January 6, 2022

The Theophany of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ (St. Justin Popovich)

By St. Justin Popovich

Upon his return from Egypt, our Lord Jesus Christ was in Galilee, in his city of Nazareth, where he would be brought up, hiding his power and omniscience from his people until the age of thirty. This was because with the Jews, no one was allowed to have the dignity of a teacher or a priest before the age of thirty. That is why Christ did not start preaching until he was thirty, nor did he announce that he was the Son of God and the Great High Priest who passed through heaven. Until that time, he lived in Nazareth with his Immaculate Mother and with his supposed father Joseph the Carpenter, while he was alive. During this time he occupied himself with the craft of carpentry. And when Joseph died, he labored at that craft himself, earning bread for himself and the pure Mother of God with the labor of his hands, in order to teach us not to be lazy or eat bread for nothing.

And when he was thirty years old and the time came, as the Gospel says, for him to appear to Israel: God said to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness, to go and baptize with water (Luke 3:2). And in this way He gave a sign by which he will know the Messiah who came into the world. This is what the Baptist himself says in the Gospel: "He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, 'Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit'" (John 1:33). 
John obeyed the words of God, and came to the Jordan region, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. For he was the one foretold by Isaiah: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight" (Luke 3:3, 4; Isaiah 40:3). And all the land of Judah and Jerusalem went out to him; and he baptized them all in the Jordan, and they confessed their sins (Mark 1:5). 
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized (Matt. 3:13). He came at the time when John had told the people about him, saying: "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8). After these words of the Baptist, Jesus came to be baptized, although baptism was not necessary as he is pure and holy, born of the pure and most holy Virgin Mother, and as the source of all purity and holiness. But as the One who took upon himself the sins of the whole world, he came to the river to wash them away by baptism. He came to the water, to avenge the nature of the water; he came to be baptized, to arrange for us a bath of holy baptism. He came to John for him to be a witness, because he saw the Holy Spirit descending on the One baptized, and heard the voice of the Father from heaven. And John rebuked him, saying, "You need to baptize me, and are you coming to me?" (Matt. 3:14). For he knew him by the Spirit, because thirty years prior he danced with joy in his mother's womb. He himself demanded that Jesus baptize him, because he is in the sin of disobedience, started by Adam to all mankind. And the Lord said to him: "Let it be so now, for thus we must fulfill all justice" (Matt. 3:15). Here by justice Saint Chrysostom understands the commandments of God; as if Jesus had said: "Since I have fulfilled all the other commandments of God's law, and only this one remains to be baptized, therefore I must fulfill it as well." - For the baptism of John was a commandment of God, as John says: "He who sent me to baptize with water, he told me" (John 1:33). And who sent him? Obviously God. For it is written: "God said to John" (Luke 3:2).

And the thirty-year-old Jesus was baptized. This is because a man in his thirties easily inclines to every sin. Saints Chrysostom and Theophylact say: The first age is childhood; it is characterized by ignorance and recklessness. The second age is youth; it is inflamed by bodily lust. And a man in his thirties is in the mature age of life; then man is subject to the love of gold, the love of glory, anger, wrath, and every sin. And because of that, the Lord Christ waited for baptism until that time, to fulfill the law for all ages and sanctify our nature, and give us the strength to overcome passions and to protect ourselves from mortal sins.

And when the Lord was baptized, he immediately came out of the water, that is, he did not stay in the water. Because it is said that Saint John the Baptist, when he baptized everyone, immersed them in the water, and held them until they confessed all their sins; and then he let them go, and they came out of the water. Christ, since he had no sin, did not stay in the water, which is why the Gospel tells us he got out of the water immediately. 
When the Lord came out of the river, the heavens opened, light shone from above, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove on Jesus who was baptized. Just as in the days of Noah the dove brought the news of the cessation of the flood water, so here too the dove's form announces the cessation of the flood of sins. And the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, because it is a pure, humane, meek and harmless bird, and it does not live in the stench. In the same way, the Holy Spirit is the source of purity, the open sea of philanthropy, the teacher of meekness, the builder of innocence, and flees from the one who rolls in the stinking mud of sin without repentance. And when the Holy Spirit descended like a dove on Jesus Christ, a voice was heard from heaven saying: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). To him be the glory and the power through all the ages, Amen.

Source: From the book Lives of the Saints. Translation by John Sanidopoulos.