Theophany

Matthew 3:13-17

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ! There is so much we can learn from this glorious feast of Christ’s Baptism by John the Forerunner in the River Jordan. First, in the early Church, the feasts of Christmas and Theophany or Epiphany, as it is sometimes called, were celebrated together on the same day – that is on the day of Christmas. In the fourth century, the feasts were separated, and Christmas was transferred to December 25. Theophany is called by St. Gregory the Theologian, “the feast of lights” because of the baptism and the illumination of the catechumens. How glorious that on this day we can witness this in a tangible way, with our catechumen, Joe, receiving the grace of Holy Baptism and Chrismation. We are truly blessed in this way today!

Metropolitan Hierotheos states that the word “Epiphany” comes from this apostolic passage: “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” and is related mostly to Christ’s Baptism, for it was then that people recognized the Grace of Divinity.
The word Baptism, according to St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, means “plunging” – meaning to plunge or to immerse. Thus, baptism is connected with water. According to the Holy Fathers - in order to reshape a vessel (and Joe is being reshaped today as a newly chosen vessel of Christ) the potter needs two elements: water for moulding the earth, and fire to burn and cast the molded clay so as to reshape it. And God, the great potter of our mould, does just the same thing to Joe, and to all of us at our Baptism. Wanting to reshape our nature, which was crushed by sin, God used fire and water. And He takes fire from Himself, because as God He is a “consuming fire” which consumes wickedness, and he borrows the water from the River of Jordan.

It is important for us to know that today is a new birth for Joe, whose patron saint is St. John Baptist, and his baptism is followed by Chrismation and by Holy Communion. And, so on this day, forgiveness of sins is granted to Joe – all sins – no sins are remembered after this day; they are completely washed away by the grace of the Holy Spirit and Joe begins anew.
And so, now today Joe is truly called a Christian. And so this is a day to greatly rejoice for through baptism, Joe has received the power to become a Son of God, an inheritor of the eternal goods. And so today begins a struggle for Joe, and we all know of this struggle, as we have lived it and are living it – that struggle to keep our baptismal garment spotless and holy.

For when the grace of Baptism is clouded by sin, then the baptism of repentance and tears must follow. And these tears and our confessions are called our 2nd baptism because we must work diligently now through a life of repentance because of our sinfulness. For, as the Holy Fathers tell us – “even one tear of repentance is equivalent to the water of baptism, and a painful groan brings back the grace which has departed for a while.”
So today, let us all greatly rejoice with our brother Joe, who has put on Christ truly and has begun his life in the Orthodox Church as a Christian and as a follower of Christ for today he has received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. He has been given all the tools necessary to fight the good fight and to be a spiritual athlete of Christ. It is a glorious day for all of us, and through his baptism, may we remember our own baptism, so that we may continue to repent, as we ought to, and by doing so, renew our own baptismal vows. AMEN.