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The Nativity of Christ

The Lord Jesus Christ did not begin His open preaching of the Gospel until the age of 30, because the Jews did not accept anyone below that age as a teacher or priest, and this rule has also been incorporated into the Christian Book of Rules.

When the time came for Him to preach salvation, by God’s command He was preceded by John the Forerunner, who proclaimed throughout all the environs of the Jordan River that the Heavenly Kingdom was at hand, and that the awaited Messiah was coming… John preached repentance, necessary for entering this Kingdom, and baptized in the river Jordan all those who confessed their sins. This baptizing, which merited John the name of the Baptist, was, according to St. John Chrysostome, only a preparation for the sacrament, and not the sacrament itself. The Lord Jesus Christ, upon coming to the river Jordan and sanctifying the waters by immersing His most holy Self in them, thereby established the sacrament of baptism, which serves as a door into a new and eternal covenant with God. It was not the water that cleansed Him, Who was most-pure and without sin, but He Who sanctified the water by deigning to lave Himself in it, as is sung in the office of the great blessing of the waters: “Today is the nature of water sanctified.”

Before embarking upon His universal preaching, Jesus Christ also came to John to be baptized in the Jordan River. The Forerunner had never seen the Saviour, but God revealed to him that this was the Messiah. Then John exclaimed in pious awe: “…I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” “Suffer it to be so now,” – the Lord replied to him, – “for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:14-15).

After that John placed his hand upon the head of Jesus Christ and immersed Him; in the words of the church hymns, the Lord takes upon Himself the sins of the world and is covered by the waters of Jordan. When the Lord came out of the water, the heavens opened above Him, and John saw the Spirit of God, Who was descending upon Christ in the form of a dove, and the voice of God the Father was heard: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). In this manner God appeared as the Holy Trinity.

The Baptism of our Lord
The Baptism of our Lord

In commemorating this event on the Jordan River, the Church established the feast of the Lord’s Baptism to be celebrated on January 6th (19th by the new calendar). This holiday is also called the day of Theophany. Why is that? For the following reason: this holiday is distinguished by the fact that, as is sung in its troparion, on this very day “the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.” For the first time all three Persons of the Holy Trinity revealed Themselves individually: people heard the voice of God the Father, God the Son was being baptized by John, while the Holy Spirit descended from the Father upon the Son in the form of a dove.

St. John Chrysostome says: “It is not the day on which the Saviour was born that should be considered as the day of His revelation, but the day on which He was baptized. He did not become known to all through His nativity, but through His baptism…”

The beginning of this holiday dates back to the apostles, it is mentioned in apostolic decrees. St. Clement of Alexandria bore witness to the celebration of the Lord’s Baptism in the second century. There is also mention that the feasts of Christ’s Nativity and Baptism were merged into one celebration, which lasted from December 25th to January 6th (by the old calendar).

In His Nativity and Baptism the Lord teaches us humility, as opposed to the vanity and egoism on which contemporary mankind prides itself. Let us learn from our Saviour, dear brethren, this God-pleasing and fragrant virtue, without which, according to the Holy Fathers, no other virtue can be complete. Amen.

Protopriest Igor Hrebinka



«God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us». With these words we confess the mystery of God’s incarnation, which was revealed only to the Mother of God in Christ’s Nativity, and afterwards God became apparent to mankind through the shepherds and the magi.

Now Christ receives baptism in the waters of the river Jordan, in order to appear to all people and begin His service to them. This revelation is for the moment accorded only to John the Baptist, the greatest of all men born of women, the first prophet of the New Testament. And in this world which is buffeted by the winds of false teachings, where there are too many false prophets, too many lies, he stands firm as the prophet of truth, and even greater than a prophet.

The uniqueness of the prophecy of St. John the Baptist lies in the fact that he announces the coming of Christ. Moreover, he speaks to the people not of some distant future, but of that which will happen right at this moment, and which will be revealed to the people here and now. He prepares the people for this event by an appeal for repentance. The power of repentance to which John the Baptist summons everyone is determined by Christ’s nearness to us, while the depth of repentance is known to John the Baptist more than to any other person, because from his own experience of prayer in the desert he learned how God reveals Himself. This appeal will sound for all people until the very end of time. And today we confess repentance as a second baptism.

Baptism of Christ

The feast of Theophany reminds us that in order to become Christian, and before receiving the Holy Mysteries and communing with the grace of the Holy Spirit, i.e. before seeing Christ come in the flesh, – we must repent.“Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” – says the Forerunner.

And again we remind ourselves of the mystery of the Lord’s Baptism. The Lord received baptism from John in order for all to know Him as true God and true Man; to know that He is the Son and has been given to us, as we sing at the compline of the feast, that He is the Son of God and the Son of Man. In the Lord’s Baptism we come to know Him as true Man. In His Divinity, in His pre-eternal glory He has already accepted the consequences of His Incarnation, but it would have been unjust not to grant His human will, His human body the freedom to accept or reject the consequences of this choice. And here, at Jordan, Christ in His pure humanity accepts the calling to become one with all people, to become one with each one of us.

In His perfect love for us He decisively accepts that of which He has absolutely no need. He has no need whatsoever to be baptized with the baptism of repentance, since sin is completely absent in Him. And when John fearfully sees that the One Whom he is baptizing is Christ the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, – all concepts of human reasoning are turned upside down for the Baptist. And it is in the same manner that Christ – Who is life eternal, Who cannot therefore be subordinate to the natural law of death, – gives Himself over to crucifixion, rejecting His omnipotence and His perfection, in order to take upon Himself mankind’s limitation to the very edge, to death itself.

This is the perfect love which the Lord reveals to us in His Baptism. And here we come to know Him as God. His Baptism was a full and perfect identification with the Kingdom which John was prophesying through his witness of the entire truth of the Heavenly Kingdom. And further, with the visible manifestation of the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove, we are given the assurance that Christ is King, the Anointed One, Who is coming into His Kingdom. And He is now coming not in the might of the Last Judgment, but with the meekness of a dove. «Behold, thy King is coming to thee meekly», – these are the words we will hear as He goes to His death. With the words “Here is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased” the King is revealed as the Son of God, as God. And as was said in the text of today’s feast, as the people who came to Jordan entered the water, confessing their sins to John, they were cleansed of their sins, while the water became heavy with these sins. But afterwards Christ entered the water and went out of it, carrying upon His most-holy human body the entire burden of all human sins.

We celebrate this great event of our salvation in joy and hope, for we have been baptized with His baptism. And after the baptism, a path opens before Christ that leads Him to the Cross and the Resurrection. This is what the baptism of each one of us means. It leads both you and me, and all of us, together with Christ towards the Cross, and afterwards grants us Resurrection, but only if we retain this gift of the Lord. We must die for ourselves and arise from the dead for a new life in Christ. We come to Him such as we are – full of sin, but He does not allow us to remain so. The resurrected Christ will not accept anything less than making us part of the Divine life that had been poured out upon us in our baptism through the Holy Spirit.

As St. Seraphim of Sarov says, the grace of baptism is so great and so necessary, so life-giving to man, that no matter how low he may fall, it will not be taken away from him until his very death, i.e. until the time decreed for him from above by God’s providence. This is what we are renewing today in our consciousness and in our life.

“Come all of ye,” – says the Church to us today, – “all ye baptized, all ye unfaithful and semi-faithful, all ye who have traduced the holiness of baptism with your sins, all ye who calumniate God with your life and with the thought that it is impossible for Him to change anything. It is still not too late. Tomorrow, however, we will all stand before the judgment of Christ’s love.”

The power of God, which has been imprinted upon our souls and our bodies, is invincible. And whatever may happen to us, today let us turn towards genuine repentance. Let us participate in the daily struggle for the right to become such as we already are in Christ, in order for Christ’s precious Kingdom, and power, and glory to become ours by His gift; and, by the grace of Christ, may each one of us who has received holy baptism be a beloved son of the Heavenly Father, in whom He will be eternally well-pleased. Amen.

Protopriest Alexander Shargunov

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