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January 8, 2023

Homily on the Sunday After Theophany (St. Luke of Simferopol)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered in 1957)

At Vespers of Great Feasts, the so-called narratives (paremoias) are read, which are usually excerpts from the books of the Old Testament. They set out the events of former times, reminiscent and even explaining what the Holy Church celebrates on a given day. On the greatest feasts, the number of narratives, usually not exceeding three, greatly increases, and on the day of the Resurrection of Christ it reaches fifteen, and on the day of Theophany - thirteen.

When considering the narratives of Theophany, it is immediately evident that they deal with miraculous changes in the properties of water under the direct influence of the commands of God Himself or the actions of the great Saints inspired by Him.

Already in the first narrative from the book of Genesis, we hear that when God created the heavens and the earth, “the earth was formless and empty... and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters” (Genesis 1:2).

By His Divine influence on the waters, He gave them the power to give life, to produce reptiles and fish from themselves.

In the second narrative we hear about the great miracle of the passage of the people of Israel through the Red Sea. At the command of God, the prophet Moses struck the water with his rod, and the water, as if alive and having heard God's command, immediately fulfilled it and dispersed to the right and left, so that the people of Israel could cross the bottom, and it closed its waves over the army of Pharaoh.

A miracle similar to this is described in the fourth narrative, in which we hear that the flow of the Jordan stopped when, under Joshua, the priests with the Ark of the Covenant and all the people crossed over it. Water here, like a rational creature, was obedient to the command of God.

And not only the direct commands of God obeyed the water, which people in vain consider dead. The water definitely felt the holiness of the mantle of the great prophet Elijah, with which he hit it so that it would stop its flow and he and the prophet Elisha could cross the bottom of the Jordan to the other side, as we read in the fifth narrative.

And that the sanctity of Elijah's mantle was great, we know from the fact that, having planted it on his disciple Elisha, he passed on to him, to the highest degree, his gift of miracles and prophecies.

The eleventh narrative tells of the amazing miracle of the burning of the sacrifice of the prophet Elijah in his dispute with the priests of Baal. Fire fell from heaven and burned the sacrifice of the prophet after his fiery prayer and watering the altar and the sacrifice with twelve waterpots of water.

In the third narrative we hear how the bitter water of Marah suddenly became sweet when the prophet Moses, at the command of God, put a piece of wood into it.

In the twelfth narrative we read how the destructive and harmful properties of Jericho's water changed when the blessed salt was poured into it by the prophet Elisha.

In the sixth narrative we read about the sudden healing from the cruel leprosy of Naaman, the commander of the king of Syria, who dipped seven times in the Jordan at the order of the prophet Elisha. Isn't this the enormous power of the prayer of the great righteous man and prophet over the element of water?!

Why did I say so much to you, outlining the narrative readings of the feast of Theophany, about the miraculous changes in the properties of water according to God's commands and through the prayers of the saints? Of course, in order to answer the difficult question about the purpose of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ from John in the streams of the Jordan.

In past years, I told you that the great John the Baptist himself was surprised at the desire of the Lamb of God to be baptized by him. He spoke a lot about the deep answer of the Savior to the bewildered question of John: “Let it be so now, for it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15).

The narratives of the great feast of the Baptism of the Lord lead us to understand another purpose of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ. By his immersion in the waters of the Jordan, He sanctified them and gave them miraculous power to perform the great mystery of baptism.

With three immersion in water, sanctified by deep prayers, the sign of the cross, anointing with consecrated oil, the baptized person is freed from the original sin of Adam and from all his own sins and leaves the font holy and clean.

The consecration of water, performed during the mystery of baptism is not at all the same as during the prayer service for the sanctification of water and even during the great consecration of water on the day of Theophany, but is a very important part of the mystery of baptism.

In a deep prayer at the consecration of water, the priest calls on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who consecrated the Jordan water with His Baptism, to consecrate the water of the font for the baptized.

With reverent awe let the priest say this prayer and make the great mystery, mentally looking at the Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ in the waters of the Jordan.

And we, all Christians, with great reverence and fear, may we lift up our hearts to God on the holy day of Theophany, only once, on the day of the Baptism of the Lord, who tangibly revealed to us the great mystery of His Trinity.

With their own ears, people on the banks of the Jordan heard the voice of God the Father, saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).

With their own eyes they saw the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the God-man Jesus, standing in the water of the Jordan; they saw the Third Person of the Holy Trinity - the Most Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove descending from heaven on the Lord Jesus.

And it was much easier for people to believe in the Holy Trinity, seeing and hearing It, than to believe only after preaching about It. Let us also accept with deep faith the testimony of these ancient Christians and walk with them along the path shown to us by the God-man Jesus Christ, asking for the grace-filled help of the Holy Spirit on this difficult path. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.