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Sermon on the Epiphany of the Lord by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky, +1936)

Today the Creator of heaven and earth is come in the flesh to the Jordan seeking baptism,
being sinless, to purify the world of the flattery of the enemy.

How, brothers, can the Baptism of the Lord emancipate us from flattery? We hear from the prophetic readings today that by humbling Himself in baptism, the Savior opened new life to the world, a new path, following which His disciples would not be lost. “No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there; and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:9-10).

From this we see that the path of life revealed to us by the podvig of Christ’s baptism delivers inner peace to those who travel upon it, in their personal lives, and well-being or happiness in the life of society in general. The wise sages of the Old Testament had the justified conviction, or rather, revelation, that while God does not send the Holy Spirit to the earth until His Heavenly Redeemer comes, no powers of reason, no authority, no wealth will correct the foundations of society, nor will any good deeds grant a person peace with his conscience. And so the wisest of these men, King Solomon, recognized in his old age that he could only alter his physical appearance, but his inner substance remained filled with the same injustice and wrath as before. I saw, he says: “the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there” (Ecclesiastes 3:16). “So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter” (Ecclesiastes 4:1). This enlightened monarch applied all of his wisdom to rectify evil, but decided before his death that “That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered” (Ecclesiastes 1:15). The endeavors of wise men and those who seek common happiness, or who at least seek to make sense of their own lives remain in “vanity and vexation of spirit”; the pathetic mortal cannot rise above his passionate, servile nature; society, filled with wickedness, does not subject itself to the philanthropic transformation of becoming a friend of mankind, but with the persistence and stubbornness of a turbulent river crushes along its deliberate path all effort to turn it to good and truth; it endlessly repeats its adopted laws and “that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

This sorry state of the world, which rejected the grace of God, lasted until the arrival of Christ, and to this day celebrates His arrival. Now the way to truth has been opened, now the prophesy of Isaiah has been fulfilled, that one day, the crookedness of life will be straightened, as Solomon knew: “and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain… and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:4-5), for then, as St Gregory says, the only thing “new under the sun” appeared, which disproved what the author of Ecclesiastes had said of natural life. The Consoler of the suffering had come, for we heard, as the Church assures us in the fulfillment of the holy prophecies: “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 35:3-6).

Does it even need to be said, brethren, that these words were fulfilled within the true followers of Christ? You must have read in the Acts of the Apostles: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all menas every man had need And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart praising God, and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:44-47).

This internal blessedness amid external persecutions was brought to the society of His followers by the Lord today, and to the hearts of each of them in particular. What secret did he reveal to us on this day? What is it that we are being taught? Did the appearance of the Holy Trinity illuminate us? Of course, this is a great and holy mystery, but it had already been revealed to mankind before, during the Annunciation, and later, not only to the Baptist himself, but to many on Christ’s final words to His followers and on the Pentecost. Or, maybe, the day of the Epiphany is great because it was the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel? No, for this was followed by His 40-day period of seclusion.

This feast day is great, brethren, because now the Lord opened the mystery of the reborn, new life, the spirit that the natural world had never known. This mystery, this spirit is the spirit of self-deprecation and humility, filled with love. See how it contrasts with the spirit of the world: the worldly figure, setting out to work, first of all tries to declare his value, his rights; he hastens to persuade everyone how far he is from the evil and ignorant of this world, how close he is to people of respect. Then, if he belongs to those few who wish to serve the good of their neighbors, he treats them as though he is a teacher or a scholar, or a ruler, or as the father of his family, in any case, from up above, with the constant reminder of his superiority, his good efforts which draw him closer to his inferiors, whether in intellect, morality or social standing. Of course, if the latter were always clearly aware of what is spiritually beneficial, they would submit to his instructions, as long as they seemed logical!—but that is the main obstacle to well-being and perfection, that in the hearts of men the deepest-seated of all emotions is pride, for the sake of which people are prepared to deny reasonable caution, to reject what is obviously beneficial, only for the sake of not having to submit to another, just so as not to cede their prejudice, not to show their preference for the truth of one’s neighbor and admit one’s own falsehood. That is why they hated wise reformers, why they persecuted scholars, and rejected revelation: the benefit of the new teaching was attached to the person who introduced it, only pride prevented the acceptance of the guidance of another.

What is observed in social life can be seen in personal life as well. The first condition of our inner transformation must be self-condemnation, the recognition of one’s own great fall, one’s own shamefulness, as did the Tax Collector and the Prodigal Son. But the prideful man rejects this, he forever seeks to justify himself, deeming himself better than others. He has created for himself false gods, more fatal than Baal or Astarte, and given them the names of noble pride, noble self-respect, the sense of one’s worth, personal honor. He intentionally closes his eyes to his faults, and so remains in the sorry state of the patient who feels himself healthy, or the blind man who thinks he can see.

And so, when all were blinded thus in prideful mutual rejection, when the wisest of them ceremoniously declared the inability of any methods to bring peace and perfection in life, and only the sons of the people of God, who thirsted for correction, surrounded the holy prophet in the desert and asked “What are we to do?”—then that very year of sorrows and darkness, the light of the humility of Christ shone forth. Christ did not approach the great rulers of the world, or the false wise men, but went among these pilgrims in the desert and bowed His head before the Baptist, as though He were in need of purification.

“O people!” as if to say, “do not fear admitting yourselves worthless and fallen; do not praise yourselves before each other, do not declare your superiority to each other. See, I, the Holy and Pre-Eternal Son of God, Who is praised by the Seraphim, I not only do not disdain contact with you, but I am prepared to be seen as one like you who are in need of purification! Follow Me to the preacher of repentance, and then come to Me, ‘and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls’” (Matthew 11:29).

With these words, brethren, our hearts are lifted, it does not call us into battle, to defend ourselves before the One Who humbled Himself before all, Who does not berate us with His superiority, Who “without fire He reforges, without breaking, He reforms.” We then cast off our pride with disdain, beholding His Divine Visage, which is bowed down under the hand of the servant, and immediately sense new life. As a boat which is relieved of a heavy load, our spirit rises above our daily struggles. We do not fear for every step we take in life, we do not fear that we are not respected, that we are ignored or mocked. The compassion we have for our neighbor, which had once hidden behind our frail self-love, might never have revealed itself before, but no openly embraces others. Our faith in God, which had before infused us with an almost hostile fear for our future, now, freed from our own pride, finds spiritual excitement was we mentally approach the Jordan River. We behold the humbled Christ, and, pouring forth tears of love, at the same time weep over our previous waywardness. Why, oh why did we poison our own lives? Why, surrendering ourselves to the prejudices of self-love, did we build for ourselves dungeons of spiritual solitude among our loved ones? Why is it that while we despise blasphemy or perversion in our souls, do we serve these vices in order not to subject our pride to mockery or barbs from others? Why do we hide our holy love out of false shame, even as we boast before others of deeds worthy of horror and derision?

Now our mind’s eyes are opened: we see where the true greatness of mankind lies, not in the struggle for superiority, but in humbling oneself before others, gaining wealth not by climbing higher but through empathy for others, not by the flattery of men but from love for them. Here is what is “new under the sun,” here the “crooked is made straight,” here is where the humiliated by life can find consolation, right here in the Baptism of the Lord! “Christ is baptized, and emerging from the waters, brings up the world with Him.”

Not only did the prophets and the Baptist rejoice before this great event: even dead nature could not lie in peace before this image; the natural order of man’s pride was disrupted. The Jordan trembled from the approaching Master, the waters receded from the entering God-Man; the skies opened up above Him, and as the grand testimony of God the Father and the Holy Spirit manifested itself, the terrifying Cherubim and Seraphim, shielding their faces in trepidation, served the One Who was baptized, singing to Him the Divine glory: “Christ is baptized with us, He Who is purest of all, supernatural; He sanctifies the water, and this becomes a purification for our souls.”

This healing and illumination by the Lord is granted to us all who wish to follow Him, but an augmented truth and augmented wisdom is granted by Him through His baptism to those who wish to serve their neighbor, rear their children, or those of others, or lead their compatriots or their flock. Only those will be true friends of mankind, powerful guides for their hearts, genuine perfectors of social live, who can take up their task as Christ the Savior revealed through His service to the world—only those who crucify themselves, humble their hearts and minds, who inscribe upon their consciences a vow to serve not their own honor or glory, but serve others with selfless love and humility; for whom the pleasures of the praise and worship of others are foreign, but who will only know the joy that comes from their children walking in the truth, as the Divine Apostle said; who will not strive to rule and demand subjugation, but will feel, like another Apostle who said: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).“Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” (2 Corinthians 11:29).

For such true followers of Christ there will be no earthly disappointments, as for Solomon, their words and deeds will ignite human hearts, life will blossom around them, all that is good will be strengthened and will rise up to fight against evil; everything darkened by sin but not yet consumed by it, noticing in this messenger the absence of any rebuke or humiliating condescension, will repent and bow down before him, while all that is wicked to its core, consciously despising the truth, will be denounced and exposed, and if it assails the truth with renewed hatred and even unto the murder of its messenger, he will yet not destroy his works, but will only glorify them, as it was with the Holy Martyrs.

Such, brethren, is the new path of social and personal life, opened to us in the mystery of the Baptism of Christ. “The voice of the Lord crieth upon the waters: Come, receive ye all the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of understanding, the Spirit of the fear of God, of the manifested Christ.” Can we ourselves receive this Spirit? Can we receive Christ? Abundant is His feast, great is His gift. But if you hesitate, as did the wealthy youth from the Gospel, if you have not decided to live from now on in the spirit of service and self-deprecation, to obtain the true goodness of life, then bow your head nonetheless before Christ and say to Him, as did that woman of Canaan: “Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.” And He will reply: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Amen. 

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