The Divine Theophany (Part II)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΓΕΝΝΑΤΑΙ, ΔΟΞΑΣΑΤΕ!

THE DIVINE THEOPHANY (Part II)
by His Eminence Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, HIEROTHEOS

"...As we said before, one of the aims of Christ's Baptism was also to be both a model and an example for us, since by His example Christ decreed the Mystery (Sacrament) of Baptism. Thus through Holy Baptism, which is regarded as an introductory Mystery (Sacrament), we are admitted into the Church. Just as Christ's work of saving the world began with Baptism, which was followed by all the other things, the Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, so also this spiritual life begins with the Mystery (Sacrament) of Baptism.

In his book The Life in Christ Saint Nicholas Kavasilas regards baptism, and the movement is followed by Chrismation and by Holy Communion. The end of Baptism and of all the Mysteries (Sacraments) is the Divine Eucharist. Thus we are baptized and chrismated in order to be able, as members of the Church, to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Faith is closely linked with Baptism. According to Saint Basil the Great, faith and Baptism are two inseparable and natural ways of salvation. Faith is completed by Baptism and Baptism is grounded by faith. One is fulfilled and completed by the other. Just as we believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so we baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (The person is immersed in the water three times, and not just one, as in Protestantism). This is preceded by confession which leads the way to salvation. Baptism follows, corroborating our own consent.

These things are said from the point of view that there are two kinds of faith, introductory, which is called faith based on hearing, and perfection, which is called faith based on vision of God. First one hears about God, believes, is then baptized and chrismated, whereupon one also attains faith from the vision of God. This should be understood from the point of view that in the early Church Baptism was not a symbolic ceremony, a secular and social event, but a Mystery (Sacrament) of introduction into the Church, which means that it is preceded by the person's purification. Baptism was and still is called illumination, for through it and through the Mystery (Sacrament) of Chrismation the person attained illumination of his nous...

"...Baptism is called birth because it gives the person (believer) rebirth. This term was given by Christ Himself in the conversation which He had with Nikodemos. Christ said: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God" (St. John 3:5). The Font is the spiritual womb which gives us rebirth into a new life. After Baptism we resemble Christ. And this birth is the one that characterizes us. Therefore the day of our baptism is our name day, according to Saint Nicholas Kavasilas.

The birth which occurs through Holy Baptism is connected with purification and illumination. Saint Gregory the Theologian says that Christ had no need for purification, since He is purification itself, but He was purified for us, that is to say, He entered the River Jordan as also wearing flesh, while He was not yet carnal. Thus through Baptism and Chrismation, Christ purifies and illuminates mankind. Purification from passions is preceded by doing the Commandments and is followed by illumination by the energy of the Holy Spirit. Saint Gregory the Theologian says characteristically: "Where there is purification there is illumination, for without the former the latter is not given."

According to Saint John of Damascos forgiveness of sins is given to all who are baptized, but Grace of the Holy Spirit is given in proportion to faith and previous purification. Through Holy Baptism we receive the first appearance of the Holy Spirit, and rebirth is a beginning of a different life and a seal and protection and illumination.

The Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan and our own baptism are an extraordinary flood, much higher and more beautiful than Noah's flood, as Patriarch Proklos of Constantinople says. Then the waters put human nature to death, but now the water of Baptism through the baptized Christ gives life to those dying of sin. Then Noah constructed an ark of undecayed wood, while now the intelligible Noah, Christ, has constructed the ark of the body from the incorrupt Mary. Then the dove which held an olive branch brought news of the fragrance of Christ the Lord, now the Holy Spirit, which came as a dove, pointed to the merciful Lord.

The feast of the Theophany or Epiphany points to many great theological Truths. As a personal approach to the feast we should now add a few more things relating to our own baptism. Three indicative points should be particularly emphasized.

First. Those who are baptized and anointed are called Christians, both because they are disciples of Christ, and because they have received the Chrism from the Holy Spirit. Neither takes away the other, since we are disciples of Christ through the Grace which we receive through the Mysteries (Sacraments). As Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite says, all Christians can be called anointed of the Lord, "anointed with the perfecting chrism" meaning the grace and communion of the Holy Spirit. If the kings, priests, and prophets in the Old Testament are called anointed of the Lord because they are anointed with the imperfect and ritual oil, much more so are those who have been anointed with the Holy Chrism. Saint John the Evangelist and Theologian writes: "But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you" (1 John 2:27). And the Holy Apostle Paul affirms: "he who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, Who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit" (2 Corinthians 1: 1-22). Anointing by the Holy Spirit, which is connected with the illumination and enlightenment of the nous, is the pledge of the Spirit, the seal of God.

Second. Through Baptism one receives the pledge of the Spirit, but with the possibility of fulfillment. Saint Gregory Palamas says that just as the infant receives from his parents the possibility of becoming a man and of inheriting the paternal estate when he reaches the appropriate age, but loses it if he dies in the meantime, the same happens with the Christian. Through Baptism he receives the power to become a son of God and an inheritor of the eternal goods, if in the meantime he does not die of intelligible death, which is sin. Consequently, if then man loses his communion with God, if he dies spiritually he loses the possibility which he receives through baptism. To be sure, grace is not lost, it does not abandon the heart of man, but it does not affect salvation.

Christ gave a commandment to His Disciples to make disciples of all the nations "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (St. Matthew 28:19-20). "Baptizing" and "teaching to observe" show the manner in which man is spiritually completed.

Third. When the Grace of Baptism is clouded by sin, then the baptism of repentance and tears must follow. The Monastic tonsuring is called a second baptism, because it establishes the life of repentance and purification, through which man reaches his former glory. Saint Gregory of Nyssa says characteristically: "Even one tear of repentance is equivalent to the water of Baptism, and a painful groan brings back the grace which had departed for a while." Of course this tear must be shed in the atmosphere of repentance, as the Orthodox Church teaches and expresses it.

(To be continued)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Nativity,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George