The Divine Theophany (Epiphany) [Part II]


My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


The Holy Gospel Lesson for Theophany January 6th:

"Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?' But Jesus answered and said to him, 'Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (St. Matthew 3:13-17). [This is the manifestation of God the Holy Trinity]

Celebrating our Lord's Epiphany in the streams of Jordan, let us bear in mind that whenever the Lord God appeared upon water, it was to work wondrous deeds. When He came down upon the Red Sea, He laid bare the abyss and led through His people dry-shod. Similarly, crossing Jordan in the Ark of the Covenant, He stopped its flow; Jordan, it is written, "turned back" (Psalm 113). And in the beginning, when "the Spirit of God moved over the water" (Gen. Ch. 1), God created heaven, earth, birds, beasts, man, and all visible creation.

God manifests Himself as one in Trinity at the Jordan. The voice of the Father is heard, the Son is present in the flesh, and the Spirit appears in the form of a dove. What is the purpose of His coming? He makes all things new, as it says in the troparion (hymn) of the Forefeast: "Thou hast revealed Thyself to renew all creation." He makes a new world, altogether different from the old. According to Scripture, "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Cor., Ch. 5). The first world was coarse and heavy, unable to touch heaven, needing the ground for support. The second brought forth from the waters of Jordan, is so light it requires no foundations upon earth, having "here no continuing city, but seeking one to come" (Hebrews Ch. 13). It quickly ascends from Jordan to the celestial gates. It goes "up straightway out of the water: and lo, the heavens open" (St. Matthew, Ch. 3) for it. The first world, weighed down as it was, could only rise toward heaven on a ladder, fixed to the ground yet reaching the heights, such as the one Jacob saw but failed to mount. The second had no need of a ladder, for the Spirit of God descended upon it. The human race no longer slithers upon the ground like a reptile or creeps like a beast but flies out of the waters of Baptism like a winged bird. Appearing above the waters in the form of a bird (dove), the Holy Spirit leads His offspring to heaven, without the use of a ladder. "He yearneth over His young" (Deut. Ch. 32), as Moses chants; or as Jerome has it in his translation, "He inviteth His chicks to take flight." The new world fashioned by God in Jordan is not fixed upon the earth, but like a bird longs to fly, to go "up straightway out of the water."

At this point we should recall the words of Scripture, "Let the waters bring forth winged creatures flying above the earth in the firmament of heaven" (Gen. Ch. 1), and consider how the Holy Spirit, one of the hypostases of the Holy Trinity, appeared above Jordan and renewed the world, bringing forth young from the waters of Baptism and calling them to fly on wings of virtue into the open heavens. First, though, let us convince ourselves by citing the teachers of the Church that every man born of water and the spirit becomes a bird of heaven. Saint John Chrysostom tells us: "It was said in days of old, "Let the waters bring forth reptiles having living souls;" but since the time Christ emerged from the streams of Jordan, water gives birth to rational, spiritual souls, which do not slither upon the ground, but soar like birds; wherefore, David says, "Our soul is like a sparrow" (Psalm 123). A bird is not an earthly, but heavenly creature; and from the time of our Baptism our habitation is in heaven" (Saint John Chrysostom, 25th Homily on John). Saint Gregory of Nyssa reproaches those who, after receiving Holy Baptism, return to their former wicked deeds. He says, "There are shameless people who receive Baptism, then somehow go mad and lose the salvation vouchsafed them in the water, despite the fact that, while buried with Christ's flesh, they were given wings to fly with the birds of the sky, the spirits of the intrepid." Heed the words "while buried with Christ's flesh they were given wings to fly." By them the holy teacher clearly indicates that in Baptism men become like birds, soaring to heaven.

"...Not only was man made anew in Jordan, becoming a heavenly bird, but the Three Hypostases of God the Trinity, symbolized by various birds, were revealed as well. We know that the Holy Scripture compare God the Father to an eagle: "As an eagle, He hath covered His nest" (Deut. Ch. 32), they tell us. The Son likens Himself to a hen, saying, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings" (St. Matthew Ch. 23). Finally, God the Holy Spirit appeared this day above the Jordan as a dove. Why is it that all Three Persons of the Trinity are identified with birds? It is because they receive men as their young from the waters of baptism: some eaglets, some chicks and some newfledged doves. (Source: The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints)

(To be continued)


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


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

+Father George