Tuesday, January 5, 2010
On the Holy Theophany, or on Christ's Baptism, by St. Gregory the Wonderworker
Icon of the Holy Feast of Theophany (taken from: http://vatopaidi.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/h-vaptissis-tou-hristou-moni-megalou-meteorou.jpg)
On the Holy Theophany, or on Christ's Baptism, the Fourth Homily of St. Gregory the Wonderworker of Neo-Caesarea
"O ye who are the friends of Christ, and the friends of the stranger, and the friends of the brethren, receive in kindness my speech to-day, and open your ears like the doors of hearing, and admit within them my discourse, and accept from me this saving proclamation of the baptism of Christ, which took place in the river Jordan, in order that your loving desires may be quickened after the Lord, who has done so much for us in the way of condescension. For even though the festival of the Epiphany of the Saviour is past, the grace of the same yet abides with us through all. Let us therefore enjoy it with insatiable minds; for insatiate desire is a good thing in the case of what pertains to salvation—yea, it is a good thing. Come therefore, all of us, from Galilee to Judea, and let us go forth with Christ; for blessed is he who journeys in such company on the way of life. Come, and with the feet of thought let us make for the Jordan, and see John the Baptist as he baptizes One who needs no baptism, and yet submits to the rite in order that He may bestow freely upon us the grace of baptism. Come, let us view the image of our regeneration, as it is emblematically presented in these waters. “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.” O how vast is the humility of the Lord! O how vast His condescension! The King of the heavens hastened to John, His own forerunner, without setting in motion the camps of His angels, without despatching beforehand the incorporeal powers as His precursors; but presenting Himself in utmost simplicity, in soldier-like form, He comes up to His own subaltern. And He approached him as one of the multitude, and humbled Himself among the captives though He was the Redeemer, and ranged Himself with those under judgment though He was the Judge, and joined Himself with the lost sheep though He was the Good Shepherd who on account of the straying sheep came down from heaven, and yet did not forsake His heavens, and was mingled with the tares though He was that heavenly grain that springs unsown. And when the Baptist John then saw Him, recognising Him whom before in his mother’s womb he had recognised and worshipped, and discerning clearly that this was He on whose account, in a manner surpassing the natural time, he had leaped in the womb of his mother, in violation of the limits of nature, he drew his right hand within his double cloak, and bowing his head like a servant full of love to his master, addressed Him in these words: I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? What is this Thou doest, my Lord? Why dost Thou reverse the order of things? Why seekest Thou along with the servants, at the hand of Thy servant, the things that are proper to servants? Why dost Thou desire to receive what Thou requirest not? Why dost Thou burden me, Thy servitor, with Thy mighty condescension? I have need to be baptized of Thee, but Thou hast no need to be baptized of me. The less is blessed by the greater, and the greater is not blessed and sanctified by the less. The light is kindled by the sun, and the sun is not made to shine by the rush-lamp. The clay is wrought by the potter, and the potter is not moulded by the clay. The creature is made anew by the Creator, and the Creator is not restored by the creature. The infirm is healed by the physician, and the physician is not cured by the infirm. The poor man receives contributions from the rich, and the rich borrow not from the poor. I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? Can I be ignorant who Thou art, and from what source Thou hast Thy light, and whence Thou art come? Or, because Thou hast been born even as I have been, am I, then, to deny the greatness of Thy divinity? Or, because Thou hast condescended so far to me as to have approached my body, and dost bear me wholly in Thyself in order to effect the salvation of the whole man, am I, on account of that body of Thine which is seen, to overlook that divinity of Thine which is only apprehended? Or, because on behalf of my salvation Thou hast taken to Thyself the offering of my first-fruits, am I to ignore the fact that Thou “coverest Thyself with light as with a garment?” Or, because Thou wearest the flesh that is related to me, and dost show Thyself to men as they are able to see Thee, am I to forget the brightness of Thy glorious divinity? Or, because I see my own form in Thee, am I to reason against Thy divine substance, which is invisible and incomprehensible? I know Thee, O Lord; I know Thee clearly. I know Thee, since I have been taught by Thee; for no one can recognise Thee, unless He enjoys Thine illumination. I know Thee, O Lord, clearly; for I saw Thee spiritually before I beheld this light. When Thou wert altogether in the incorporeal bosom of the heavenly Father, Thou wert also altogether in the womb of Thy handmaid and mother; and though held in the womb of Elisabeth by nature as in a prison, and bound with the indissoluble bonds of the children unborn, leaped and celebrated Thy birth with anticipative rejoicings. Shall I then, who gave intimation of Thy sojourn on earth before Thy birth, fail to apprehend Thy coming after Thy birth? Shall I, who in the womb was a teacher of Thy coming, be now a child in understanding in view of perfect knowledge? But I cannot but worship Thee, who art adored by the whole creation; I cannot but proclaim Thee, of whom heaven gave the indication by the star, and for whom earth offered a kind reception by the wise men, while the choirs of angels also praised Thee in joy over Thy condescension to us, and the shepherds who kept watch by night hymned Thee as the Chief Shepherd of the rational sheep. I cannot keep silence while Thou art present, for I am a voice; yea, I am the voice, as it is said, of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord. I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? I was born, and thereby removed the barrenness of the mother that bore me; and while still a babe I became the healer of my father’s speechlessness, having received of Thee from my childhood the gift of the miraculous. But Thou, being born of the Virgin Mary, as Thou didst will, and as Thou alone dost know, didst not do away with her virginity; but Thou didst keep it, and didst simply gift her with the name of mother: and neither did her virginity preclude Thy birth, nor did Thy birth injure her virginity. But these two things, so utterly opposite—bearing and virginity—harmonized with one intent; for such a thing abides possible with Thee, the Framer of nature. I am but a man, and am a partaker of the divine grace; but Thou art God, and also man to the same effect: for Thou art by nature man’s friend. I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? Thou who wast in the beginning, and wast with God, and wast God; Thou who art the brightness of the Father’s glory; Thou who art the perfect image of the perfect Father; Thou who art the true light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world; Thou who wast in the world, and didst come where Thou wast; Thou who wast made flesh, and yet wast not changed into the flesh; Thou who didst dwell among us, and didst manifest Thyself to Thy servants in the form of a servant; Thou who didst bridge earth and heaven together by Thy holy name,—comest Thou to me? One so great to such a one as I am? The King to the forerunner? The Lord to the servant? But though Thou wast not ashamed to be born in the lowly measures of humanity, yet I have no ability to pass the measures of nature. I know how great is the measure of difference between earth and the Creator. I know how great is the distinction between the clay and the potter. I know how vast is the superiority possessed by Thee, who art the Sun of righteousness, over me who am but the torch of Thy grace. Even though Thou art compassed with the pure cloud of the body, I can still recognise Thy lordship. I acknowledge my own servitude, I proclaim Thy glorious greatness, I recognise Thy perfect lordship, I recognise my own perfect insignificance, I am not worthy to unloose the latchets of Thy shoes; and how shall I dare to touch Thy stainless head? How can I stretch out the right hand upon Thee, who didst stretch out the heavens like a curtain, and didst set the earth above the waters? How shall I spread those menial hands of mine upon Thy head? How shall I wash Thee, who art undefiled and sinless? How shall I enlighten the light? What manner of prayer shall I offer up over Thee, who dost receive the prayers even of those who are ignorant of Thee?
When I baptize others, I baptize into Thy name, in order that they may believe on Thee, who comest with glory; but when I baptize Thee, of whom shall I make mention? and into whose name shall I baptize Thee? Into that of the Father? But Thou hast the Father altogether in Thyself, and Thou art altogether in the Father. Or into that of the Son? But beside Thee there is no other Son of God by nature. Or into that of the Holy Spirit? But He is ever together with Thee, as being of one substance, and of one will, and of one judgment, and of one power, and of one honour with Thee; and He receives, along with Thee, the same adoration from all. Wherefore, O Lord, baptize Thou me, if Thou pleasest; baptize me, the Baptist. Regenerate one whom Thou didst cause to be generated. Extend Thy dread right hand, which Thou hast prepared for Thyself, and crown my head by Thy touch, in order that I may run the course before Thy kingdom, crowned like a forerunner, and diligently announce the good tidings to the sinners, addressing them with this earnest call: “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!” O river Jordan, accompany me in the joyous choir, and leap with me, and stir thy waters rhythmically, as in the movements of the dance; for thy Maker stands by thee in the body. Once of old didst thou see Israel pass through thee, and thou didst divide thy floods, and didst wait in expectation of the passage of the people; but now divide thyself more decidedly, and flow more easily, and embrace the stainless limbs of Him who at that ancient time did convey the Jews through thee. Ye mountains and hills, ye valleys and torrents, ye seas and rivers, bless the Lord, who has come upon the river Jordan; for through these streams He transmits sanctification to all streams. And Jesus answered and said to him: Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Suffer it to be so now; grant the favour of silence, O Baptist, to the season of my economy. Learn to will whatever is my will. Learn to minister to me in those things on which I am bent, and do not pry curiously into all that I wish to do. Suffer it to be so now: do not yet proclaim my divinity; do not yet herald my kingdom with thy lips, in order that the tyrant may not learn the fact and give up the counsel he has formed with respect to me. Permit the devil to come upon me, and enter the conflict with me as though I were but a common man, and receive thus his mortal wound. Permit me to fulfill the object for which I have come to earth. It is a mystery that is being gone through this day in the Jordan. My mysteries are for myself and my own. There is a mystery here, not for the fulfilling of my own need, but for the designing of a remedy for those who have been wounded. There is a mystery, which gives in these waters the representation of the heavenly streams of the regeneration of men. Suffer it to be so now: when thou seest me doing what seemeth to me good among the works of my hands, in a manner befitting divinity, then attune thy praises to the acts accomplished. When thou seest me cleansing the lepers, then proclaim me as the framer of nature. When thou seest me make the lame ready runners, then with quickened pace do thou also prepare thy tongue to praise me. When thou seest me cast out demons, then hail my kingdom with adoration. When thou seest me raise the dead from their graves by my word, then, in concert with those thus raised, glorify me as the Prince of Life. When thou seest me on the Father’s right hand, then acknowledge me to be divine, as the equal of the Father and the Holy Spirit, on the throne, and in eternity, and in honour. Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. I am the Lawgiver, and the Son of the Lawgiver; and it becometh me first to pass through all that is established, and then to set forth everywhere the intimations of my free gift. It becometh me to fulfill the law, and then to bestow grace. It becometh me to adduce the shadow, and then the reality. It becometh me to finish the old covenant, and then to dictate the new, and to write it on the hearts of men, and to subscribe it with my blood, and to seal it with my Spirit. It becometh me to ascend the cross, and to be pierced with its nails, and to suffer after the manner of that nature which is capable of suffering, and to heal sufferings by my suffering, and by the tree to cure the wound that was inflicted upon men by the medium of a tree. It becometh me to descend even into the very depths of the grave, on behalf of the dead who are detained there. It becometh me, by my three days’ dissolution in the flesh, to destroy the power of the ancient enemy, death. It becometh me to kindle the torch of my body for those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. It becometh me to ascend in the flesh to that place where I am in my divinity. It becometh me to introduce to the Father the Adam reigning in me. It becometh me to accomplish these things, for on account of these things I have taken my position with the works of my hands. It becometh me to be baptized with this baptism for the present, and afterwards to bestow the baptism of the consubstantial Trinity upon all men. Lend me, therefore, O Baptist, thy right hand for the present economy, even as Mary lent her womb for my birth. Immerse me in the streams of Jordan, even as she who bore me wrapped me in children’s swaddling-clothes. Grant me thy baptism even as the Virgin granted me her milk. Lay hold of this head of mine, which the seraphim revere. With thy right hand lay hold of this head, that is related to thyself in kinship. Lay hold of this head, which nature has made to be touched. Lay hold of this head, which for this very purpose has been formed by myself and my Father. Lay hold of this head of mine, which, if one does lay hold of it in piety, will save him from ever suffering shipwreck. Baptize me, who am destined to baptize those who believe on me with water, and with the Spirit, and with fire: with water, capable of washing away the defilement of sins; with the Spirit, capable of making the earthly spiritual; with fire, naturally fitted to consume the thorns of transgressions. On hearing these words, the Baptist directed his mind to the object of the salvation, and comprehended the mystery which he had received, and discharged the divine command; for he was at once pious and ready to obey. And stretching forth slowly his right hand, which seemed both to tremble and to rejoice, he baptized the Lord. Then the Jews who were present, with those in the vicinity and those from a distance, reasoned together, and spake thus with themselves and with each other: Was it, then, without cause that we imagined John to be superior to Jesus? Was it without cause that we considered the former to be greater than the latter? Does not this very baptism attest the Baptist’s pre-eminence? Is not he who baptizeth presented as the superior, and he who is baptized as the inferior? But while they, in their ignorance of the mystery of the economy, babbled in such wise with each other, He who alone is Lord, and by nature the Father of the Only-begotten, He who alone knoweth perfectly Him whom He alone in passionless fashion begat, to correct the erroneous imaginations of the Jews, opened the gates of the heavens, and sent down the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, lighting upon the head of Jesus, pointing out thereby the new Noah, yea the maker of Noah, and the good pilot of the nature which is in shipwreck. And He Himself calls with clear voice out of heaven, and says: “This is my beloved Son,”—the Jesus there, namely, and not the John; the one baptized, and not the one baptizing; He who was begotten of me before all periods of time and not he who was begotten of Zacharias; He who was born of Mary after the flesh, and not he who was brought forth by Elisabeth beyond all expectation; He who was the fruit of the virginity yet preserved intact, and not he who was the shoot from a sterility removed; He who has had His conversation with you, and not he who was brought up in the wilderness. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: my Son, of the same substance with myself, and not of a different; of one substance with me according to what is unseen, and of one substance with you according to what is seen, yet without sin. This is He who along with me made man. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. This Son of mine and this son of Mary are not two distinct persons; but this is my beloved Son,—this one who is both seen with the eye and apprehended with the mind. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him. If He shall say, I and my Father are one, hear Him. If He shall say, He that hath seen me hath seen the Father, hear Him. If He shall say, He that hath sent me is greater than I, adapt the voice to the economy. If He shall say, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? answer ye Him thus: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. By these words, as they were sent from the Father out of heaven in thunder-form, the race of men was enlightened: they apprehended the difference between the Creator and the creature, between the King and the soldier (subject), between the Worker and the work; and being strengthened in faith, they drew near through the baptism of John to Christ, our true God, who baptizeth with the Spirit and with fire. To Him be glory, and to the Father, and to the most holy and quickening Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of the ages. Amen."
(taken from: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf06.iii.iv.v.iv.html)
Icon of St. Gregory the Wonderworker of Neo-Caesarea (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission; for more information on St. Gregory the Wonderworker (November 17th), see: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/11/st-gregory-wonderworker-bishop-of.html)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!