Soaring to Heaven on the Wings of Pure Prayer

A Homily on the Feast of Theophany

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Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in Him with trembling (Ps. 2:11). These words of one of the psalms of King David teach us something very important. We must, as the royal prophet would say, labor hard and diligently over the purification of our souls, that the Almighty God might pour out His Divine joy into the heart of the humble and reverent laborer. It is fitting for us, according to the commandment of the holy apostle Paul, to always rejoice in the Lord, but a special spiritual joy is given to the Christian soul on the Twelve Feasts of the Lord and the Theotokos.

Let us, dear friends, labor and reflect upon the mysteriological significance of the feast of Theophany, or the Baptism of the Lord, that we might not through negligence and inattentiveness lose the great spiritual gifts that the Savior has prepared for those who love Him. Let us recall how the holy Evangelist Matthew relates this event:

Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered Him. And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: And lo a voice from Heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased (Jn. 3:13-17).

Accomplishing everything necessary for the redemption of mankind, which will end with the death of the Savior upon the Cross, His Resurrection from the grave, and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, the Lord now establishes the baptismal font for us. Immersing three times in the Jordan, He pre-cleanses fallen human nature and renews the image of God darkened by sin. Sinless, unlike other people who received Baptism from the hand of St. John, the Lord does not linger in the water, but immediately comes up out of it, having no need of confessing any transgressions. Trembling with fear, the Forerunner sees how the heavens open above the head of the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove. Like thunder from Heaven, the voice of the Father testifies to the Divine dignity of the Redeemer. The unfathomable mystery of the Trinity, according to which our salvation is accomplished, is revealed to mankind. And if the Holy Spirit was revealed to the eyes of the holy Baptist, it was for no other reason than that we might believe and know: In the hour of our own Baptism, the grace of God descended and rested upon us forever, taking up abode in the depths of our spirit, sanctifying both body and soul. It is of this extremely important truth that the feast of Theophany speaks and testifies! Let us comprehend it as is fitting, wholly submitting our life to this truth, and we will inherit the Heavenly Kingdom; if we ignore and neglect this blessed truth, if we sacrifice it to levity and vanity, then we will perish forever.

Thus, having been born from above, of water and Spirit, we have become partakers of the grace of God, the symbol of which is the white-winged dove. This bird does not tolerate the slightest impurity: It never sits in a dirty or dusty place, but prefers, rather than the on ground, to nest in many-branched trees , finding refuge in its leaves. Liken yourself to the white-winged dove, Christian; that is, avoid evil associations in every way possible, where you hear unchaste speech, vile sounds, and impure words. Teach yourself to look at everything purely, by no means leaving your gaze to linger on the shameful and disgraceful, that the devil might not wound your heart with a kindled arrow of temptation. Hide yourself from temptations in the lush tuft of the “tree of shining fruit,” as the Church poetically calls prayer to the Lord and the Mother of God (Akathist to the Mother of God, Ikos 7).

Blessed is the man who has learned at all times and in every place, always and everywhere, to send warm, albeit brief prayers from the depths of his broken heart to God! “Lord, bless! Lord, save and protect! Lord, have mercy! Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” And, of course: “Most Holy Theotokos, save me! Theotokos and Virgin, rejoice, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls.” Proceeding in this way, we ever walk under the cover of the grace of God; we ever preserve our childlike faith and love for God from the machinations of the evil one. Often, very often, the Holy Spirit gives the wings of pure prayer to such a God-loving soul, like a spiritual dove, and then it soars to Heaven, leaving all things earthly far below.

I would like to speak of much more, but I think a lot has already been said. Life in Christ is known not in reading and hearing only, but in fulfilling that which we have heard and read. May the merciful Lord lavish His gracious gifts upon us on this all-joyous feast of Theophany! The most valuable and necessary of these gifts are: the attentiveness of the mind to all that is taking place in the soul; a sense of God’s omnipresence and reverence before His holiness; constancy in prayer, thanksgiving, and contrite prostration before the Lord; true, unfeigned meekness and humility; compassion and love for all men; and purity and sinlessness in thoughts and feelings.

“Thou hast appeared today unto the whole world, and Thy light, O Lord, hath been signed upon us who with knowledge chant unto Thee: Thou hast come, Thou hast appeared, O Light Unapproachable!” (Kontakion of the Feast).

Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov
Translation by Jesse Dominick

Alekseevsky Monastery


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