“This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3.17)
By the grace of God, we have celebrated this luminous feast of the Lord’s Baptism, also called Theophany. This is a great feast, a feast of rejoicing, because today, as we heard in the Epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul to Titus, chapter 3: “the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,” as well as His exceeding humility.
Today, the Savior revealed Himself to the world on the banks of the Jordan River, yet not only Him, but the entire Most-Holy Trinity Itself. For this reason, this feast is also called Theophany – the Revelation of God. We know this event well: our Savior, the Son of God incarnate, received baptism by the hand of John, the heavens were torn open, and the voice of the Father bore witness about the Son, after which the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove over the Savior’s head. The Holy Trinity revealed Itself fully, and the waters were sanctified.
Indeed, this is a great feast, one of joy, but we must approach it with repentance. For, what was happening at the Jordan? There, the great and righteous John the Forerunner was baptizing, but his baptism was one of repentance. Through his righteousness and his exceptionally holy life, which awoke the conscience of his contemporaries, he showed himself to be a great prophet. Whenever God reveals one of His prophets, or even a true man of God, then man sees his sins. This is how Saint John was in those time, a great man of God, a great prophet, a great light. Due to his light, people saw their sins, they realized that they had sinned before God. Their own conscience bore witness to this. They came to the man of God to be baptized because they knew they had sinned before God. And through the hand of the righteous man, they received the baptism of repentance.
Alas, as Saint John Maximovitch observed, the Savior does not reveal Himself to the world on a high mountain or on a tall monument, upon which the people would have gazed upwards from below, but He reveals Himself in the desert, on the banks of the Jordan, and He assumes the posture of a sinner, likening Himself to the rest of us. As a result, He prefers a humble way of revealing Himself to the world. He was simple, as if He were one sinner among many. When the Savior approaches to be baptized just like the rest, Saint John pauses, and trembling he tells Him: “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” (Matthew 3.14). Then the Savior responds very briefly: “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3.15).
But what sort of righteousness is this? The Forerunner, when he saw the Lord, exclaimed: “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29). There, at the river Jordan, the people would come to weep for their sins, whereas the Savior came and took them all upon Himself. This is what happened at the Jordan. “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.” And, since it was out of goodwill that He took upon Himself the sins of the world, He thereby fulfilled the righteousness of God the Father, Who so desired for Him to be the Savior of the world. Thus, when the Savior implores Saint John to “let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” He is speaking about this righteousness of God, about this fulfillment of God’s will, which in reality is a great injustice in human terms.
The Savior fulfills today that which Adam did not fulfill. Adam did not humble himself. He wanted to become like unto God through pride. And thus, he fell. Moreover, after he fell, he refused to acknowledge his fault through repentance. So then today, the Savior, being completely without fault, comes and takes upon Himself the fault of Adam and of the entire world. Paradoxically, this act of great injustice, the greatest possible human injustice, is in reality the fulfillment of God’s justice. This act reveals the humility, goodness, and exceeding love for mankind of our Savior.
Saint John Maximovitch teaches: “Adam sinned in his pride. He wanted to exalt himself and become like God. Yet Christ came to fulfill the righteousness of God, to correct Adam’s sin of pride through His humility. Adam desired to exalt himself before God, but God humbles Himself before man. Christ descended into the waters and received baptism from His servant. Trembling, John placed his hand upon his Master and God, and Christ humbly bowed His head under it. This humility of Christ opened the heavens.” Our Savior’s deference, His humility opened the heavens. Then the voice of the Father was heard: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased,” He Who is full of humility, of goodness, and of love for mankind, He Who fulfills My will.
Saint John Maximovitch explains further the voice of the Father: “This is My Son, Who humbled Himself to fulfill My will. He is My true Son, Who reduces Himself in order to elevate man.” And further: “The Holy Spirit descends to confirm all these things.”
Therefore, today we witness the Holy Trinity. Today, God’s great love for mankind is revealed. God could not endure to see man wallowing in perdition, but behold, He sent His Son to save the world. And how exactly? By unjustly assuming the fault of all of humanity. This is what we experience at Theophany: this supremely humble act of our Savior.
The Savior’s actions and His word: “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” are addressed to us as well. If we want to call ourselves Christians and we want to be His disciples, we must follow Him even in the unjust act of taking fault upon ourselves, in the suffering of injustice. This is the mark of the Christian. This opened the heavens, in this was the Father’s witness, in this deep humility and love for mankind. This is beyond our strength, of course, but this is why the Savior came and said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15.5), yet also, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9.23). Therefore, this new language of our Savior can help us also enter into true life. How exactly? With His help. Without Him, we are helpless. This is the lesson for us living today.
In conclusion, let us offer a word of a great Russian spiritual father, Archimandrite Kiril Pavlov, who said: “Preserve peace with your neighbor, regardless of what price you yourself will have to pay.” This is a lofty Christian wisdom, to preserve our peace regardless of what price we might have to pay. Let us begin from within our families. We see today that the path towards blessedness through love in our families is the taking of injustice upon ourselves. Let us preserve our peace at all costs, for this is the sole way to conquer evil. This would constitute great humility and wisdom on our part. And doing thus, we would have harmonious families.
Through the prayers of Saint John the Baptist, may God help even us to follow the Savior by imitating His humility, so that He might afterwards exalt us, sanctify us, and show us to be sons of God in whom the Father is well pleased! Amen!