The Baptism of the Lord. Fresco in the Church of the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. Moscow Sretensky Monastery.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
When some significant, powerful, famous, or simply beloved person in a city comes to that city, the first thing people do is prepare to meet him, to express their love, respect, and honor. This is when people prepare the way that leads to the point of arrival. This applies to government officials and dear guests—kings, princes, or any person to whom those meeting him want to express their special honor and respect. People take great care to prepare the entranceway to the place where they are to meet.
In our days, roads are decorated, and work crews are sent to quickly repair all the bumps and fill in the potholes. Earlier, when a ruler would get ready to go to some other land, a whole team of his servants would set out ahead of him in order to prepare his way. And this still happens in practice in human life. When a head of state visits another country, ahead of him arrives a whole group of diplomats; they prepare things, make agreements, and remove all hindrances and shortcomings.
Today the Evangelist Mark reminds us of what took place before the Lord made Himself manifest to the world and went forth to preach. The angel appeared in the desert and prepared His way—St. John the Forerunner (see Mk. 1:2). The prophet Isaiah’s very meaningful words concerning St. John the Baptist were pronounced today: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight (Mk. 1:2; cf. Is. 40:3). The Evangelist Luke provides a longer citation. St. John the Forerunner was a voice crying in the wilderness: As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth (Lk. 3:4–5).
This call was directed to all of us. The path of our lives should be straightened. The sins, shortcomings, and pits in our souls should be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit. The hills and highlands of our pride must be laid low, lessened before the Lord, and the cracks and desolate places not filled with grace and good works must be filled with them. Like level land, the path and our souls should be prepared to meet the great Guest, Savior, and Messiah—the King of Glory, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Without this it is impossible to receive and inherit to the fullest extent the grace of the Kingdom of Heaven; we cannot let the Divine Guest into our souls. Even when we invite our friends and relatives to our homes, we, just like those servants we just mentioned, try to tidy up in order to meet those people with love. And the first thing they meet is the entranceway to our homes. It would be strange if we were to take the garbage can and empty its contents all over road before meeting those people. This would be an insult, and they would not even come in to our house.
Thus, in preparing ourselves to meet the Lord, we should always prepare the way for Him into our hearts and souls, in order not to insult Him, and to receive Him with repentance and love.
This repentance is the path to the correction of our souls, the straightening of those hills, valleys, and all crookedness. The preacher of this repentance was the Prophet and Forerunner of the Lord John. He baptized people in repentance in a visible way. It was simpler this way for people then to understand and be conscious of the repentance of their sins in order to meet the Messiah. Without this it’s impossible.
It is the same for us; without repentance and correction, without labor and works of love, it is impossible to meet with the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the most important thing that the Church is saying to us now. We can take the waters blessed in the church, we can even immerse ourselves in an icy lake, but this is not enough; this is only a semblance of repentance. It is a true meeting with Christ when he appears in the world—and the feast of the Baptism is also the feast of the Theophany. The Lord manifests Himself to the world; and in order to see Him, we first need to cleanse our souls with repentance, correct our lives with good works—works of love and mercy. That is how St. John the Forerunner counseled the simple folk who surrounded him: Don’t steal, don’t humiliate people, share what you have, do not ask for more than you need, and do not speak ill of others (cf. Lk. 3:10–14). Such simple and yet profound and saving words!
Let us correct and our souls, make straight the path for the Lord, for our meeting with Him in these days, which are holy and saving for all of us.