The Season of Holy Theophany

(Matthew 3:13-17)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

On the great feast of Theophany, literally the "appearance of God", we celebrate that glorious event, the manifestation of the worship of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God.

At the end of each and every Divine Liturgy, we also chant: "We have seen the true light. We have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith, in worshiping the indivisible Trinity; for He hath saved us." We know that the faith which we espouse and which we have been engaged in defending these days, is the worship of the Holy Trinity.

To reflect once again on the event, we recall that Jesus came from Jordan unto John to be baptized of him. But John objected, saying, "It is I who have need to be baptized by Thee, and yet comest Thou to me?" And Jesus answered saying to him, "Allow it to be this way now. For thus it is fitting that we fulfill all righteousness." And John allowed it. And when Jesus had been baptized and stepped up out of the water, the heavens were opened to him.

In this way the Trinity is revealed, for the Saviour of the world saw the Spirit descending like a dove and lighting upon Him, and a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased."

Until then in Salvation History, people had not enjoyed the great blessing of perceiving and understanding clearly through revelation that God should be worshiped in Trinity of Persons, even though there were numerous Old Testament types that prefigured this mystery dimly. "Let us make man in our image" is one such intimation of Trinity expressed already in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. For Moses had made use of a plural noun for God (Elohim) and a singular verb and possessive pronoun when he wrote: "God (plural noun) made man in His (singular pronoun) own image."

Another intimation of Trinity appears in the eleventh chapter of Genesis when God saw that the people of the land of Shinar wished to build a tower that would reach up to heaven. "Come, let us (in the plural) go down and confound their language," said the one God. And immediately: "So the Lord (in the singular) scattered them."

The clearest type of the Trinity which appears in the Old Testament is depicted in the icon named "The Hospitality of Abraham: "And God appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre as Abraham sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day." And the one God appeared to him in the form of three men. "He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold three men stood before him. When he saw them, he ran to the door of the tent to meet them. He bowed himself down to the earth and said to the three figures before him, "My Lord (in the singular), if I have found favor in Thy sight (in the singular), do not pass by Thy servant" (in the singular again) (Gen. 18:1-3).

Then Abraham hastened to show hospitality to the three men, the one Lord, by fetching water for their feet and a morsel of bread to comfort their hearts. And Abraham took butter and milk and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them, and they did eat" (Genesis 18:6-8).

Throughout this narration Abraham recognizes at once both the Three and the One, the Trinity and the Unity in Trinity. The Fathers tell us that the One whom Abraham addresses several times in this narration is the Son of God whom the icon of the "Hospitality of Abraham" shows as the angel in the center with the "nimbus crucifixus," the halo with the cross which is always associated with the figure of Christ. He appears in the icon as the Angel of Great Counsel, the One who came to Moses in the burning bush.

Another type of the Trinity is found, according to the Fathers, in the Book of Daniel -- the story of the three youths, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:8-30). As we read in the Katavasia of Matins, in the service of the Exaltation of the Cross: "O ye youths equal in number to the Trinity, bless the Father, God the Creator; praise the Word Who did descend as the angel to turn the fire to a dewy breeze; and exalt more and more the all-Holy Spirit Who gives life to all for evermore."

The Trinity is also foreshadowed in Isaiah's vision of God on His Seraphic throne: "And it came to pass . . . that I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of His glory; and seraphim stood round about Him, each one had six wings; and with two they covered their face, and with two thy covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory" (Isa. 6:1-3). The relationship between these verse and the Trisagion in the worship of the Trinity is not accidental.

The Prophet Daniel also had a vision of one who sits upon a throne, "the Ancient of Days," who was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him. He was "like unto the Son of man," the very same epithet the Saviour uses of Himself so often in the Gospel. This same Ancient of Days is identified as Christ by St. John the Theologian in the book of Revelations.

In the Matins of the Presentation, the association between Jesus and the Ancient of days signifies the two natures of the Lord--the divine (the Son of God) and human (the Son of man). "Verily the Ancient of days becomes a babe for my sake," exclaims St. Andrew, "and the all-pure God shares in the impure to save me in the flesh which He took from the virgin."

The truth prefigured by these and other types of the Trinity which might be mentioned in the Old Testament becomes more striking in the New Testament. "No one has seen God at any time," pronounces St. John the Theologian; "the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared Him (John 1:18). Likewise, it is the Son who sends the Spirit: "I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of Truth . . ." (John 14:16-17). "When the Comforter is come," the Lord tells His disciples. "Whom I will send you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, He shall testify of me" (John 15:26). The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit who imparts not the wisdom of men, but the wisdom of God, "interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit" (I Cor. 2:13).

The Spirit is never separated from the Son, neither in the original Creation when God created the heaven and the earth, nor in the re-creation resulting from Christ's Death and Resurrection. We know that the Holy Spirit is the divine means by which we become members of Christ and adopted sons of the Father" (Rom. 8:14, 23; Gal. 5:5; II Cor. 1:22); and we know that in the words of St. Irenaeus, the Son and the Spirit are the two "hands of the Father" in the working out of our salvation.

In one of His last instructions to His disciples, the Savior said to them: "If a man love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode in him . . . These things have I spoken unto you being yet present unto you, but the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send you in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

Finally, Jesus prayed a long prayer to the Father before He led his disciples across the brook Cedron into the garden of Gethsemane. In this prayer the Saviour prays for the unity of those the Father has given Him. "I do not pray for these my disciples alone," He says, "but for all those also who shall believe in me through their

word." That, dear brothers and sisters, includes us. Then the Savior continues, "(I pray) that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, and I are one; that they also may be one in us. The glory which Thou gavest me I have given them: that they may be one, even as we are. I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one."

The psalmist sings: "Behold now, what is so good or so joyous as for brethren to dwell together in unity. It is like the oil of myrrh upon the head, which runneth down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, which runneth down to the fringe of his raiment. It is like the dew of Aermon, which cometh down upon the mountains of Sion. For there the Lord commanded the blessing, life for evermore."

That we live together in unity of faith and love, that we be one as the Father and the Son are one, as the Saviour prayed, is the continuing prayer of the Church. Unity of faith and love is the harbinger of that peace so sorely longed for, which the world and the wisdom of the world cannot give, which comes only through the Saviour.

Let us recall and adhere to all we have learned over the years about Orthodox unity. First of all we have learned that Orthodox unity is not one of uncritical emotion and sentimentality. It is a unity of truth in the faith, truth in the love of God and neighbor, with no accommodation to error and unrighteousness. It is a unity which always loves the person with long-suffering patience, but never tolerates untruth or error at any time.

We have learned also that unity is a matter of good order in the Church. Good order is destroyed when an individual, bishop, priest, deacon or layman seeks and demands for himself the right to interpret the scriptures or the canons or Orthodox tradition apart from the mind of the Orthodox Church as guided by the Fathers of the Church and current Orthodox hierarchs who rightly divide the word of God's truth.

At this critical juncture in our Church life, beloved brethren, let us not forget what we have learned about true faith, true love, church discipline, and good order. And let our experiences confirm in us our resolution to confess the faith purely and, having found the true faith, to worship the Holy Trinity in the Orthodox manner.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fr. John Bockman


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