Feast of the Theophany of Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
What it means to be a Christian
Feast of Theophany
6 January, 2009
Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7 ; Matthew 3:13-17

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today we are celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. At the same time, we are celebrating also the first truly clear revelation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. In the words of the tropar, we confess that the voice of the Father is announcing : “‘This is My beloved Son’”. We see the beloved Son standing in the waters of the Jordan. We see the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove upon the Saviour. The Holy Spirit is confirming the truthfulness of the word of the Father. (The “truthfulness” of His word would be better translated as “steadfastness”.) When we are hearing in the tropar of the feast about the steadfastness of the word of the Father, this has two meanings : Jesus Christ is the Word of the Father. He is the Word who speaks everything into existence, whose only purpose is to do the will of the Father. Of course, the word of the Father also means today that we hear the voice of the Father speak.

It is truly important for us to remember this. This Event today is a revelation of what it means to be a Christian. Our Saviour Himself is living in perpetual love and harmony with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is how the Holy Trinity lives. The Apostle John says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). What we are seeing today in the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan is a clear revelation of what this harmony of love means. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity are one, yet three. They live in the unity of love, and the harmony of love. They do everything together. There is nothing that is separating any one of the three Persons from any one of the other two Persons. All the three Persons of the Holy Trinity live in perpetual love and harmony. It is always the will of the Father that is done.

Today, our Saviour, the Word Himself, comes to the River Jordan and is baptised. He is fulfilling the words, the promises of the Father, all those expressions of love in the Old Testament to the Patriarchs as far back as Adam and Eve. When our Saviour says to John, the Forerunner : “Baptise Me”, a paraphrase of how the Forerunner responded could be : “But You are the One who is the Great One. I am nothing compared to You. How can I baptise You ?” Our Saviour says to the Forerunner, in effect : “This is the will of the Lord. We will do the will of the Lord”. Thus, the Forerunner, John, baptises the Saviour in the water. The Forerunner is living already in the harmony of this love that is expressive of Who is the Holy Trinity.

If we are Christians, and in our baptism we have truly put on Christ (as we are singing today), then our lives have to be showing how this love is effective in our lives, how this love heals our brokenness, how this love heals our fallenness, how this love brings light to our darkness. Our lives should be so much filled with this love that we express this relationship of love in everything.

Our lives should also be showing what is the true meaning of obedience. We, who grow up in the west (in North America, in particular), understand obedience to be grudging acceptance of agreeing to do what laws say, somehow. Obedience is usually understood to be that the will of one person or an authority is imposed on another (for example : stop signs, speed limit signs, or parking signs). Outside here, for instance, the parking sign says : “No stopping until 9:30”. The police come along at 28 minutes after nine to make sure that you get out of there (if you are sitting there already) or you get a ticket. There are many examples of how the will of other people is imposed in our society. The law says to drive at sixty kilometers per hour. What’s 62 ? There is not much flexibility in the laws of human beings, and the forced imposition of this sort of obedience. It is no wonder that we do not understand the true meaning of obedience in this environment.

True obedience is nothing like this. True obedience is the obedience that is shown to us today in the behaviour of our Saviour, in the behaviour of the Forerunner, in the relationship amongst the Persons of the Holy Trinity. True obedience is the fruit of love. True obedience is the desire out of love to do the will of the other. That is why, in a marriage that is properly functioning, a husband and wife are living in a sort of obedience to each other, and they always try to please each other. They are doing each other’s will because they love each other. If they are truly believing people whose hearts are in harmony with the Lord, their hearts are going to be showing the Lord’s will to each other, anyway. They correct each other, and they help each other to grow in a marriage relationship which is in the atmosphere of the love of Jesus Christ. This love is not death-dealing and oppressive, but it is love which is life-giving, and full of freedom.

There are strange ideas about freedom in North America. In North America freedom does not mean freedom, but license. It means that we can do whatever we want to do. True freedom is the exercise of love in the context of being sensitive, and understanding about the weaknesses and the strengths of everyone around. We do things that give life. We do not do things that are going to scandalise or make someone else fall (as much as we can). It is true, however, that we are all sinners and we make mistakes. The idea is that the more we grow in love, the less we are going to be scaring people, offending people, and whatever else. Instead, in our behaviour, we are going to be bringing the joy, the life, the light, and the love of Jesus Christ wherever we are.

To be an Orthodox Christian does not mean that we have to be able to give detailed examples of one thing or another in the Church’s history, or be able clearly to define what is the Holy Trinity (no-one ever did manage to do so). We do not have to pass theological exams about details. What matters for the Orthodox Christian is : Do we love Jesus Christ ? That is first. Do we know that He loves us ? I remember that when I was about eight, I had to memorise this particular verse : “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We experience God’s love and we respond to God’s love with the same love. We grow more and more in this life-giving love. This is the essence of being a Christian. From this love comes everything else. From this love comes the ability to live in harmony with the will of God over the course of our lives. With this love comes the desire to be more and more pleasing to the Lord instead of being self-willed. With this love comes the possibility of being a means by which the Lord touches other people and brings them consolation, joy, encouragement, strength and sometimes even healing.

Brothers and sisters, today we are standing here with the Lord at the Jordan River (even if we cannot see it, that is where we are), and we are participating in these Events : the Baptism of the Saviour, the blessing of the Jordan water, and the blessing of the universe as a result. Very soon, we are going to ask the Lord to send the blessing of the Jordan upon this water. We are standing by the Jordan with the Saviour. Let us ask the Lord to pour out the Grace of the Holy Spirit upon us, so that we will be renewed in the sort of love that has brought us here in the first place – love for the Saviour. May this love be increased and multiplied on this day. May the Lord renew our strength, and give us the ability faithfully, with love, to follow Him, and to live a life that is pleasing to Him in loving, true obedience to Him, in loving harmony with Him. May our lives glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.