Saturday 11 January 2014

Homily on the Great Feast of Theophany

An Exegesis on the day of the Lord's Baptism

By Saint Gregory the Wonderworker, Bishop of Neocaesarea

THEN COMETH JESUS from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptised of him (Matt. 3:13). What meekness and humility the Lord has! What condescension! The Heavenly King approaches John, His own forerunner, not surrounded by the armies of the angels, and without sending His heralds, that is the bodiless powers, before Him, but just as a simple and normal soldier. Thus it is that he comes up to His own soldier; He approaches just as everyone else in the midst of the common people. He circulates among the company of the prisoners, though He is their Redeemer and their Judge. He joins Himself to the sheep who are astray, even though He is the Good Shepherd, Who for the sake of the lost sheep came down from Heaven and yet did not leave Heaven. The Heavenly Wheat is mixed with the the tares, He who was conceived without seed.

Seeing Him, John the Baptist recognised that this was indeed the Very One, Whom he had confessed and honoured while he was yet in his mother’s womb, for Whose sake he had, surpassing the bounds of nature, leaped so early in his mother’s womb. Withdrawing his hand and bowing his head like a servant beloved of his Lord, John besought Him: I have need to be baptised of Thee, and comest Thou to me? (Matt. 3:14). What art Thou doing, Lord? Why dost Thou reverse the order of things? Why, on a par with a slave, dost Thou request that which befitteth slaves? Why dost Thou desire to receive that, of which Thou hast no need? Why dost Thou burden me through Thy so great condescension and humility? I have need to be baptised of Thee; but Thou hast no need to be baptised of me. The lesser is blessed by the greater and the mightier; rather than the greater being blessed and sanctified by the lesser. The light is kindled from the sun, rather than the sun being set aflame by a lamp. The potter’s clay receives form from the potter, and not the potter from the clay. Creation is renewed by the Creator, rather than the Creator being directed aright by creation. The patient is treated by the physician, rather than the physician being given prescriptions by the sick. The poor man takes alms from the rich, not the rich from the poor. I have need to be baptised of Thee, and comest Thou to me? Can I be ignorant of Who Thou art, from whence Thou hast shone forth, and from whence Thou hast come? Can I deny the majesty of Thy Divinity, simply because Thou hast been made like unto me? Can I reject the Divinity which my mind perceiveth, on account of what my fleshly eyes see, simply because Thou hast appeared to me with such condescension? - that is, having taken flesh upon Thyself Thou bearest all that is mine within Thyself, so that Thou mightest save the whole man. Can I be ignorant that Thou clothest Thyself in light as with a garment, simply because, for my salvation, Thou hast garbed Thyself in my nature? Or can the brilliant light of Thy Divinity be concealed from me, simply because Thou now bearest my flesh and art visible to all? Or, mentally straying, can I dare to deny Thy Divine, invisible and inapproachable Essence, simply because I now see in Thee my own form? No, I know Thee, O Lord; I know Thee, being instructed of Thee Thyself, for none may know Thee unless they are illumined with the light of Thy grace. I know Thee clearly, O Lord, for I saw Thee in the spirit, even before I beheld this light. When Thou wast altogether in the incorporeal bosom of the Heavenly Father, Thou wast also altogether in the womb of Thy handmaiden and Mother. And I, yet being contained by nature within the womb of Elizabeth as it were in a prison, and being bound by the indissoluble bonds of infancy, I leapt up, and lauded and praised Thee, even before Thou wast born. Thus can it be that I, who thus preached Thy coming even before Thy nativity, should not recognise Thine advent? Shall I who learned of Thy coming while yet in the womb, having now come to full understanding, appear as a babe [in understanding]? No, I cannot but honour and glorify Thee, Whom all creation holds in reverence. I cannot but proclaim Thee, Whom heaven announced through the wandering star, to Whom the earth offered worship through the magi, Whom the choirs of the Angels hymned, rejoicing in Thy condescension towards us, Whom the shepherds who were keeping watch by night in the fields confessed to be the Chief Shepherd of the rational sheep. I cannot keep silent while Thou art present, for I am a voice. Indeed, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare ye the way of the Lord. I have need to be baptised of Thee and comest Thou to me? 

By my birth I destroyed the barrenness of the mother who had borne me, and being yet a babe I cured the dumbness of my father, having received from Thee the gift of working wonders. But Thou wast born of the Virgin Mary, as Thou hadst blessed and as Thou alone knowest, and Thou didst not destroy her virginity but didst safeguard it and grant her the name of Mother, in such a way that neither did her virginity preclude Thy being born, nor did Thy being born destroy her virginity. Thus things that were completely contrary, giving birth and virginity, were conjoined and united, for this was easy and possible for Thee, as Thou art the Creator of nature. I am but a man and simply a communicant of God’s grace; Thou art God and simultaneously a man, and consequently Thou art full of love and goodness towards the race of man. I have need to be baptised of Thee, and comest Thou to me? Thou Who wast in the beginning, Who wast with God, and was Thyself God (John 1:1)? Thou Who art the effulgence of the Father’s Glory? Thou, Who art the perfect image of the perfect Father? Thou,Who art the Light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world? Thou,Who being in the world, goest whither Thou wast aforetime? Thou,Who was made flesh, but wast not changed into flesh? Thou,Who hast tabernacled among us, and has been seen by Thy servants in the form of a servant? Thou, Who hast in Thy holy name joined heaven to earth, as though by a bridge? Thou comest to me: One so Great to one so small? The King cometh to the herald? The Master to the slave? Though Thou wast not ashamed to be born in the most humble human way; yet I cannot transgress the bounds of nature. I know how great is the difference between the earth and the Creator; I know what a distinction there is between the finger of clay and its Creator. I know the measure of that which separateth the light of Thy righteousness from me, who am no more than the lamp of Thy grace. Even though Thou art clothed with the body as with a pure cloud, yet I perceive Thy lordship. I confess my own servile status and proclaim Thy greatness. I recognise the mightiness of Thy power, and I do not conceal my own lowliness and unworthiness. I am not worthy to unloose the latchets of Thy shoes (John 1:27); then how shall I dare to touch the immaculate crown of Thy head? How shall I stretch out my right hand upon Thee,Who hast stretched out the heavens as if they were a curtain, and hast set the earth upon the waters? How shall I place my servant’s fingers upon Thy Divine head? How shall I wash One Who is immaculate and no participant in any sin? How shall I illumine the Light? What prayer shall I offer over Thee,Who dost receive the petitions even of those who do not know Thee? When I baptise others, I do so in Thy name, that they might believe on Thee,Who art to come in glory. But in baptising Thee, whom shall I call upon? In whose name shall I baptise Thee? In the name of the Father? But Thou hast the Father altogether in Thyself, and art Thyself altogether in the Father. In the name of the Son? But other than Thee, there is no other Son of God by nature. In the name of the Holy Spirit? But He is always with Thee, being of one essence with Thee, of one mind, of one power, of one honour, and one worship, which He receiveth from all. Wherefore, if it so please Thee, baptise me, O Lord; baptise me, the baptiser. Regenerate one, whom Thou didst call into this world. Stretch forth Thy right hand, which Thou hast prepared for Thyself, and by Thy touch crown my head, so that, in heralding Thy kingdom, I may, like a crowned forerunner, in great voice make announcement to sinners, crying out to them: Behold the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sins of the world! (John 1:29). And thou, O river Jordan, be glad with me and rejoice, stir thy waters rhythmically, for the Creator standeth before thee in the flesh. Thou didst once of old see Israel cross through thee and, dividing thy waters, thou didst await the passing over of the people of God; now though be thou divided yet more mightily, let thy streams be more majestic so as the enfold the immaculate limbs of the One,Who in times past brought the Jews through thee. O ye mountains and hills, ye springs and torrents, ye seas and rivers, bless ye the Lord, Who hath come to the River Jordan, for through her waters He imparteth sanctification to all waters!

But in reply, Jesus said to John: Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Suffer it to be so now: be silent, O Baptist! - and do it unto Me. Learn to desire that which I desire. Learn to minister unto Me in those things which I require of thee. And do not pry beyond measure into that which I wish to achieve. Suffer it to be so now: do not yet proclaim My Divinity; do not yet proclaim with thy lips My Kingdom, lest the tyrant, learning of it, should abandon the course which he hath taken against Me. Allow the devil to come upon Me and to engage with Me as if I were a simple man; allow him to enter into conflict with Me, that he might then receive a mortal wound. Permit Me to accomplish My course and My desire, for which cause I came upon earth. A mystery and a hidden thing let that be which is being accomplished today in the Jordan. It is a hidden thing that I accomplish here, not for some need of My Own, but for the cure of those who have been wounded. A mystery and a hidden thing let that be by which mankind is regenerated in these waters, even before the heavenly floods are manifest. Suffer it to be so now: When thou seest that I, as God, do that amidst My creations which is according to My dispensation, then do thou praise that which is accomplished. When thou seest that I cleanse the lepers, then do thou preach concerning Me, that I am the Creator of nature. When thou seest me made the lame quick to run, then with metal agility do thou employ thy tongue in glorifying Me. When thou seest that I cast out demons, then is My Kingdom nigh. When thou seest that with one word I recall the dead from the grave, then do thou, along with those who are resurrected, praise me as the Perpetrator and Giver of life. When thou seest Me sitting on the right hand of the Father, then do thou acknowledge and confess Me as God, co-enthroned, co-eternal and of one honour with the Father and the HolySpirit. Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. I am the Lawgiver and the Son of the Lawgiver; and thus before all else it befitteth Me to fulfil that which is commanded, and only then to manifest everywhere the trophies of My power. I must needs first fulfil the Law and then impart Grace. I must needs first pass through the shadow, and then the truth itself. I must needs set an end to the old covenant, and only then to proclaim the new, imprinting it on the hearts of men, inscribing it with My blood and sealing it with My Spirit. I must needs ascend the Cross and be nailed thereto, and in this [human] nature endure all that it is capable of enduring, by My sufferings healing the passions of others, and by the wood curing that wound, which was inflicted upon people by means of the wood. I must needs descend into the very depths of the nether regions for the sake of those, the dead, who are held there. I must needs, by My three-day death in the flesh, destroy and annihilate the long-standing dominion of death. I must needs light the lamp of My body for those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. I must needs ascend thither in the flesh where I abide in Divinity. I must needs bring to the Father the Adam who reigneth within Me. I must needs now accept this baptism, and hereafter impart the baptism of the Trinity, One in Essence, to all peoples. Now lay thy right hand upon Me, O Baptist, just as Mary lent Me her womb that I might be born. Immerse Me now in the streams of the Jordan, just as she who gave Me birth wrapped Me in swaddling bands as a Child. Impart baptism unto Me, just as the Virgin imparted milk unto Me. Touch thou My head, before which the Seraphim do reverence and which they worship. Touch thou with thy right hand that head, which is related to thee by blood. Touch that which by nature may be touched. Touch that, which for this very purpose was prepared by Myself and the Father. Touch thou My head, for if one toucheth it with reverence, he shall not suffer shipwreck. Baptise Me, Who with water, the Spirit and with fire shall baptise believers: with water which washeth away the impurity of sin; with the Spirit, Which maketh the earthly spiritual; with fire which is able to burn up the thorns of transgressions.

On hearing these things, the Baptist gave heed to the purpose of salvation and comprehended the mystery; he discharged the Divine command and, with joy and with trembling, stretching forth his right hand, he baptised the Saviour. Then He Who is by nature the Father of the Only-Begotten, He Who alone genuinely and perfectly knew Him Whom He had begotten, opened the gates of heaven, and sent down upon Jesus’ head the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, as if by a finger pointing out the new Noah Who is also the Creator of Noah and the wise Pilot for that nature, which was in danger of suffering shipwreck. And He Himself announced from heaven, speaking clearly: This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased - the Son of the Same Essence, and not of some other nature. My Son is not other than the Son of Mary; rather the Very Same is My Beloved Son, Who is now both seen with the eyes and apprehended by the mind.
Translated from Russian

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