Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Economy of Theophany


In one of his homilies, my beloved brethren and fellow lovers of feasts, Saint Proclus, the Patriarch of Constantinople and disciple of Saint John Chrysostom, speaks about the great feast of Theophany, which we celebrate today, saying:

Christ appeared in the world, and He adorned the joyless world with immense gladness. He bore onto Himself the sin of the world, and trampled forever the enemy of the world. He sanctified the sources of water and illumined the souls of mankind....

Today's feast reveals greater miracles than that of Christmas night. Because that night only the earth rejoiced, as it carried, in the embrace of the manger, the Almighty God.

Today, however, as we celebrate Theophany, the sea rejoices with it. And it rejoices because through the Jordan it receives a place in the blessing of sanctification....

The Sun of righteousness is bathed in the waters of Jordan. Fire dives into and mixes with water. And God sanctifies humanity. Today all of creation cries out and sings: "Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord."1

On this illustrious day of our faith, Christ who is "beyond all purity" is baptized in the waters of Jordan "to free us from bondage to the enemy".

Today we celebrate the appearance of the mystery of the unchanging and inseparable Holy Trinity and earth and sea rejoice.

Today when the whole world is filled with spiritual joy, let me convey to your love sturdy and supplicatory words, borrowed from the inspired teachings of our God-bearing Fathers of the Holy Church.

First, why was Christ, the Master of all, baptized? asks Saint Proclus.

He responds: "Not because he had need of the purification of His soul, but to economize in two ways the interests of our souls. With water He grants us sanctifying grace and encourages everyone towards the mystery of baptism." This truth is also recorded in the famous hymnography of our Church and Saint Kosmas the Poet chants:

"But through this He economized our regeneration."2

He was not baptized because He had need of purification, but to become a type and example for our baptism, which is perfect and done with water and the Holy Spirit.

Hence, this mystery, which He recommended when He said, "whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,"3 becomes the gate of our entry into the Mystery of the Church.

This is not a secular event, as it has unfortunately become in our days, nor merely a ceremony with a character foreign to the tradition of our Church.

Rather, it is our naturalization in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the mystery of adoption. By this we become children of God by grace.

It is a "vehicle to heaven, a patron of the kingdom, the gift of adoption",4 according to the wondrous hierarch of Caesarea, Basil the Great.

"And to You descended the Holy Spirit, and to You was heard the paternal voice from heaven... that now You have become My Son,"5 is assured to us by the catechist of Jerusalem, Saint Cyril.

"Why were the heavens opened?" asks Saint John Chrysostom. So you may learn that when you are baptized the same takes place,... the Holy Spirit comes to you as well."6

"But through this He economized our regeneration."

The Fathers of the Church explain that Christ established water as an essential element of baptism, because it is the most utilized and familiar element for cleansing.

Therefore, it symbolizes the cleansing or purification of the soul, as well as the presence that fertilizes the seed to bear fruit. Without it, there would be no form of life.

This is how it purifies us from the ancestral sin and every sin, leading us to a new and fruitful and holy spiritual life.

And just as in the days of Noah the Lord "drowned sin in the waters", and in the days of Moses "by the sea delivered the Hebrews from the bondage of Pharaoh",7 so also by water and the Spirit He grants us salvation and renews our old nature from sin.

The true Light has shone forth granting illumination to all. Though He is beyond all purity, Christ is baptized with us. He sanctifies the water, and it becomes a cleansing for our souls. What is seen is earthly, but what is known is above the heavens. Through washing comes salvation, and through water comes the Spirit. By descending into the water we ascend to God. Your works are wonderful, O Lord, glory to You.8

At the time of Baptism a mysterious birth takes place, the generation of which is by the Holy Spirit. By the energy of the All Holy Spirit the one who is baptized becomes a new creation, acquiring new powers for a new life.

They become a living cell in the Body of Christ. "Such is the grace of the Sacred Mystery, so that publicans and magis and those who are worse than everyone and have undergone immense disgrace, are numbered in the chorus of the children of God... And from dirt, Baptism turns them into gold, they who have been bathed in the Holy Spirit like fire."9

Saint Proclus invites us:

Come see an unprecedented deluge, much greater and stronger than that which took place in the time of Noah.

Then the water drowned the people, now the water of baptism revives those who had died spiritually, who today have been baptized by the power of God.

Then Noah built an ark made of solid wood, now Christ, the noetic Noah, received from the incorrupt Virgin Mary the ark of His body.

Then Noah rubbed the ark externally with asphalt tar. Now Christ strengthens and empowers the ark of the body with the anointing of faith.

Then a dove carried an olive branch foreshadowing the fragrance of the Master Christ. Now the Holy Spirit in the form of an all-white dove appeared to all and revealed the merciful Lord.10

My brethren,

Today's great feast of our faith is a Theophany and Epiphany. "The Savior has appeared among the generation of men..."; "You have appeared today in the universe, and Your Light, Lord, has come upon us...", chants the sacred hymnographer. At the same time, it is a call for all of us not only to see the Master Christ, but to have a place in our hearts of His living presence.

May Christ live within us, according to the proclamation of the Apostle: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."11 This is not only the privilege of an Apostle, but it must also become our spiritual condition. "We are not encompassed by Christ and the All Holy Spirit as an outer garment, but our hearts and thoughts are full of light and our faces with grace",12 says Photios the Great.

In this way we will always live in the atmosphere of Theophany, and we will repeat and at the same time confess together with the entire Church of Christ, along with the Angels and the Saints, that "we have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true Faith, worshiping the indivisible Trinity."

Along with my warmest and heartfelt prayers and love for each of you separately, I complete my communication with you today with the apostolic blessing: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all." Amen.

The supplicator before the Lord Who has appeared,

Your Bishop

Seraphim of Kastoria

Notes:

1. Homily 7, "On Holy Theophany", PG 65:757Α.

2. Procession Hymn for Theophany.

3. Mark 16:16

4. Homily 13, "On Holy Baptism", PG 31:423.

5. Homily 3, "Catechism", PG 33:445Α.

6. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 12, "Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew", PG 57:205Α.

7. Prayer of the Great Blessing of the Waters.

8. Theophany Matins, Praises.

9. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 10, "Homilies on the Gospel of John", PG 59:75-76.

10. Homily 7, "On Holy Theophany", PG 65:760C.

11. Galatians 2:20

12. "Amphilochia" 2, "How Are Those Baptized Into Christ Garbed?"

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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