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Home / SERMONS FOR THE DAY OF THE LORD / Holy Epiphany of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: Matt 3:13-17

Holy Epiphany of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: Matt 3:13-17

Ηχος βʹ. Mode 2nd.

Δόξα

Τὰ σύμπαντα σήμερον ἀγαλλιά‐

σθω, Χριστὸς ἐφάνη ἐν Ἰορδάνῃ.

Glory.

Leap for joy today, O universe; for

Christ has appeared in the Jordan.

This feast day brings to us an epiphany of the true light, Jesus Christ (Isa 42:7; cf. Matt 4:16), and God’s mystery as Trinity, One God but Three Persons. Jesus does not become the Son of God this day; rather in His baptism the eternal Son of God is revealed to all humanity. This celebration of Epiphany (a manifestation or revelation), or Theophany (a manifestation of God), commemorates this day and points to the age to come.

Apolytikion

Ἐν Ἰορδάνῃ βαπτιζομένου σου,

Κύριε, ἡ τῆς Τριάδος ἐφανερώθη

προσκύνησις∙ τοῦ γὰρ Γεννήτορος ἡ

φωνὴ προσεμαρτύρει σοι, ἀγαπητόν

σε Υἱὸν ὀνομάζουσα∙ καὶ τὸ Πνεῦμα

ἐν εἴδει περιστρᾶς ἐβεβαίου τοῦ λό‐

γου τὸ ἀσφαλές∙ ὁ ἐπιφανείς, Χριστὲ

ὁ Θεός, καὶ τὸν κόσμον φωτίσας,

δόξα σοι.

As You were baptized in the

Jordan, O Lord, then the worship of the

Trinity became manifest, for the voice

of the Father bore witness to You,

naming You the Beloved Son; and the

Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed

the certainty of the word. O Christ

God, who appeared and illumined the

world, glory to You.

With humility and obedience Jesus allowed Himself to be baptised and bowed His head before the prophet St John the Baptist. Then the heavens opened and God revealed Himself to the world: the voice of the Father, the anointing of the Son, both God and man, by the Spirit; it is a manifestation of the thrice-holy Trinity.

We call it Theophany because our Lord was made noticeable and was revealed to everyone.

Until this special day, He was completely unknown to the people.

Even St. John the Baptist did not know who He was until that day, as he is quoted in John’s gospel saying, “I did not know Him” (Jn 1:30).

So we see in this passage, Christ comes out of Galilee to meet John for the first time at the Jordan River and to be baptised by him (Matt 3:13).

Ιδιόμελον. Ηχος πλ. βʹ. 

Στιχ. Ἐλεῆμον, ἐλέησόν με, ὁ Θεός,

κατὰ τὸ μέγα ἔλεός σου καὶ κατὰ τὸ

πλῆθος τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν σου ἐξάλειψον τὸ

ἀνόμημά μου.

Θεὸς Λόγος ἐπεφάνη ἐν σαρκί, τῷ

γένει τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἵστατο βαπτι‐

σθῆναι ἐν Ἰορδάνῃ, καὶ ἔλεγεν πρὀ

αὐτὸν ὁ Πρόδρομος. Πῶς ἐκτείνω

χεῖρα, καὶ ἄψωμαι κορυφῆς κρατοῦ‐

σης τὰ σύμπαντα; Εἰ καὶ ἐκ Μαρίας

ὑπάρχεις βρέφος, ἀλλʹ οἶδά σε Θεὸν

προαιώνιον, ἐπὶ γῆς βαδίζεις, ὁ

ὑμνούμενος ὑπὸ τῶν Σεραφίμ, καὶ

δοῦλος Δεσπότην, βαπτίζειν οὐ μεμά‐

θηκα, Ἀκατάληπτε Κύριε, δόξα σοι.

Idiomelon. Mode pl. 2nd.

Verse: Have mercy on me, O God, according

to Your great mercy; and according to the

abundance of Your compassion blot out my

transgression.

God the Logos has appeared in the

flesh to the human race. As He stood in

the Jordan waiting to be baptized, the

Forerunner said to Him, ʺHow can I

reach out with my hand and touch the

head that controls the universe? Though

as an infant You came from Mary, yet I

know You to be the pre‐eternal God. You

walk on earth, You who are extolled by

the Seraphim. And I do not know how a

servant ought to baptize his Master.

Incomprehensible Lord, glory to You.ʺ

What need was there for Jesus who was the Son of God, the saviour of all humanity, the One Who was without sin, to be baptised?

St Gregory of Nyssa answered this very appropriately:

‘Jesus enters the sinful waters of the world and when he comes out, he purifies the entire world with him’. When Jesus descended into the depths of the river there occurred a profound upheaval. It was not the one baptised who was purified, for He is spotless; but it was the waters of chaos which were transfigured and illumined.

There was a perception that the demons dwelled in the water, which is one of the foundational elements of all nature. By purifying the elements, by sanctifying matter/nature, Jesus frees the cosmos from the powers of evil. With His baptism He transforms the waters of chaos into a beautiful cosmos.

Αἱ Καταβασίαι Ὠδε α’. Ηχος β’.

Βυθοῦ ἀνεκάλυψε πυθμένα, καὶ

διὰ ξηρὰς οἰκείους ἕλκει, ἐν αὐτῷ

κατακαλύψας ἀντιπάλους, ὁ κραται‐

ός, ἐν πολέμοις Κύριος, ὅτι δεδό‐

ξασται.

Katavasiæ

Ode i. Mode 2nd.

The Lord who is powerful in battle

once exposed the bottom of the deep sea

and He drew His people through it as

on dry land, while there again He

engulfed the enemies, for He is

glorified.

St. John of Damascus indicated to us that Christ was baptised, ‘in order to crush the reign of Satan’. Therefore, when Christ entered the waters the demons fled. For this reason if you have a look at the Byzantine icon of Theophany you will see that the demons are fleeing from the water, because they could not bear to be in the same place as the God-man Jesus Christ (cf. Tit 2:11-14).

So my dear friends, Christ was baptised: in order to wash the sin of the world and bury the old adam. Christ was baptised: in order to bless John. Christ was baptised: in order to keep the law, since He Himself gave it and should not appear to transgress it. Christ was baptised: in order to reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

And He was baptised: in order that He may convey grace and dignity to those who receive baptism, which is done by water and the Holy Spirit. 

Αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν ἐν τυμπάνῳ καὶ χορῷ·

αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν ἐν χορδαῖς καὶ ὀργάνῳ.

Τὸ ἀληθινὸν φῶς ἐπεφάνη καὶ

πᾶσι τὸν φωτισμὸν δωρεῖται. Βαπτί‐

ζεται Χριστὸς μεθ’ ἡμῶν ὁ πάσης

ἐπέκεινα καθαρότητος, ἐνίησι τὸν

ἁγιασμὸν τῷ ὕδασι, καὶ ψυχῶν τοῦτο

καθάρσιον γίνεται∙ ἐπίγειον τὸ

φαινόμενον, καὶ ὑπὲρ τοὺς οὐρανοὺς

τὸ νοούμενον∙ διὰ λουτροῦ σωτηρία,

δι’ ὕδατος τὸ Πνεῦμα, διὰ κατα‐

δύσεως ἡ πρὸς Θεὸν ἡμῶν ἄνοδος

γίνεται. Θαυμάσια τὰ ἔργα σου,

Κύριε! Δόξα σοι.

Praise Him with timbrel and dance, praise

Him with strings and flute.

The true Light has appeared and

bestows illumination on all. Christ is

baptized with us, even though He is

above all purity; and thus He infuses

sanctification into the water, which

then becomes the purifying agent of

our souls. What is seen belongs to

earth; but what is understood transcends

the heavens. By means of a bath

comes salvation; by means of water

comes the Spirit; by means of

immersion does our ascent to God

come to pass. How wonderful Are Your works, O Lord! Glory to You.

So we see my dear friends why the church blesses water on the feast day of Theophany. This water was sanctified and illumined by the Holy Spirit on the day Christ entered it.

At the feast of Theophany, priests bless water for the use of the faithful. For this water has the extraordinary power to purify and deliver blessings to people. Each person draws from it abundantly, to quench one’s thirst, to purify oneself, to cure diseases, and to bless homes; since from the heart of the Church, the body of Christ, “flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38). For this reason Christ’s baptism is an undertaking of the purification of the world.

Jesus allowed John to baptise Him, and in so doing it fulfilled all righteousness (Matt 3:15). Righteousness, δικαιοσύνην, translates as ‘vindication’. The thought here is of God vindicating His people, giving them victory, by bringing in His Kingdom through the humility and obedience of Christ to God, the Father’s will.

It was the tradition of the Mosaic Law that when a prophet said something, you did it!

Jesus does exactly this, he obeys a prophet in St John the Baptist.

Willing obedience to God’s commandments is righteousness.

Christ was obedient in having been baptised by a prophet.

St. Paul indicated this to us in one of his letters when he said:

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross’ (Phil 2:8).

It was the will of God that all should be baptised.

So we see here the Lord’s obedience to fulfil the law. Jesus’ example indicates that this is the way the Kingdom of God will come, by Him humbly identifying Himself with sinners and condescending to them in lowliness. Some humans may think the Messiah is above such things, and that He comes only to exert His authority and to rule. God’s Kingdom will not come like that. Messiah comes not to be served but to serve. He is coming in humility, not pride, not to exert His authority over people, but to die at the hands of sinners. The waters of baptism are but the first step downward to the Cross.

The Gospel of Matthew relates St John the Baptist’s vision after Jesus was baptised (Matt 3:16-17). All the details of the vision are important.

The first of these occurrences which take place is the ‘opening of the heavens to Him’.

This symbolises that through Adam’s disobedience the heavens were closed and humanity had lost its communion with God.

But now with the complete obedience of Christ the heavens have opened and humanity has the opportunity to obtain communion with God. The heavens opened, for God is to speak to humanity again in Self-Revelation.

This is done through our own baptism.

Therefore through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, inaugurated by Christ Himself, we are admitted into the Church, the community of the Holy Spirit.

The second occurrence that takes place after the Lord’s baptism is that ‘the Spirit of God descended like a dove’.

So then, what is the Evangelist saying here!

The revealing of the Holy Spirit as a dove indicates innocence and humbleness.

The dove is a creature of gentleness and pureness (cf. Matt 10:16). It reminds us that just as the dove is very clean and does not stay where there is a foul smell, so also the Holy Spirit is very pure and does not remain where there is the foul smell of sin.

It is an image of innocence, and so its Presence singles out Jesus as the One innocent of Sin. Among the sinners, here is the Sinless One.

The third occurrence after the Lord’s baptism was that

“… a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). This statement unmistakably identifies Jesus as the Son of God.

The voice that came out of heaven symbolises the testimony and authority of God the Father.

The voice of the Father is a mystical experience of God, a revelation, and not something grasped by one’s unpurified senses. As a holy man, St John the Baptist hears the Voice of the Father, who with the Holy Spirit descending on the Son, reveals the fullness of the Trinity (as the Theophany Apolytikion says). St John the Baptist knew Jesus to be the Messiah because He heard it from God Himself.

Αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν ἐν τυμπάνῳ καὶ χορῷ·

αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν ἐν χορδαῖς καὶ ὀργάνῳ.

Τὸ ἀληθινὸν φῶς ἐπεφάνη καὶ

πᾶσι τὸν φωτισμὸν δωρεῖται. Βαπτί‐

ζεται Χριστὸς μεθ’ ἡμῶν ὁ πάσης

ἐπέκεινα καθαρότητος, ἐνίησι τὸν

ἁγιασμὸν τῷ ὕδασι, καὶ ψυχῶν τοῦτο

καθάρσιον γίνεται∙ ἐπίγειον τὸ

φαινόμενον, καὶ ὑπὲρ τοὺς οὐρανοὺς

τὸ νοούμενον∙ διὰ λουτροῦ σωτηρία,

δι’ ὕδατος τὸ Πνεῦμα, διὰ κατα‐

δύσεως ἡ πρὸς Θεὸν ἡμῶν ἄνοδος

γίνεται. Θαυμάσια τὰ ἔργα σου,

Κύριε! Δόξα σοι.

Praise Him with timbrel and dance, praise

Him with strings and flute.

The true Light has appeared and

bestows illumination on all. Christ is

baptized with us, even though He is

above all purity; and thus He infuses

sanctification into the water, which

then becomes the purifying agent of

our souls. What is seen belongs to

earth; but what is understood transcends

the heavens. By means of a bath

comes salvation; by means of water

comes the Spirit; by means of

immersion does our ascent to God

come to pass. How wonderful are Your

works, O Lord! Glory to You.

Nicodemus asked Jesus this question (Jn 3:1-21): “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? (Jn 3:4). Jesus answered this influential Jew by explaining to him the meaning of baptism. To enter the Kingdom of God, a person must change and acquire the Holy Spirit. To become a new person, so that the fleshy person is transformed into a son of God, one must be reborn by the Spirit. “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). For a person to be saved, for one to have eternal life, for one to share in God’s life, one must find the true light. It is which illuminates the new Christian and reveals to them the light of God, the light which is God (Jn 1:1-4).

When we receive the sacrament of baptism, we personally experience and assume the mystery accomplished in Jesus Christ, to live in God’s love, eternally in the midst of the Trinity. It is for our illumination that Christ plunged into the waters of the Jordan: now we receive the unfading light. We are henceforth made sons of God, sons of the day. The water gives us sight just as it did to the blind man at the pool of Siloam. We were blind because we did not know the true light, now we are healed and we see Christ (cf. Tit 2:11-14; 3:4-7). Illumined in baptism, nourished by the sacrament of the Eucharist, daily we draw closer to God, in order at the end of time to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2Pet 1:4).

Αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν ἐν κυμβάλοις εὐήχοις·

αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν ἐν κυμβάλοις ἀλλαλαγ‐

μοῦ· πᾶσα πνοὴ αἰνεσάτω τὸν Κύριον.

Ὁ περιβάλλων τὸν οὐρανὸν ἐν

νεφέλαις, ρεῖθρα περιβάλλεται σή‐

μερον τὰ Ἰορδάνια, καὶ τὴν ἑμὴν κα‐

θαίρεται κάθαρσιν, ὁ τοῦ κόσμου αἷ‐

ρων τὴν ἁμαρτίαν, καὶ ὑπὸ τοῦ συγ‐

γενοῦς ἄνωθεν μαρτυρείται Πνεύ‐

ματος, Ὑἱὸς μονογενῆς ὑπάρχων τοῦ

ὑψίστου Πατρός, πρὸς ὅν βοήσωμεν,

Ὁ ἐπιφανεὶς καὶ σῶσας ἡμᾶς, Χριστὲ

ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν, δόξα σοι.

Praise Him with resounding cymbals,

praise Him with triumphant cymbals. Let everything

that breathes praise the Lord.

He who wraps heaven in clouds

wraps himself today in the streams of

the Jordan. He who takes away the sin

of the world washes himself in a wash

that is meant for me. The cognate Spirit

from above testifies of Him, that He is

the Most High Fatherʹs Only‐begotten

Son. To Him let us cry aloud, ʺO Christ

our God who appeared to us and saved

us, glory to You.ʺ

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