The Baptism of Christ Is a Great Mystery

Sermon on the Feast of the Theophany


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

Dear brothers and sisters! The feast of Theophany, or the Baptism of the Lord, is one of the most beloved feasts in the Orthodox Church. What is the meaning of this feast, and why is it so solemn?

Then, at the time when the Savior came into the world, the whole of Israel lived by waiting for the Messiah, for the Savior.

But no one knew what the ministry of the Lord, the ministry of the Savior would be like and what exactly it would consist of. Even John the Baptist himself did not know. John said about himself even to the Pharisees: And I knew Him not: but that He should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water (Jn. 1: 31). And then he proceeded: And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon Whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is he Which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God (Jn. 1:33-34). This was clearly seen by John the Baptist.

Why and for what purpose was Christ baptized?

Metropolitan Benjamin (Fedchenkov; 1880–1961), who was buried in the caves of the Pskov Caves Monastery, left a number of reflections on the meaning of the Church feasts and services.

And he said that he had been meditating for a long time and could not himself “explain the Divine meaning of the event of the Baptism of the Lord.” He said: “I had to wait a long, long time for the revelation of this meaning. I had to go deep into our wonderful services; read sermons of the Holy Fathers, including Fr. John of Kronstadt and others; live a spiritual life; and look deeper into the folk customs of its celebration.”

The Holy Fathers repeatedly noted that the Baptism of Christ, like everything in Christ’s life from His Birth to His Ascension, is a great mystery...

After all, the Lord did not even explain to John the Baptist why He should be baptized by him. And only when John humbly admitted, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? (Mt. 3:14), did the Savior answer him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15). What a mystical answer! And indeed—why was it necessary? and what “righteousness” were they to fulfill?

And now that the economy of our salvation was accomplished—when the Lord, having endured the Passion, having died for us on the Cross, having been buried and risen from the dead, did not leave the Church after His Ascension, but promised to pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever (Jn. 14:16). He proceeded: The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, Whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (Jn. 14:26). We can try and uncover the meaning of the Baptism of the Lord as far as possible.

What state had mankind been in before? By whom had man been tormented?

Man had been under the power of sin, and in essence, subject to the enemy of God, the devil. And only the Son of God could deliver man from this enemy, from the devil. And for this purpose He came to earth and was incarnate. And now for this purpose He is revealed through Baptism in the Jordan.

Now is the beginning of the restoration of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the Holy Trinity—the Kingdom of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Earlier the enemy of God tried to take control of it by force (Mt. 11:12), but now the time has come for this Kingdom of God, because the Gospel says: Repent ye: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt. 3:2).

Reading the Gospels and the Acts, we cannot help but note how often the word “Kingdom” is used in them. Even in the Lord’s Prayer we read, “Thy Kingdom come”; “For Thine is the Kingdom.”

This divine Kingdom is in God, and it is in us by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

It is this Kingdom, the Kingdom of the Holy Trinity, that the Lord came to preach on this feast of His Baptism. This Kingdom of God is built by the Holy Spirit, by His grace. That is why it is called “the Kingdom of grace”.

The Epistle we read today says that it is life in the Holy Spirit, given to us through the Lord Jesus Christ, that is the foundation of Christian life.

Our Christian life is in the Holy Spirit.

The essence of Christ’s work, His incarnation, His Passion, is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the revelation and life of each one of us in the Holy Trinity; the Holy Spirit That the Old Testament fathers lost. That is why He is called “the Spirit of Christ.”

Now in the event of Baptism God the Son Himself and the entire Trinity are revealed to the world. Humanity and even the chosen people had fallen to such an extent, that by that time they had even forgotten the Holy Trinity! Now, through Christ, It is again revealed to the world.

And as we sing today in hymns: “Christ is coming to give all the faithful deliverance through Baptism: for thereby He shames the tormentor, opens the Heavens, sends down the Divine Spirit, and accomplishes Heavenly Communion.”

After His Baptism and the revelation of the Holy Trinity to everyone, the Lord works miracles, heals, casts out demons, manifests His Divine power over nature, forgives people their sins—that is, He shows “His Kingdom of grace.”

Each one of us, fulfilling the commandments of God—the commandments of forgiveness, a peaceful spirit, mercy and so on—manifests this Kingdom of the Holy Trinity. And the main meaning of today’s feast is in the revelation of this grace-filled Kingdom of the Holy Trinity. Amen.

Igumen John (Ludishchev)
Translation by Dmitry Lapa

Sretensky Monastery


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