On the Day of Christ’s Baptism — Part 1

by St. John Chrysostom

Our father among the saints John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, was a notable Christian bishop and preacher from the fourth and fifth centuries in Syria and Constantinople. He is famous for eloquence in public speaking and his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and in the Roman Empire of the time. His banishments demonstrated that secular powers had strong influence in the eastern Church at this period in history.

We shall now say something about the present feast. Many celebrate the feast days and know their designations, but the cause for which they were established they know not. Thus concerning this, that the present feast is called Theophany — everyone knows; but what this is — Theophany, and whether it be one thing or another, they know not. And this is shameful — every year to celebrate the feast day and not know its reason.

First of all therefore, it is necessary to say that there is not one Theophany, but two: the one actual, which already has occurred, and the second in future, which will happen with glory at the end of the world. About this one and about the other you will hear today from Paul, who in conversing with Titus, speaks thus about the present: “

The grace of God hath revealed itself, having saved all mankind, decreeing, that we reject iniquity and worldly desires, and dwell in the present age in prudence and in righteousness and piety” — and about the future: “awaiting the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:11-13).

And a prophet speaks thus about this latter:

“the sun shall turn to darkness, and the moon to blood at first, then shalt come the great and illuminating Day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31).

Why is not that day, on which the Lord was born, considered Theophany — but rather this day on which He was baptized?

This present day it is, on which He was baptized and sanctified the nature of water. Because on this day all, having obtained the waters, do carry it home and keep it all year, since today the waters are sanctified; and an obvious phenomenon occurs: these waters in their essence do not spoil with the passage of time, but obtained today, for one whole year and often for two or three years, they remain unharmed and fresh, and afterwards for a long time do not stop being water, just as that obtained from the fountains.

Why then is this day called Theophany?

Because Christ made Himself known to all — not then when He was born — but then when He was baptised. Until this time He was not known to the people. And that the people did not know Him, Who He was, listen about this to John the Baptist, who says:

“Amidst you stands, Him Whom you know not of” (Jn.1:26).

And is it surprising that others did not know Him, when even the Baptist did not know Him until that day?

“And I — said he — knew Him not: but He that did send me to baptise with water, about This One did tell unto me: over Him that shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding upon Him, This One it is Who baptizes in the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 1:33).

Thus from this it is evident, that — there are two Theophanies, and why Christ comes at baptism and on whichever baptism He comes, about this it is necessary to say: it is therefore necessary to know both the one and equally the other. And first it is necessary to speak your love about the latter, so that we might learn about the former.

There was a Jewish baptism, which cleansed from bodily impurities, but not to remove sins.

Thus, whoever committed adultery, or decided on thievery, or who did some other kind of misdeed, it did not free him from guilt. But whoever touched the bones of the dead, whoever tasted food forbidden by the law, whoever approached from contamination, whoever consorted with lepers — that one washed, and until evening was impure, and then cleansed.

“Let one wash his body in pure water — it says in the Scriptures, — and he will be unclean until evening, and then he will be clean” (Lev 15:5, 22:4).

This was not truly of sins or impurities, but since the Jews lacked perfection, then God, accomplishing it by means of this greater piety, prepared them by their beginnings for a precise observance of important things.

Thus, Jewish cleansings did not free from sins, but only from bodily impurities. Not so with ours: it is far more sublime and it manifests a great grace, whereby it sets free from sin, it cleanses the spirit and bestows the gifts of the Spirit. And the baptism of John was far more sublime than the Jewish, but less so than ours: it was like a bridge between both baptisms, leading across itself from the first to the last.

Wherefore John did not give guidance for observance of bodily purifications, but together with them he exhorted and advised to be converted from vice to good deeds and to trust in the hope of salvation and the accomplishing of good deeds, rather than in different washings and purifications by water. John did not say: wash your clothes, wash your body, and ye will be pure, but what? —

“bear ye fruits worthy of repentance” (Mt 3:8).

Since it was more than of the Jews, but less than ours: the baptism of John did not impart the Holy Spirit and it did not grant forgiveness by grace: it gave the commandment to repent, but it was powerless to absolve sins. Wherefore John did also say:

“I baptize you with water…That One however will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Mt 3:11).

Obviously, he did not baptize with the Spirit. But what does this mean:

“with the Holy Spirit and with fire?”

Read Part 2.