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January 6, 2021

Six Epiphany Sermons by St. Maximus of Turin

On Holy Epiphany

1. It is possible to understand what thanks we owe to the Lord Christ because He piles up good things on good things and multiplies our joys by more joys. Until now, see, we have been exulting in the newborn Savior, and now we rejoice in Him as one reborn. The festival of His birth is not yet at an end and already the solemnity of His baptism is to be celebrated. He has hardly been born to us and already He is reborn in the sacraments. For today—although many years have passed—He was consecrated in the Jordan. The Lord has disposed of affairs in such a way, then, as to join good things to good things, so that at one and the same time He would be brought forth by a virgin and be born by a mystery, and the feasts of the births of the flesh and of baptism would be joined, so that just as we marveled then at His conception from an unsullied virgin, now we might raise our thoughts to Him who has gone down into the pure waters. Thus we shall glory in each deed—that a mother begot a son (and she is chaste) and that water cleansed Christ (and it is holy). Just as after childbirth Mary’s chastity was glorified, so after this baptism the cleansing of the water was verified, except that the water was endowed with something greater than Mary was. For she merited chastity for herself alone, while it also conferred holiness on us; she merited not to sin, while it merited to purge away sins; she cast from herself her own sins, while it remits the sins of others in itself; upon her virginity was conferred, while upon it fruitfulness was bestowed; she gave birth to one (and she is pure), while it brings forth many (and it is a virgin); apart from Christ she knows no son, while with Christ it is the mother of nations.

2. Today, then, is another kind of birth of the Savior. We see Him born with the same sort of signs, the same sort of wonders, but with greater mystery. And the Holy Spirit, who was present to Him then in the womb, now pours out upon Him in the torrent. He who then purified Mary for Him now sanctifies the running waters for Him. The Father who then overshadowed in powers now cries out with His voice. And He who then, as if choosing the more prudent course, manifested Himself as a cloud at the nativity now bears witness to the truth; for God says: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him.’ Clearly the second birth is more excellent than the first. For the one brought forth Christ in silence and without a witness, but the other baptized the Lord gloriously with a profession of divinity; from the one Joseph, thought to be the father, absents himself, but at the other God the Father, not believed in, manifests Himself; in the one the mother labors under suspicion because in her condition she lacked a father, but in the other she is honored because God attests to His Son.

More noble, I say, is the second than the first birth, since in the one the father is discovered to be the God of majesty, while in the other he is perceived to be Joseph the workman. And although the Lord was both born and baptized through the Holy Spirit, yet what cries from the heavens is more noble than what labors on the earth. Joseph the workman, then, is thought to be the father of the Lord, but God, the true Father of the Savior, is not excluded from this; for He is Himself a workman. As a skilled workman He Himself contrived the plan of this world, and like a wise architect He hung heaven from the heights, founded the earth on a base, and bound the seas by His will. He Himself is the workman who, according to a certain measure, casts down the heights of pride and raises up the depths of humility. He Himself is the workman who removes whatever is useless in what we accomplish and preserves whatever is useful. He Himself is the workman whose axe, John the Baptist warns, is laid to our root, so that the tree which goes beyond the proper length of time will be delivered over to the fire when it has been cut out by the roots, while whatever keeps to the measure of faith will be pruned for the heavenly workshop.

3. Today, then, He is baptized in the Jordan. What sort of baptism is this, when the one who is dipped is purer than the font, and where the water that soaks the one whom it has received is not dirtied but honored with blessings? What sort of baptism is this of the Savior, I ask, in which the streams are made pure more than they purify? For by a new kind of consecration the water does not so much wash Christ as submit to being washed. Since the Savior plunged into the waters, He sanctified the outpouring of every flood and the course of every stream by the mystery of His baptism, so that when someone wishes to be baptized in the name of the Lord it is not so much the waters of this world that cover him but the waters of Christ that purify him. Yet the Savior willed to be baptized for this reason—not that He might cleanse Himself but that He might cleanse the waters for our sake.

A Sequel (to Sermon 13A On Epiphany)

1. Your holiness remembers, brethren, that on the day of the most blessed Epiphany we said that the Lord was baptized in the Jordan, and we further said that He wished to be consecrated by this mystery more for our sake than for His own. It is clear that He accomplished all these things on our account. Why would a consecration have been necessary for His benefit, He who is Himself a sacrament?’ What would the solemnizing of a mystery have profited Him in whom is the fullness of mystery? For fullness is in Him, as the Apostle says: "For in Him the whole fullness of divinity dwells bodily." And again the Evangelist says: From His fullness we have all received! Thus He in whom the fullness of divinity existed did not lack for anything so as to require completion by the mysteries of the sacraments, but He willed to go through the mystery not that He Himself might attain perfection but that the fullness of the mystery might profit us. For this reason, when John the Baptist resists Him and says: "I ought to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" the Lord tells him: "Let it be so for now, for thus it behooves us to fulfill all righteousness." To fulfill, he says, all righteousness. When the Lord is baptized, then, righteousness does not justify Christ, but righteousness is itself made holy by Christ, and unfulfilled virtue is fulfilled by Him in whom is the fullness of virtues. Therefore John says: "I ought to be baptized by you." He bears witness to the Lord’s not having been baptized for His own sake because John demands that he be baptized before the Lord is baptized by him. In saying this he shows that there is a greater grace in the mystery of the Lord than there is in the master of the mystery. For how would he have been able to bestow consecration on Him from whom he himself desired to receive sanctification? The master of the mystery was inferior in his merits to the disciple in His holiness. For in comparison to Christ the master is inexpert, righteousness unfulfilled, and the water sullied. But when the Lord is baptized, by His blessing the master is perfected, righteousness is fulfilled, and the water is purged.

2. Although it had been harsh and cold, the water is purged and endowed with the warmth of the Lord’s blessing, so that what had removed material stains a little before now cleanses the spiritual stains of souls.’ Nor should we be surprised that we speak of water, which is something of bodily substance, as cleansing the soul. There is no doubt that it comes and penetrates into all that is secret in the conscience. For although it is already subtle and fine, yet, having become even more subtle by Christ’s blessing, it passes through the hidden tissues of life to the recesses of the soul like a spiritual dew. For the current of blessings is more subtle than the flow of waters. Hence we have also said that in the baptism of the Savior the blessing which flowed down like a spiritual stream touched the outpouring of every flood and the course of every stream. When Christ stood in the Jordan the flood of waters moved wondrously, but the flood of blessings also flowed. In the one the river’s stream was borne more violently, while in the other the most pure font of the Savior diffused itself. And in a certain wonderful way the consecration of that baptism went back to the source of the Jordan, and the flow of blessings was carried in the opposite direction to the flow of the waters, which is the reason, I think, that David said: "The Jordan turned back." For in the baptism of Christ it was not the waters of the Jordan that turned back but the grace of the sacrament, and it returned to the source of its own being in blessing rather than in substance, and inasmuch as the grace of consecration was dispersed to every stream, it may be seen that its own onrush was called back to the beginning of its flow.

On the Grace of Baptism

1. Beloved brethren—I speak to you catechumens—because it is clear (as we showed a few days ago) that Jesus Christ was not baptized for His own sake but for ours, we ought to take up the grace of His baptism in all haste and draw the blessing of consecration from the river Jordan, which He blessed, so that our sins might be drowned in the water in which His holiness was submerged. Thus the same water that swirled about the Lord might also cleanse His servants, the holy stream profiting us from Christ’s venerable washing to the extent that it can, and through the same contact and mystery by which it borrowed a blessing from the Savior might purify us with a more divine warmth, giving back to Christians the grace that it received from Christ.

2. Therefore, brethren, we must be dipped in the same stream as Christ was so as to be able to be what Christ was. Let me say this without detriment to the faith: although both baptisms are the Lord’s, nonetheless I think that the baptism by which we are washed is more grace-filled than the baptism by which the Savior was baptized. For the former is celebrated by Christ, while the latter was celebrated by John; in the one the master asks to be excused, while in the other the Savior extends an invitation to us; in the one righteousness is incomplete, while in the other the Trinity is complete; to the one the holy one comes and departs holy, while to the other a sinner comes and leaves holy; in the one a blessing is conferred through the mysteries, while in the other sins are absolved by a mystery.

We must therefore, brethren, be baptized by the same stream as the Savior was. But in order to be dipped in the same water, we do not require the regions of the East nor the river in Jewish lands, for now Christ is everywhere and the Jordan is everywhere. The same consecration that blessed the rivers of the East sanctifies the waters of the West. Thus even if perchance a river should have some other name in this world, there is in it nonetheless the mystery of the Jordan.

3. What was accomplished then is accomplished now by the same sacraments, except that there is a greater grace. For then we saw the Trinity with bodily eyes, but now we contemplate the same Trinity with the eyes of faith; then the human face scarcely gazed upon Christ, but now the human mind embraces Him; then the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove poured over a man, but now by the same power of divinity He is poured within a man; then the Father came to us on account of His Son by a distant voice, but now He and His Son both come down upon us. That grace is fuller, therefore, wherein God does not descend to human beings under an assumed form but deigns to descend to His children in His own substance. For in the former He wishes, as it were, to draw unbelievers to faith by visible signs, while in the latter He desires to bestow grace on believers by a spiritual power. It is a greater grace, then, to see God as God than to see Him in such a way that you still seek Him. The one is the perfect Trinity, the other the still inscrutable Divinity. It is a greater grace, then, to know God by truth itself than to look upon Him in an assumed form.

4. Let us, therefore, do for ourselves what we see that the Lord has done for us. Let us do for ourselves what John desired might be done for him. If he who was a prophet, teacher, and saint yearned for the Savior’s baptism, how much more ought we sinners, poor and ignorant, to pray for this grace! See the Savior’s mercy: what the prophet begs for but does not merit to receive is freely offered to us! We should see why it was that John did not receive the baptism from Christ that he had asked for. For when he asks, the Lord says to him: "Let it be so for now, for thus it behooves us to fulfill all righteousness." Now we know that John the Baptist was a type of the law. Therefore it was proper that he should baptize the Lord, so that as the Savior was born from the Jews according to the flesh the Gospel might also be born from the law according to the Spirit, and thus it might receive its consecration whence it derived its origin. Therefore this is what he said: "For thus it behooves us to fulfill all righteousness." And so it was proper that He who had ordained the commandments of the law should Himself fulfill them, as He says elsewhere: "I have not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it."

On Epiphany

1. There are very many who, on this holy day of Epiphany, commemorate the marvelous deeds enacted by the Lord at the time when, upon having been importuned at a wedding feast, He changed the substance of water into the appearance of wine and, by His blessing, turned spring water to a better use. The servants who had drawn water from the wells discovered wine in the jugs and, by a profitable loss, what they had filled them with disappeared and they found what had not been there. With this marvelous sign the power of His divinity was made manifest for the first time.

Some, however, refer on this holy day to His having been baptized by John in the Jordan. In the grace of His washing, God the Father was present in voice, and the Holy Spirit came down. Nor is it remarkable if the mystery of the Trinity was not absent at the Lord’s washing, since the sacrament of the Trinity makes our washing complete. For the Lord had to demonstrate first in Himself what He would afterwards demand of the human race, since He accomplished everything not for His own sake but for our salvation. Or did He wish to be baptized on his own account even when He had no sin? As the prophet says: "He did no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth." But [He was baptized] for our sake—we who, subject to punishment because of our many crimes and sins, needed to be cleansed in Christ’s baptism. And therefore the Lord came to the washing not so that He Himself might be purified by the waters but so that the streams of waters might purify us, for He went down into the waters, thereby destroying the sins of all believers. But it was necessary that He who bore the sins of all should destroy the sins of all, as the Evangelist says: "This is the lamb of God, this is the one who takes away the sins of the world." In a wonderful way, then, one man goes down into the waters and the salvation of all is restored.

2. God the Father is present, then, when the Lord is baptized, and the Holy Spirit is present. See the kindness of the Savior because of which, in His suffering, He submitted Himself all alone to outrages: alone in His washing He did not seek grace, alone He does not wish to partake of glory. He is present, therefore, as I have said; the Father is present and also the Holy Spirit. And inasmuch as God cannot be seen, the Spirit descended as a dove and the Father as a voice. And this manifestation of the Savior was only necessary to build up the faith of human beings, for our faith depends on nothing but hearing and seeing; consequently the Spirit submits Himself to our eyes as a dove and the Father gives Himself over to our ears in a voice.

Now it would not have been necessary for these things to happen except for the sake of our belief; the Father and the Spirit, as God unseen, could have come down upon the Word, the Son, by an unseen descent. For the sake of our faith, then, when heaven was opened, the Spirit came down to Christ, the Father to the Son, a voice to the Word. For Christ is the Word, of whom it is written: "In the beginning was the Word." Rightly, I say, is the Father called a voice and the Son the Word, because a word comes only from a voice. Voice and Word belong together, then, and in mysterious conjunction they provide for human salvation.

But let us see why the Holy Spirit came upon Christ in the form of a dove. Is there some similarity between the dove and the Lord, as there is between the voice and the Word? Clearly there is no small similarity, for I would also call the Lord Himself a dove, since He is quick, gentle, and simple. He is a dove because He commands His holy ones to be as doves when He says: "Be simple as doves." But the prophet speaks of what Christ the dove is when, in His person, he describes His return to heaven after His suffering: Who will give me wings like a dove, and I shall fly away and be at rest? When Christ the Lord, therefore, initiated the sacraments of the Church a dove came down from heaven. I understand the mystery and I recognize the sacrament. For the very dove that once hastened to Noah’s ark in the flood now comes to Christ’s Church in baptism. Then it announced safety to the one with an olive branch, now it bestows eternity on the other with a token of divinity; then it bore a sign of peace in its mouth, now it pours out peace itself—Christ, in His own substance.

3. In the Jordan, then, the Lord is baptized. The Scripture recounts that many marvelous deeds were frequently done in this river. It says, among other things: "And the Jordan turned back.” But I think that what happened when the Lord Jesus Christ was there was more marvelous. For in the past the waters turned back, but now sins are turned back; and just as the surging river left its bed then, so also now the surge of sins withdraws from a person in error. I think that this already happened in the time of the prophet Elijah. For just as Elijah made a division of waters in the Jordan, so also Christ the Lord worked a separation of sins in the same Jordan: the one commanded the waters to stand still, the other sins. And just as under Elijah the waters sought the primordial sources from which they had come, so also under Christ the Lord human beings have turned back to their beginning, from which they had sprung in infancy.

Given after Epiphany

1. I believe that my preaching on the holy day of Epiphany reached all of you, brethren, especially you catechumens. In it we spoke to those who assert that water was changed into wine then and also to the many who testify that the Lord was baptized in the Jordan on that day. Although it is believed by different people that only one of these took place, nonetheless I hold that both took place and that one is a sign of the other, for both took place. For when the Lord was baptized He instituted the mystery of washing and also, by contact with the Divinity, changed the human race—brackish water, as it were—into an eternal substance. Likewise, when He turned the jars full of spring water into wine He did both things: He presented something far better to the wedding feast and also showed that, by the washing, the bodies of human beings are to be filled with the substance of the Holy Spirit. The Lord declared this in clearer fashion elsewhere when He said that new wine was to be stored in new skins, for in the newness of the skins the purity of the washing is signified, and in the wine the grace of the Holy Spirit.

2. Therefore it behooved you catechumens to have listened to this quite closely. There is greater need that your understanding, which is now as chilly as water because of ignorance of the Trinity, should become as warm as wine with a knowledge of the mystery, and that the brackish and weak liquid of your souls may be decanted into a precious and strong grace. Thus, instead of wine we may taste what is good and be redolent of what is sweet, and hence we can say, in the words of the Apostle: For we are the good odor of Christ to God. For a catechumen is like water, cold and pale, before he is baptized, but a believer is strong and red like wine. A catechumen, I say, is like water, having no taste or smell, valueless, useless, unpleasant to drink, and unable to keep. For just as water spoils and smells when it is kept a long time and has deteriorated within itself, so also a catechumen becomes worthless and goes to ruin when he remains a catechumen a long time, for he deteriorates within himself. As the Lord says: "Unless one is born again from water and the Holy Spirit he will not enter into the kingdom of heaven." The one who does not enter into the kingdom, however, necessarily remains in hell. But rightly is the faithful compared to wine, for just as every part of the whole creation goes to ruin as it gets older and only wine improves with age, so, while all are perishing of old age from throughout the human race, only the Christian improves with age. And just as wine acquires a pleasant savor and a sweet odor as its bitterness diminishes from one day to the next, so also the Christian takes upon himself the wisdom of the Divinity and the agreeable aroma of the Trinity as the bitterness of his sins diminishes with the passing of time.

3. On this holy day, then, the Lord was baptized. See how well He ordained that He should be born on His birthday and reborn on the Epiphany, so that the vows” of human salvation might not be too distant from Him and that we might constantly give eternal thanks to the Savior. Then our vows were also solemnized, when the Church was united to Christ, as John says: The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.’ Because of this marriage, therefore, it behooves us to dance, for David, at once king and prophet, is also said to have danced before the ark of the covenant with much singing. In high rejoicing he broke into dancing, for in the Spirit he foresaw that through Mary, born of his own line, the Church was to be joined in Christ’s chamber; about this he says: "And He, like a bridegroom, came forth from His chamber.” Thus he sang more than the other prophetic authors because, gladder than the rest of them, by these joys he united those coming after him in marriage. And to his own vows he invited, with more than customary charm, all the nations,and he taught us what we ought to do at this wedding feast, inasmuch as, before the wedding feast, he rejoiced in utter joy.

On Holy Epiphany

1. The Gospel mentions, as we have just heard read, that the Lord came to the Jordan for the sake of baptism and that He wished to be consecrated by the heavenly mysteries in that same river. We should not be astonished that the Lord and master of baptism itself did this, since He said: "Whoever does thus and teaches thus shall be called very great in the kingdom of heaven." He wished, therefore, to do first what He ordered should be done by all, so that the good teacher would not so much suggest His teaching in words as carry it out in actions and would strengthen our faith in deed and understanding alike. That all this happened today is clear because we can gather its truth from reason itself. For reason demands that after the day of the Lord’s birth—during the same season, despite the intervening years—this feast should follow, which feast should itself also, I think, be called a birthday. For then He was born to human beings, but on this day He was reborn in the sacraments; then He was brought forth by a virgin, but on this day He was generated by a mystery. For the Lord arranged that the festivals of human beings should not be too far separated from one another. Thus in a single season those who rejoiced over the newborn on earth might exult in the one sanctified from heaven, and those who possessed the virgin’s offspring through the angels proclamation might hold fast the Son of God through the heavens’ witness, so that people would be certain that He whom the virgin bore and the Divinity acknowledged was the Son of God. Extraordinary births merit extraordinary attentions: in the one, when He is born as a man, Mary His mother nourishes Him at her breast; in the other, when He is begotten in mystery, God His Father overshadows Him with His voice, saying: "For this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him." The mother, then, caresses the tender child in her bosom, the Father ministers to His loving Son with His testimony; the mother, I say, holds Him up to be adored by the Magi, the Father manifests Him to be worshiped by the Gentiles.

2. He is held, then, by His mother at her breast when He is born, but His Father unceasingly extends the warmth of His breast to Him, for we read that He always reposes in the Father’s bosom, as the Evangelist says: No one has ever seen God except the only-begotten Son, who is in the Father’s bosom.’ Willingly, therefore, does the Lord repose in the bosom of the saints—which is why He chose the breast of John the Evangelist—so that they might rest in Him. But the bosom upon which Christ finds rest is not furnished by the corporeal breast nor is it covered with splendid clothing, but it is composed of the practice of the heavenly virtues. In John the Evangelist the bosom for Christ was faith, in God His Father it is divinity, and in Mary His mother virginity. Where there is a dwelling for the virtues, there is a bosom for Christ; where He finds the lodging of the heavenly commandments, there He lays His head. Therefore He says to sinners and to the faithless: The foxes have holes and the birds of heaven have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’

3. The Lord Jesus, then, came today to baptism, and He wanted His holy body to be washed with water. Perhaps someone should say: “Why did one who is holy want to be baptized?” Listen, then! Christ is baptized not that He might be sanctified by the waters but that He Himself might sanctify the waters and purify with His own purification the streams that He touches.

For Christ’s consecration is greater than the consecration of the element.  

For when the Savior is washed all water is cleansed for our baptism, and the source is purified so that the grace of the washing might be ministered to the people who would follow after.

Christ underwent baptism first, then, so that after Him the Christian people might confidently follow. I understand that this is a mystery, for thus also the pillar of fire went first through the Red Sea so that the children of Israel might follow on a tranquil path, and it went through the waters first in order to prepare the way for those coming after it. What took place, as the Apostle says, was the mystery of baptism. Clearly this was a kind of baptism, where a cloud covered the people and water carried them. But the same Christ the Lord who did all these things now goes through baptism before the Christian people in the pillar of His body—He who at that time went through the sea before the children of Israel in the pillar of fire. This, I say, is the column which at that time offered light to the eyes of those who followed and now ministers light to the hearts of those who believe, which then made firm a watery path in the waves and now strengthens the traces of faith in the washing.

But with faith — as with the children of Israel — one who walks fearlessly will not fear the pursuing Egyptians.