On the Baptism of Christ

Celebrating holy Theophany, we are transported in thought to the very place of this event, and we shall intelligently attend to what is happening there! There it is—Bethabara! You can see St. John standing on the shore, in clothes made of camel’s hair, with a girdle of a skin about his loins (Mk. 1:6). He is surrounded by a countless multitude of people from Jerusalem, Judea, and all the lands around the Jordan. The Baptism of the Lord has just finished, and all eyes are fixed upon the Son of man just emerged from the waters. They see nothing else. But sharpen by faith the eye of your mind, and following after John, passing over what is seen by all, turn an attentive gaze upon what is not seen by all—on the opened heavens, the dove descending, and the voice saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Mk. 1:11). Fix your gaze, and do not tear your attention away from this wondrous vision! O! Who will give power to our words, that they might worthily sing praises to God in three hypostases, revealed at the Jordan!

The Jordan River near Bethabara. The Jordan River near Bethabara.

Along with lost paradise, the heavens were shut closed by God’s righteous judgment. But as a strong gate cannot hold back a powerful surge of water, so did the fortress of righteous judgment finally melt from the fire of Divine love—and now the heavens are opened. Brethren, let us also open the forces of our nature, let us insatiably receive the revealed God, and delight in Him. Let us soak all our senses with Him, all our thoughts and desires.

We are sunk in darkness; but here is abundant light. We are immersed in dismal separation—from heaven and from ourselves—but here is an all-enlivening peace. We are exhausted by our powerlessness, but here is the inexhaustible source of all strength!

And as after the darkness of night all creatures long for the light and strive with desire to receive the first rays of the rising sun, so do we turn the illuminated eye of our mind toward the Theophany, desiring to receive the comforting rays of the Divine economy of our salvation, redeemed by the merciful Word of God the Father—and delight in them.

As a creature constricted by the cold of winter greedily meets the spring, which looses the bonds of cold, and again finds harmonious vivification, so do we, vivified by the hope of salvation, with our hearts receive peace shining forth from the baptized Lord—and we delight in Him!

As during the summer heat the thirsting soil drinks in with a thousand lips the rain falling from the sky, so do we with every desire of our souls receive all the strength that is ready to pour upon us from the Spirit descending in the form of a dove—and we delight in it!

Why should we even invite ourselves to this? For, aren’t we all led into the economy of salvation? Shouldn’t we all therefore be enlightened, and conciliated, and enlivened? But O! When has it been so? Once the Lord, recalling John the Baptist, said reproachfully to the Jews, He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light (Jn. 5:35).[1] Every year in our holy church the Lord brings also to us the light of His Theophany before John in the Jordan. Doesn’t He say to us through this, “Here is the burning and shining light!” Make sure that that you be willing to rejoice only in his light while it is shining.

Be careful, brethren, for you walk in danger![2] (Eph. 5:15). Doesn’t the deceptive call of the enemy of our salvation at times seductively strike our ears?

False wisdom says: “Come to me, I have the light.” But it does not have the light, only a phantom light, and those who listen to it call light darkness and darkness light.

The world says: “Come to me, and I will give you peace!” But it has no peace, only a phantom peace, and those who are lured by it and discover the lie only too late reproachfully condemn it saying, “Peace! Peace! And where is peace?”

The prince of the world promises wide berth and life, and power and pleasure. But he has neither power, nor freedom, nor pleasure—only a phantom of these, and those who are seduced by them can only call themselves alive, free, and satisfied, while in fact they are wearied slaves, tormented by deprivation.

Hasten, brethren, to acquire the skill of discerning all of this in the light of the Theophany and do not be lured by what is only called light, and peace, and power but is not. Strive instead ever harder towards the One Who is the way, the truth, and the life, also righteousness, and illumination, and deliverance.

Well, we have almost gotten to judgment and self-condemnation. What is there to be done? That is how the Lord wants it to be. He has ordered that the Church brightly celebrate His Theophany, and wills that each of us enter into the joy of the feast only through the judgment of conscience. Whoever has tasted the gifts that are the cause of the Church’s present celebration will rejoice; but whoever has not tasted them—first taste them, and then you will rejoice. Amen.

From: Homilies by His Eminence Bishop Theophan to the flock in Vladimir. (Vladimir: Provincial Administration Press, 1869), 167-170 [Russian].

St. Theophan the Recluse
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

18 января 2015 г.

[1] In Church Slavonic this passage sounds like this: He was a lamp, burning and shining, but ye desired to seek other joys in the hour of his shining.

[2] Eph. 5:15. The KJV translates this verse as: See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

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