Matthew 3:13-17 (Liturgy Gospel)
13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 15 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. 16 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: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! Today, with our re-member-ance of Theophany, we have an opportunity to reach out and touch the re-creation of the universe that took place with the Incarnation of Christ. In the Church we don’t simply celebrate an event, we “re-member” it, we participate again in the event, we re-constitute the events of salvation history in the services of the Church. God’s offering of salvation and healing to the human race really is a history. God, dealing with humankind, from the beginning. Our salvation is not wrapped up in some spiritual/emotional experience that has nothing to do with how we live our day-to-day lives, but somehow mysteriously grants us life in the Heavenly Kingdom on the “other side” of death. Our life in Christ includes every part of us, soul and body, spiritual and physical. Salvation in the Orthodox Christian mind, in the understanding of the Apostles and the Saints, has at its center our participation in Christ unto our healing. We are sanctified—no longer are we just counted righteous, like Abraham (Genesis 15:6) was counted as righteous because of his faith. Because Christ took on our created nature and sanctified it, we have the opportunity to be transformed in Christ and to become righteous. All of creation is transformed and sanctified in the person of Jesus Christ. And all those who participate personally in the work of Christ, become agents of this sanctification as well. Geronda Vasileos (of I.M. Iveron, Mount Athos) writes that we as Christians bring Christ into world day by day as we’re being sanctified by Him. As St. Seraphim of Sarov said—“Acquire the Spirit of Peace, the Holy Spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.” This is why even the place where a saint has lived seemed different—the very soil, the air, the surroundings of the saint are changed by his deified presence. And we venerate his Holy Relics—his body is filled with the presence and the grace of God. Created things (from our bodies, to our possessions, to bread and wine) can now be the conduits for the grace of God because of the Incarnation. This is why we can have Sacraments—all of creation can be filled with the life and presence of Christ. And today we have the opportunity to participate in two offerings that bring us to this point—to the place where God’s divine life comes into contact with our human lives through the medium of the created world. We celebrate the Holy Eucharist at every Divine Liturgy. Where we offer to God everything that we are in the bread and in the wine. And He returns the Gifts to us filled with His life, grace, healing, power, presence. He returns the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of His Son. And when we receive back the gift we offered, we receive healing and forgiveness and salvation. The presence of God is life—and in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist this is the exchange that takes place. God accepts our lives, and gives to us His life. Also today, because it’s Theophany, we’ll also have the Great Blessing of Water. Holy Water—water filled with the healing presence of God. In the service we’ll pray that the water be blessed with the blessing of the Jordan. When Christ was submerged in the waters of the Jordan River, the Fathers say that all the earth was regenerated by His holy presence. And the water is healed—no longer is it a source of darkness and confusion and death, like water was in the ancient world (just look at ancient literature or the Old Testament and see, water was a symbol of evil, the place where demons live). With Christ’s baptism the water is healed—in many of our icons of Theophany a serpent is portrayed in the water being crushed under the feet of Christ. And so when we pray, and ask for God’s blessing upon the water, Bishop BASIL (Antiochian, Diocese of the Midwest) writes that we’re not creating “supernatural” water—but rather by God’s blessing the water becomes what it was “naturally” created to be: a means of Life. Naturally all things were filled with the presence of God, all things were a means to communion with God, and in the Great Blessing of Waters, this property of nature is restored. Restored and transformed by the presence of the incarnate God in the River Jordan. Just like we’ll ask for the Holy Spirit to descend upon us and upon the bread and the wine, in the Blessing of the Water we’ll pray:
-that these waters may be sanctified by the power, operation and descent of the Holy Spirit;
-that they may receive the grace of redemption and the blessing of the Jordan (the Jordan is blessed because Christ was present in it);
-that we may be enlightened by the descent of the Holy Spirit (in other words, by partaking of the Holy Water that we’ve asked the Spirit to descend upon).
God Himself will come and bless and sanctify and fill the water with His Holy Presence, and from that time on this water that we ask God to heal will be for our sanctification, forgiveness of sins, deliverance from sins, and will lead us to life eternal (all those phrases again come from the Service of the Blessing of Water). We will touch water as water is meant to be, water as a means of communion with God, water taken from the very hand of God with a blessing. So when we bring this Holy Water into our homes, when the priest comes to bless our homes, and any time we come into contact with things that are Holy, the Eucharist, any Sacrament, relics, icons. Contact with material things that have been sanctified by the presence of God brings us into the presence of He Who Sanctifies. But our participation in this is, at least in part, on us. And we’ll end with a reflective quote from Bishop BASIL (Antiochian, Diocese of the Midwest): “So when the priest comes to your house to bless it, he sprinkles the blessed water on the walls in order that the dwelling may be restored to its correct purpose…It is a sanctified dwelling as long as we use our free-will to want it to be sanctified. We should continually offer our house back to God so that He can transform it into a means of communion with God. Father Alexander Elchaninov wrote: ‘The consecration of houses, objects, and so forth, is not magic, for Orthodoxy is a religion of complete freedom, and in such cases God’s grace, descending on a house, awaits a movement of our heart going out to meet it.’ It is for this reason that all members of a household should pray along with the priest. We should pray that God will fill us and our house with His presence.” Our contact with God is always like this. We see it clearly in our preparation for Holy Communion. We prepare ourselves to receive the grace God offers, we offer ourselves to God, and in the meeting of God and man, in the transfer of God’s life to us, we’ll be healed and enlightened in so far as we’ve prepared ourselves to meet God. May we meet Christ in the Bread, and the Wine, and the Water, for the healing of our souls and bodies, and for life everlasting. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!