A word on the eve of the Lord’s Baptism

Photo: https://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2008/01/03/whats-beneath-the-water/ Photo: https://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2008/01/03/whats-beneath-the-water/

The holy Church has long called its faithful children: come ye to the waters and draw water out of the wells of salvation (Is. 55:1, 12:3). The holy Church from the beginning of January proclaims to its children, its “disciples of piety,” in wondrous hymns and prophetic words to prepare for the great mystery, the blessing of water on the feast of Theophany. It wants to prick their souls with the spectacle at which the angelic powers marvel with trepidation: as the Master Who “rules the ungovernable waters of the heavens… is embraced by the flowing waters,” as He Who adorns the heavens with clouds is adorned Himself with the waters of Jordan, as the Creator of man Himself is stripped bare to cover the nakedness of Adam, to vest him anew in the light garments of spiritual rebirth, and to warm by these garments the fallen human soul cooled from the winter of passions.

The holy Church wants to touch our souls, expounding how, by pointing to how the sea looked, and fled: the Jordan was driven back from the face of God, entering into the waters, to how the mountains and hills trembled, and the seas, lakes and fountains saw the Creator of every creature abolished to the form of a slave, the hearts of men ought to shake at the wondrous sight: for it is neither the angels nor soulless nature that Christ came to save, but the human race! The holy Church, desiring that we would with understanding regard the mystery of the saving rebirth from water and the Spirit, expounds by various images the very miracle of rebirth, remembering how, in the words of Isaiah, the desert, the dry land, uninhabited, overgrown with briars and thorns, turns into a flowery garden from fertile rain, irrigating it… It’s an image of how human nature, barren of goodness, irrigated by the current of the grace of Christ, can become fruit-bearing, as the baptismal font makes “fruitful by the Divine Spirit.” And how many more of these very highest, touching and beautiful thoughts are contained in the abundance of hymns for Church forefeasts!

St. Thaddeus (Uspensky). Photo: https://orthodoxlogos5.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/saints-and-feasts-new-hieromartyr-thaddeus-archbishop-of-tver/ St. Thaddeus (Uspensky). Photo: https://orthodoxlogos5.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/saints-and-feasts-new-hieromartyr-thaddeus-archbishop-of-tver/
But for the majority this preparation for the mystery of Theophany passes without a trace: they don’t hear these hymns, don’t know about them, and don’t want to understand. Instead of going towards Christ Who calls: Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters (Is. 55:1), they wander further from Christ, quenching their spiritual thirst on worldly cares, and even more entertaining vanities. Even if they go to church their thoughts are all over the place and they are unable to focus on the Church hymns, especially to attract their wandering hearts to them. And now, when, finally, the holy Church directly calls us to draw water out of the wells of salvation, either they don’t go or they send others for a short time in their place. And if they do come, not having prepared themselves to draw water out of the wells of salvation, in that they see here in the Church on the saving day of the Lord no sacrament, they draw with absent-minded noise as if ordinary water and place it somewhere in a corner, to be forgotten for a whole year. Of course, in difficult moments of life they may remember that the water drawn is the water of salvation, but only for the healing of bodily diseases, whereas the Lord gives the gift of sanctity in this water mainly for the sanctification of souls, for their cleansing from the defilement of the passions, for the driving out of all opposing forces. After all, if the Lord gave this water mainly for the healing of bodily illnesses, and if healing from bodily illnesses was the main and most necessary blessing for us from God, then what prevented Him from creating us painless? After all, we beseech Him most of all for deliverance from bodily sicknesses, forgetting that He Himself sometimes sends us bodily sicknesses, that through them our souls would be more suitably healed. And that this water is drawn this present day for the sanctification of souls people forget, and do not appreciate this action of the water, barely believing in it: how, they think, can the soul be sanctified by a bodily ablution? They are ready to confess the miraculous work of the water only if they notice some perceptible movement in at its blessing (which is why they wait for it to be stirred up) or if the blessed water will have some tangible or perceptible effect on the soul. But they wait in vain. Is it really so important that just the water be stirred up by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon it? Is it really not more important that the soul be stirred up from this descent, and can there really not occur miraculous changes in the soul?

The Lord blesses water that we, clad in flesh, through the visible washing of the body with water would better prepare the soul for its washing by the Holy Spirit. This sanctification ought to penetrate deep inside, into the recesses of our hearts. The body is but clothing for the soul and in need of the more outward veiling of various clothing, whether lighter and thinner or thicker and larger. And, of course, if the sprinkling affects only the external coverings, clothing or the body itself, then no benefit will come of it: the water will remain water for such a person. Even some holy thoughts and desires, aroused by the hymns, prayers, and the liturgical splendor of the blessing of the water, is little: they are but a covering and garb for the soul.

The sanctification should reach all the way to our very hearts. Only when the heart begins to wash itself by the flow of tender emotion at hearing the festal hymns, when it is sprinkled and “anointed” with the Divine words accompanying the blessing of the water, and it drinks the sweetest drink of Christ’s love, when from the soul itself flows rivers of living water, and currents of humble, repentant thoughts and feelings, blessed emotion, comfort and love for all those around, does it mean that the water of Theophany remains not simple water, but its sanctifying work has penetrated deep within your soul, to the innermost depths of the heart, and the water has become a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

And what can we do to draw this water out of the wells of salvation, to partake of Christ’s gift of sanctity, which the Lord gives us this present glorious day of Theophany? We must liken ourselves to the pilgrim who, knowing that the house to which he is headed, where he is to meet with those revered and loved by him, is already quite near, makes every effort to, although on-the-go, get himself in order and present himself in the home in a sightly manner. So we, long walking along the various broken paths of the pleasure of vanities, which usually occur in the days of Christmastide, so often completely falling away from Christ, should use every strength to collect our scattered thoughts and feelings and put ourselves in order, to appear to Christ in a manner which would not insult Him. The further the heart has wandered during Christmastide and stockpiled the garbage of vanities during these wanderings, having lost the warmth of love for Christ, the more force is necessary to clear all the trash accumulated in the soul, to warm the soul cold towards Christ, that He might dwell in and remain in it. The more affairs have accumulated in the soul, bewildering the conscience, the deeper you must lament, and through it throw off the portion of passionate burdens lying in the soul, and thereby more lightly approach Christ, to He Who calls: Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters … Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto Me … and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live (Is. 55:1-3).

Hieromartyr Thaddeus (Uspensky)
Translated by Jesse Dominick



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