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Holy Theophany: the Radiance of Divine Condescension for Our Salvation

January 6, 2013

theophanyIn plumbing the depths of the River Jordan, the Lord Christ foreshadows in His holy baptism the glorious work of salvation completed in the world-changing events of Good Friday, His descent into hades on Holy Saturday, and His glorious Resurrection on Pascha.  Saint Paul describes the divine condescension in his letter to the faithful of Philippi as follows:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:  And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.  Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In this Theophany of the Holy Trinity, Christ the Eternal Word made Flesh shows us the Way of humility and obedience.  God is made manifest to man so that God reveals man’s destiny in Christ namely, as Fr. John Romanides has written, “Although some people certainly refer to man as the image of God, it’s improper to do so. Literally, man is fashioned in the image of God, but he is not the image of God. Although the Bible relates that “in the image of God created He him,” precisely what is meant by this verse was fully revealed only in the Incarnation, because from the very beginning human destiny was to become like Christ, to become god by grace, and to attain the state of being “in the likeness.” A person actively becomes “in the image” when he becomes like Christ in compassion.” And yet, if we are so wrapped up in ourselves, how can we become like the compassionate Christ? To reach that goal, we must begin with what was revealed about the image of God in baptism. We need to become images of His humility, obedience, and kenosis or self-empyting in order to receive His divine virtues, even as Christ was perfectly humble and obedient walking along the path of kenosis in order to take on all our sins and infirmities.

I have been asked about the practical steps in acquiring this humility.  In a previous blog post, I referred to Elder Sophrony in noting, “Archimandrite Zacharias describes Elder Sophrony’s thoughts on the kenotic aspects of agape thusly, “Such love puts to death any feeling of self-love [meaning philautia] in man, so that God may live in him and be increasingly glorified in him.  Prayer, accompanied by kenotic self-abhorrence, and inflamed with the fire of humble love for Christ, takes place face to Face with the unoriginate God.  During such prayer the state of Christ Himself is conveyed to man.  Man becomes a true and fulfilled hypostasis through the grace of God.  Bearing within himself the Holy Spirit he too can cry out with holy boldness:  ‘Now, my Christ, in Thee and through Thee I too, am.’”

This kenotic self-abhorrence is not ontological, but existential in that people who pray in such a way find their past lives of sin and their distance from God abhorrent.  They find their self-idolatry abhorrent and the godlike status they have given to their favorite passions to be abhorrent. Much like in the parable of the Prodigal Son, we finally recognize our woeful state and with a conscience renewed we  turn to God in faith and hope.  In the state of philautia, such recognition is not possible because the goal is the satisfaction of the ego’s cravings and desires for esteem and praise.  In chapter 4 of my book I note, “St. John Chrysostom notices that philautia blindfolds us with blinders that can only be removed by those who are hostile to us.  ‘Under the influence of philautia we do not see our own failings, while those who are hostile to us often  see them quite accurately.”   (This is why the God-seeking person who is attempting to cultivate a spirit of genuine humility recognizes the spiritual benefit of receiving criticism even from those who are hostile to him.)

If we truly seek Him who revealed Himself to us in the River Jordan in order to save us, we must be willing to strip ourselves of all that is not of Him and descend with Him into the waters to rise with Him in the Spirit.  This disrobing for the sake of the Spirit and in imitation of Christ includes our worldly attachments to material possessions, self-love, and sensual pleasures.

Let us cry out with joy, “The Lord clothed material flesh

with the immaterial fire of divinity.

Now He wraps Himself in the flowing waters of the Jordan.

The Lord does this, the Lord born in the flesh from the Virgin;

for He has been glorified.

The One Who cleans away the filth of people

is Himself cleansed for their sakes in the Jordan.

By His own will He became like them while remaining what He was.

The Lord enlightens those in darkness;

for He has been glorified.

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