Theophany, fresco, 14th century, Dečani Monastery, Serbia

Today’s feast is that of Epiphany, the Theophany of the Lord in the Jordan. But it was not the Savior alone who was revealed, although He was the only visible One, but the entire Holy Trinity manifested Itself. Therefore, it is the Theophany of God, of the Holy Trinity, at the Jordan: The Son was baptized, the Father spoke, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a dove. Only St. John the Baptist saw these things. It is on account of his genius, says St. Sophrony Sakharov, that he was able to identify the Savior in the multitude of people, although He had come humbly, as a simple man, like everyone else in the multitude. But this was his mission, to detect the Messiah, just as he had detected Him in his mother Elizabeth’s womb, when the Mother of God came to greet her. Then, at the voice of the Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist leapt in Elisabeth’s womb. Then he detected Him without seeing Him, and now he detected Him in the multitude, without the Savior having or showing some distinctive sign. Hundreds, or even thousands of people were there, but St. John the Baptist leapt when he saw Him. He knew that it was Him. He did not have any doubt, although there was no external sign that it was Him. This is why St. John is the voice crying in the wilderness, this is why he had this mission to see Him first, and then to show Him to the world.

It does not seem like much, but it is in fact a big deal. Because this testimony which the Father gave: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17), this voice was only heard by St. John the Baptist. The others did not. This is also said in the akathist of the feast: “The converser with God and godly angel, the great Forerunner, was prophesied by the prophet Malachi, for only he, alone, among the people was made worthy, O Lord, at your Baptism to see the coming of the Spirit and to hear the voice of the Father, bearing witness from the heavens that You are the Son of God, that he might be received as a preacher of the revelation of the Divine Trinity”.  The Savior speaks with the Father and when the Father replies, the multitude which was present said: “It was thunder!” Others said: “An angel has spoken to Him!” Nobody understood. The Savior told them, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake”. This in spite of the fact that they had understood nothing of the voice, except for the sound. Only a saint, as John the Baptist was, can hear and understand the voice of God. Then, John the Baptist, who had heard and understood the testimony of the Father about the Son at the Jordan, was the one who had to bear witness of the Messiah before the people, to show Him to the world.

St. John the Baptist’s sanctity made him worthy to see the Theophany of the Holy Trinity. Just as there was a need for a heart dedicated wholly to God in order for the Son to be incarnate, which the Mother of God, the most precious fruit of mankind, had, so too there was a need for the sanctity of John the Baptist so that he could recognize Him and show Him to the people. This tells us that God cannot work in man’s life in just any way, even though He wants to. He cannot. Something in us does not let Him, it prevents Him. Just as He was prevented from being incarnate for thousands of years, just as, had there not been St. John the Baptist, the work of the salvation of the world would not have begun. Because He does not reveal Himself. That’s how He is; He does not reveal Himself. He cannot. Somebody else (the Father) must bear witness of Him and somebody else (John) must give testimony to the world about this. Only then can He begin to work. We cannot understand His humility.

From these two examples, those of the Mother of God and of St. John the Baptist, it is enough to see how He is. When the matter of our own salvation comes up, and we ask ourselves why we do not feel God’s presence, why we don’t see Him alive and working in our lives, we must know that the problem is not with Him, but with us. And we must try to have at least some of the humility and purity of the Mother of God, of the repentance preached by St. John the Baptist, and of his asceticism in order to be able to receive the Messiah, for the Messiah to be manifest in us.

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra would say, “Our spiritual struggle, ascesis, fasting, do not constitute spiritual life. Those are just a struggle on our part. Spiritual life is when God begins to work in our lives”. Just as it was with humanity prior to the coming of the Savior. That was struggle. Truly spiritual life began after His coming. No matter how hard man tries, until God comes to show him how and what He can do with the human race, how He can sanctify and purify it, nothing essential or transformational will happen. Nobody could do what He did. He could not, however, have done these things had the human race not first produced the purity and longing of the Mother of God, and then this chosen vessel, St. John the Baptist. In order to begin to work, in order to show us true spiritual life, the Savior needed at least these two people.

It is the same with us. Struggle, asceticism – which are manifested by St. John the Baptist, there was no greater ascetic than him – are asked of us, but they only tidy up the place, so that the Savior, the Holy Spirit may come and give life, and light the oil lamp within us. We have to tidy up the place. We must primarily work on repentance, meaning to realize what state we are in and to weep before the Lord and to ask for help and strength to do those things which are pleasing to Him. But asceticism is not enough if we do not have the Savior. This happens especially through Holy Communion. It shows us how the Savior is. Nothing else can better explain what spiritual life is or what He can do with you.

That’s how it was with the salvation of the world. Poor mankind struggled as it was able until He came, and grace through Him (John 1:17), Who showed us what level of sanctity, beauty, goodness and love can be reached. We would not have known what love is had He not come. The notion of love does not exist without Christ the Savior. He teaches us what it means to love from the Cross. The rest is just convention, politeness, or whatever else. This is what the Savior brought to humanity, but it was not possible until He found purity, humility, and the ascetical toil of St. John the Baptist. Let this be the image of our preparation for the Savior to begin to work in us, just as he began to work the salvation of the world in the River Jordan. Salvation is not the struggle of mankind, but the work of the Lord. We must only prepare the place so that the Lord may work in us through repentance, humility, and toil according to our ability. These things don’t accomplish anything on their own, but they can attract the work of God which sanctifies and saves every person.

Therefore, today we celebrate the Theophany of the Lord, which all saw, and that of the Holy Trinity, which only St. John the Baptist saw. In any case, creation felt the Theophany of the Lord, as the Jordan reversed the flow of its waters, which happens even now, when the Patriarch of Jerusalem sanctifies the waters and throws the cross therein. The Revelation of the Lord sanctifies us! Let us pray with the words which a hymn of the Church puts in the mouth of St. John the Baptist, “Sanctify me and the waters, O Lord, with Your Theophany!”