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Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas
On the Theophany
The Holy Orthodox Church following as it does the calendar that was given to us by our Fathers, the ordering of the Church year that was given to us by our Fathers, gives us today, we have today and we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, of the Theophany of our Savior Jesus Christ, that day on which he went into the Jordan River and was baptized, that day on which by being there He showed once again His humility, by being there again He showed that He is the Creator and Re-creator and Sanctifier of all creation. For when the waters were sanctified all of creation is sanctified, for there is no place in creation where there is no water. All of creation in which man has been deemed worthy to live we see that there is even in the form of water vapor some form of water. So when the waters are sanctified all of creation is sanctified, from the highest mountains to the lowest, lowest plains of the earth. Every place on earth today is sanctified because our Savior has come and with His placing Himself in the water all of creation has been sanctified.
There are so many things which we see in today's feast. One of the most striking things of all is our Savior's humility. Our Savior's humility. He who had no need at all of baptism comes now to be baptized. But not only does He come to be baptized, but He comes in humility. He does not come in strength; He does not come ordering; He does not come like a potentate, but He comes in humility. So that when John, His cousin St. John the Baptizer, stops Him, stops Him from being baptized. He says How can You come here and be baptized? How can I baptize You? I have no business baptizing you.
And our Lord says again humbly Let it be so now. Let it be, allow it to be so now. For thus it behooves us so that we can fulfill all righteousness. And the Holy Scripture says And John allowed Him. What an extraordinary thing, what an awesome thing we hear when we hear our Lord God Himself placing Himself under authority, not only of His heavenly Father but also under the authority of those whom He Himself had formed from clay. And we see Him allowing St. John to tell Him, to order Him, and then to allow Him. What an extraordinary, what a merciful God we have, what a humble God we have.
So it is that when we see this characteristic of our Savior, and we know that it is through imitating our Savior Jesus Christ that we must be saved, we see, we can measure ourselves against Him and see how far we are, how extraordinarily far we are from the ideal, how far we are from the ideal that we must have so that we can participate in the Kingdom.
Our Savior is buried in the waters of Jordan as a foretaste and foretelling and foreshadowing of His burying in the earth. That through His burial in the earth, through His death and burial and then arising, He will sanctify and illumine all of creation. As a foreshadowing He is buried in the waters, and sanctifies those waters and all of creation.
It is also noteworthy when we read the Holy Gospel and we see that our Savior was baptized in the Jordan and how He was baptized. We know from Holy Tradition that John would baptize people by taking them into the water and there they would remain until they had confessed all of their sins. And then they would come up out of the water cleansed of their sins. But our Savior it says in the Holy Scripture Straightway, immediately came out of the water. Immediately He came up out of the Jordan. And in that particular place of Jordan there were many waters, it says, it was deep. Our Savior was not sprinkled but was buried, even as the Holy Orthodox Church requires that we be baptized by being buried in the water. That we be buried in the image and type of His baptism and of His burial.
Another very important thing that we see today is just how important our salvation is. Because the work of our salvation obviously is the work of the Holy Trinity. Today, the day of Epiphany, of Theophany all of the Godhead is shown forth. We hear the Father's voice; we see the Son baptized; and we see the Holy Spirit sealing as it were in a manner of speaking by appearing in a form that appeared as a dove, and lighting upon our Savior, indicating in sureness Who He is, for His Kinsman, as one of the hymns says, that His Kinsman the Holy Spirit testified also.
So what is the work of our salvation? It is not some casual thing. It is the will of the Holy Trinity. The entire Holy Trinity participates in our salvation, as we see manifest in today's Gospel. It is not some casual, some simple nothing, some afterthought, something that we can accept or reject as something very minor. This is a work of the Holy Trinity, even as our creation, the creation of all of the universe, was the work of the Holy Trinity. Our recreation, our regeneration, our rebirth is the work of the Holy Trinity. And when we stop to think that my salvation is on a par, is just as important, took just as much attention, if we might speak in human terms of the Holy Trinity, as the creation of the stars and the moon and the earth and all of the things upon the earth, then we begin a little bit to see what a great, what an awesome thing it is to be saved in Christ Jesus. And how will we escape, as St. Paul says, how will we escape condemnation if we neglect so great a salvation? I repeat once again your salvation and my salvation is no less and perhaps even more, because the rest of creation that the Holy Trinity created will disappear. It will not exist as we know it. But you and I will continue. You and I will persist. We will continue to exist, even after the earth and the heavens and the stars and the moon have passed away, you and I will continue. Therefore our creation is even more awesome, even more important; our recreation in Christ Jesus is even of greater importance than the creation of all of the universe. If we neglect such a salvation, what will be our excuse?
My beloved brothers and sisters, all of us here struggled during the fast that preceded the Nativity of our Savior. We persisted in fasting, we persisted in prayer. Our prayers perhaps were a little warmer; our fast was a little bit more careful; our almsgiving a little bit more generous; our care of our language, of what we saw, of what we spoke, of how we lived our lives was more in tune with those things that are pleasing to God. But as people we have a tendency once the fast is over, and once we are in a festal season like the one we are just in, that we loosen the reins somewhat; we allow ourselves a dispensation greater than that which the Church has permitted. And we slip a bit. We slip in our prayers; we slip in our fasting; we are not so careful with what we say and what we do and where we go. We are a little bit shoddy, a little bit careless.
But why should we do this? Why should lose whatever by God's grace we were able to gain during the fast? Why should we permit ourselves to lose all of that profit? If you are a businessman, and by dint of your hard work, and whatever campaigns and struggles that you do, you manage to gain somewhat more profit, and a few more customers, and in general your enterprise is doing better, would you not be called a foolish person if you, having done that, allowed yourself through carelessness to lose that gain, and to lose that profit, and to chase away those customers? You would think of such a person that this person is not a very good merchandiser or mercantile person. And yet we do the same thing. We struggle during the fast; we gain a little ground over our passions and over our bad habits, and as soon as the feast comes, we loosen up so much that we lose whatever gain we were able to have by that. Having understood therefore the magnitude and the wonder, the awesomeness of our salvation in Christ, let us not do that; let us keep those gains; let us go from virtue to virtue. Let us use the Holy Fast and the days of abstinence and in general the Orthodox way of life as a ladder, never going down, but always ascending, step by step, rung by rung, that ladder that leads unto the Kingdom of Heaven, that ladder of perfection, that ladder of heavenly grace. Today the waters are sanctified for you and for me. They sanctify our homes; they sanctify our bodies, our children, our businesses; they sanctify everything that is about us. This grace by the Holy Church is extended into every corner of our life. Let us keep it holy; let us not defile anything; let us not profane anything that has been sanctified: first ourselves, then those things about us. So that when that blessed day comes, the blessed day of the coming of Christ our Lord we might be found worthy to be called truly His children, sanctified by the baptism that He gave us; sanctified by our confession of faith; sanctified by our Orthodox Christian way of life.
We must know that all of these efforts will be blessed, and will be supported by the Holy Trinity. For our God is not a god that is far off. He is not like those foolish, those silly gods of our forebears, who would assign different struggles to various people in the myths, and then sit by idly making fun of them, or even making those things more difficult for them, laughing at their mistakes, and condemning them for their errors. Our God is Emmanuel, He is God with us, and every struggle, every struggle that we give forth, that we extend ourselves, know that the Holy Trinity, Which has willed our salvation, is there supporting, and sanctifying, and giving grace so that we are never alone in our struggles.
May we truly be worthy of this election; may we truly be worthy of this sanctification and this support by our God Who is worshipped in Trinity, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to Whom is due glory and honor unto the ages of ages.
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