My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
Although the feast of the Theophany is past, the time for speaking about it and considering its import is never past.
Not only is it necessary to speak of it now, when we are still reading and singing the services of the feast, but it is necessary and beneﬁcial at all times to consider baptism and the renewal of our souls; for baptism is the occasion of our renewal and rebirth.
This rebirth refers to a visible occasion, an outward sign, yet it is not something visible to the eyes; we do not change outwardly an old man into a child, we do not return a person to the womb. Rather, one is by the grace of the heavenly King born anew interiorly.
The Lord says, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Why is it of water and the Spirit? Why was not the Spirit alone made sufficient to effect baptism?
Man is composed of soul and body; he is complex, not simple; hence, he received for his healing an appropriate remedy, one that is twofold, consisting of two concomitant parts: for the body, water which is physical and visible; for the invisible soul, the Spirit Which is invisible.
Therefore, let us not disparage this divine regenerative laver, and let us not disdain it as something common because it uses natural water.
For just as in the Divine Liturgy the bread is ordinary bread before the words of consecration, and the wine is ordinary wine, but after their consecration by the action of Holy Spirit the bread is the Body of Christ, and the wine is truly His Blood, and they are referred to as such; so also the water is nothing else but water, yet the grace which blesses it from on high makes a man new in a spiritual birth.
Indeed, we are baptized by triune immersion in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: in the name of the Father, for He is the Origin of all things; in the name of the Son, for He is the Founder of all creation; and in the name of the Holy Spirit, for He is the Perfector of all things.
We received baptism in order to become children of God; and we are children of God, if we abide in those things by which the God Who gave us birth is recognized – that is, if we abide in the state of sanctifying grace. If, however, we abide in contrary characteristics – that is, in the state of sin – then in vain do we call ourselves children of God and claim for ourselves the new birth from on high.
We hear this from our Lord in today’s holy Gospel.
We hear that from the time that Saint John the Baptist was arrested, our Lord began to preach, saying: Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
He waited for Saint John ﬁrst to bear witness to Him and to prepare the way for Him to come, in fulfillment of the prophecies.
Now does our Lord address us. “Do penance,” the Lord says, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
By the kingdom of heaven He indicates the preaching of the gospel and perseverance in the God-pleasing way of life laid down by it. Here, the kingdom of heaven does not draw near in the sense of time or place; it is found in a pure disposition of soul. It does not come with observation; the kingdom of heaven is within us, if we would have it.
This is, in truth, the kingdom: that the will of God be done on earth and in heaven, and that we live in a manner that is pleasing to God, leading a life in accord with the Gospel. The heavenly kingdom of the world to come is acquired by a life lived by the light of the Gospel.
The kingdom of heaven also refers to our Lord’s coming among us in the flesh, which grants us the communion of the Most Holy Spirit and an ascent to heaven. The preaching of the gospel, a life in accordance with it and persevering therein sinlessly unto salvation are together rightly called the kingdom of heaven.
The blessings which will remain incorruptible after the general resurrection, and that good and abiding glory to come, are also called the kingdom of heaven; but in order for us to have a share of these things, to receive them from the hands of the Lord, to exult with the angels and to reign with the King of all forever, we must strive to acquire the kingdom of heaven which is at hand and is within us.
This is done through the genuine living of a blameless life of virtue. Through that exaltation which comes from abasement and humility, and blessed passionlessness; for without embracing these works of the kingdom at hand, the blessed and eternal kingdom to come will not, can not be given unto us.
For He is come, of Whom the prophets prophesied, the Christ Who was awaited with faith, in order to make us on earth live as if in heaven. The heavenly kingdom has truly drawn nigh to us; for God has appeared upon earth and dwelt among men.
He has shown us the way of salvation and the knowledge of truth; He has shown us that which is proﬁtable and unto salvation. He has opened the doors of heaven; He has opened paradise to us.
He has made sons out of His enemies and has named uncomprehending men heirs of the heavenly kingdom. He has poured out the Holy Spirit upon our hearts, and sanctified and glorified us; and all this is not on account of our righteousness, but because of His rich mercy, which He has poured forth most abundantly. Christ, Who alone is pure and incorruptible, is cleansed in the Jordan with our cleansing, that He may sanctify us and the waters. Christ has saved us, set us free and illumined us; He has given us the gift of grace in holy baptism.
May we guard it resolutely and steadfastly; may we keep it intact.
Let us not deﬁle with lying words and vain talk our tongue which has been loosed, and our lips which have been opened to the purpose of praising God. Let us notdarken with impure sights our eyes which have been enlightened; let us not pollute with evil imaginations our hearts which have been made so beautiful, nor let sin reign in our mortal bodies.
Let us not allow ourselves to be instruments of sin and injustice; but let us present ourselves to God as men and women, boys and girls, God’s children of all ages brought back to life from the death of sin, and let us offer ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness.
As Saint Paul says: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” The present life is passing by; the future life is drawing near.
Let us today hear the words of our Lord, and let us repent and reform our morals and our selves, and today make amends for our sins; for in this way we shall inherit eternal beatitude.
“Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”