know, that the prayer at the sanctification of the water in which a person is to be baptized begins with these same words, and the first part of this prayer said during the mystery of baptism is completely identical to the one said during the great blessing of the water. And only later, in the last part, the prayer during the performance of the mystery of baptism changes, in adaptation to this mystery when a new human soul is to be baptized.
And so, it would not inconvenience us to recall those promises which were made during baptism on behalf of each of us. When a person is baptized as an adult as it happens at times these days but was particularly frequent in olden days, then he himself makes promises on his own behalf, but if he is baptized in infancy, these promises are pronounced on his behalf by his godfather or godmother – the “recipients”, as the Church calls them. And it is these promises in which the Christian promises God to renounce satan and all his works and be joined, united with Christ; these promises are not only forgotten by people, but many do not in general know anything about them, that these promises were made on their behalf and they should think about how it is necessary to fulfill these promises.
And what happens if on the final day of the history of the human race on earth – on the day of the Dread Judgment it turns out that a person had made promises (or they were made on his behalf by the recipients), and he does not even know what these promises are or what was promised? What will happen with such a person?..
Think, my brethren, about what it means to renounce satan and all his works and be united to Christ.
Nowadays, the times are such that mankind has been gripped by impious vanity in which reigns the enemy of the human race and, as the old expression went, is forcing almost all the people to “dance to his fiddle”. All of this vanity of which our entire contemporary life is comprised, is a commotion which is in opposition to God, in which there is no God and in which the enemy of God dictates and commands. If we gave a promise to renounce satan and all his works, then we must, in fulfilling it, endeavor to not allow our soul to be oppressed by this commotion, but reject it, and remember that of which the Church speaks “one thing needful” – only one thing is necessary – to remember that one must unite unto Christ, that is, not only obey His commandments, but also try to unite oneself to Him.
Think about this, Christian soul, on this day of the bright and great feast; think and pray, that the Lord should send you a firm faith and resoluteness to fulfill these promises, and not to be swallowed up by the vain commotion of this world and lose one’s tie to the Lord, with Whom you promised to be united forever.Today’s feast is called the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and also the feast of the Theophany; but those who know the Church’s ustav (rubrics) well, also know that in the rubrics it is also at times called the “Feast of the Holy Theophanies” – in the plural form.
Why? Well, this is why: of course, the main remembrance of today’s feast day is that which was sung by the chanters: “God the Word appeared in the flesh to the human race.” The Incarnate Son of God, of Whose nativity, when He was born, only few knew, “appeared to the human race”, for His baptism is like His triumphant emergence to begin His service, which after this He carried out until His death and resurrection.
But at the same time, today’s feast is characterized by that which is hymned in its troparion, for it was namely on this very feast, “the worship of the Trinity was made manifest”. All three hypostases of the Holy Trinity appeared for the first time in Its individuality, and this is why this feast is called, I repeat, “the feast of the holy Theophanies. The people heard the voice of God the Father: “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” (in Whom is my good pleasure); the Son of God received the baptism from John (furthermore, we know from the Gospel, that John the Baptist seemed to be at a loss when the Savior of the world came to him and he attempted to restrain Him), and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove came down from the Father onto the Son. In this manner, for the first time “the worship of the Trinity was made manifest”, which is why the Church sings thus in the troparion and which is why it calls this feast “the feast of the holy Theophanies.”Christ the Savior appeared in order to begin His salvific service.
Not so long ago, when it was another great feast, the Nativity of Christ, we spoke here of how the Lord, in His Nativity in a wretched cave, was well pleased to lay Himself in a livestock manger, by this He as if in an emphasized manner rejected all earthly glory, all earthly splendor and magnificence, for He was not well pleased to appear in royal chambers or wealthy palaces, but namely in these wretched and humble conditions. And thereby He immediately showed that He had brought to the world a new beginning, the beginning of humility.
Look then, how He, so to speak, is faithful to Himself, just as He now, on today’s great feast, conducts so evidently and undoubtedly that same beginning of humility for us. For where is it that He has come? It is to the Jordan. For what purpose? To receive baptism from John. But sinners had been coming to John, confessing their sins to him and receiving baptism. Yet He was without sin, “inviolable to sin”, absolutely free and pure of it, and yet, He lines up humbly with the others, sinners, as if He Himself is in need of this purifying washing by water. But we know, that it was not the water that cleansed Him, the most holy and sinless One, but He sanctified the water by wishing to wash in it, just as this was hymned today during the sanctifying of the water.: “today the essence of water is sanctified.” And so, Jesus Christ brought to earth the beginning of humility, and was faithful to it throughout the course of His entire life. But that is far from all. He left for us too the commandment: “Come and learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find peace for your souls.”
Remember one more bright, joyous, spring feast – the feast of the Annunciation.
Here the Most Blessed Virgin Mary hears the good news of the Archangel, what shall be accomplished through Her – the Incarnation of God; what does Her most holy, most pure and undefiled soul say when She came to Her relative Elizabeth, in order to share Her joy with her? She merely says: “My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior, for He hath looked upon the lowliness of His handmaiden”. This humility was the beauty of Her spirit. From the very account of the Annunciation we know that the Archangel appeared to her at the moment when She, having read the prophecy of Isaiah on the Incarnation of God from a virgin, and did not even think to apply it to Herself, but only thought in the depth of Her humility: “How happy I would be if I were the last servant of this blessed Virgin”.. And then, in front of Her, the Archangel Gabriel appears standing with his glad tidings. The Lord, Himself meek and humble had looked upon Her humility.
He commanded that we too have humility, despite the beginnings of pride and self-love with which current mankind is ablaze.
Look, why do we have so many disagreements both within the enclosure of the Church and in parishes? Because everywhere flaming human self-love collides, but if there were humility within us to which the Lord calls us, then there would be nothing of this sort.
Let us learn, brethren, from our Savior, Who like the worst sinner came to John to be baptized by him; let us learn from Him this God-pleasing and fragrant virtue without which as the holy fathers said, no other virtue can be perfected. Amen.