And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of His word. O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee (The Troparion of the feast of the Theophany).
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (Matthew 9:12).
The feast of the Theophany of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ teaches us about God's encounter with His chosen people as He reveals to them the full meaning of the coming of the Messiah, the Christ.
The Dim Understanding of the Messiah before the Theophany
Before God's fullness was revealed, God's encounters with mankind were, in the words of St. Paul (1 Cor 13:12), seen "dimly" by the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, and even by those surrounding the life of Jesus. The significance of the nativity of Christ, for example, was not immediately comprehended by the Theotokos, the Mother of God. As St. Luke records: "And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." (Lk 1:35; 37–38). At the time, Mary had little understanding of the significance of her role in the history of salvation. Her free-will response by God's grace to His request for her to bear His Son was on a human level, a pure act of trust.
St. Gregory Palamas (Veniamin, ed., 2008)makes this clear: "[The Father] made it plain that all those other things spoken earlier through the prophets, the giving of laws, the promises, the granting of sonship, were imperfect, and were neither pronounced nor accomplished in accordance with what God willed beforehand. Rather, they looked towards this present fulfillment, and through what has now been accomplished they too have been brought to perfection."
Christ as Physician
We know that Our Lord was to become the Physician and Healer of soul and body. The Theophany feast, the zenith of the Nativity season, gives us the first revelation of who is the healer of the world: "And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people." (Mt 4:23).
Jesus, "...who was born in a cavern and lay in a manger for our salvation..."[i] was the one who at His baptism, would be announced to the world, to be God Himself. As the Theophany troparian proclaims: "When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest! For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, and called Thee His beloved Son! And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of His word. O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee!"
The healing ministry of the Messiah-God would be strongly affirmed by Christ's answer to the disciples of the honorable, glorious Prophet , Fore-Runner and Baptist John's imprisonment. As recorded by St. Matthew (11:2-6): "Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me."
Let us explore some of the Old Testament promises and see how they can be more fully understood in the light of the Theophany of the Son of God, our true Physician.
The Promise of Wisdom
In the Book of Sirach we read, "I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist. I dwelt in the high places." (Sirach 24:3–4). The full meaning of wisdom would not be glimpsed until St. Paul told the Corinthians: "He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30) We could consider Wisdom, begotten of the Father, as the person of the Son, Jesus Christ, who is our wisdom. Wisdom guides the breath of His power. The Word, Jesus, is the manifestation of wisdom eternally, in both the creation of the world and in everything He is sent to accomplish. As Solomon tells us, "Wisdom stretches out from one end of the earth to the other" (Wisdom 8:1)
As an human attribute, wisdom is the foundation of all healing virtue. But most importantly it is, as St. Paul tells us, a gift of the Holy Spirit: "To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom " (1Cor 12:8) It is not so much knowledge as it is the human prudence inspired by God as how to live a life of holiness. The root of wisdom is the fear of God. When the angels at Our Lord's birth proclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased,"[ii] they were proclaiming the fear (awesomeness) of God. Men of 'good will,' are those who manifest this wisdom and live a life of holiness, a life where the Christ Child is born in them, mind, body and spirit, and which leads to the healing of mind, body and spirit. The Theophany event revealed that the healing Christ Child is God.
Christ, the Promise of the Covenant
God known to His people as Father (i.e. "I am the God of Abraham your father; fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your descendants for my servant Abraham's sake." Gen 29:24) made a covenant with his chosen people. The writer of Exodus (3:2) records God's appearance to Moses: "And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed." God's message of deliverance was rather specific. God told Moses: "I have come down to deliver them [his chosen people] out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey."
We could consider the deliverance of God's people from the yoke of Pharaoh to prefigure the redemption of the people of the New Covenant from the yoke of the evil one. Moses was told by God: "Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel." (Ex 19:5–6) But God's work of redemption was not to be limited to this concrete deliverance. It was to be a deliverance from sin and death universally open to all mankind. Jesus is born to redeem and heal us all. Christ the Ruler rules over the new law or covenant that was made with his people.
The Promise: Rulers Shall be Silent and Nations Shall Have Recourse
Isaiah the Prophet foretold: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, (Is 11:1–2; 10) [and] so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand." (Is 52:15) Although not yet revealed to our forefathers living under the Old Covenant, it is the Christ, God's Son, one of the Trinity, as revealed in the Theophany, Who is the new branch. Christ as Physician heals not only the infirmities of individuals, but those of nations as well. We too, as the body of Christ, are to be the extension of this healing. We are the banner around which the world should be surrounded and thereby we become the unifying principle of all nations. The insignia of the Cross rests atop the manger of Christ, the newborn King. By our wisdom and prudence that lead to holiness, together with Christ as Ruler, we too can become shoots of the root of Jesse.
The Promise of the Key to the Kingdom
Again the Prophet Isaiah (22:22) tells us: "And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open." For the ancient Jews the six-pointed star was the symbol of this key and shield of David. (Parsch, 1962) For the ancient Jews it was a sign of the promised Messiah. At the Nativity we encounter it as the Star of Bethlehem. The Theophany Feast now leads us to the understanding that the key is the key of authority. David's key of authority is passed to Christ in His birth, who in turn passed it to His Church. As members of Christ's Body, the Church, we have the power by God's grace to open ourselves to Him, be healed, shut out Satan and have opened to us the doors to enter the kingdom of Heaven.
The Promise of Dayspring: Life Eternal
In the Wisdom of Solomon (7:26) we read: "For she [Wisdom-God] is the radiance of eternal light." The fullness of the Wisdom was not known by those before Christ. God's voice and the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove at the Theophany enlightened the world. This illumination inspired St. Paul to open his epistle to the Hebrews (1:1–2) with this message: "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world."
In this context, we understand the canticle of the priest Simeon, whom Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus, encountered when they presented Jesus in the temple back to His Father: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel" (Luke 2:29–32).
With the birth of Christ we have a rising sun that heals us by dispersing spiritual darkness and conquering death. This is spoken of eloquently by the aging priest Zechariah, the father of the great prophet and forerunner of Christ, the Baptist John: " ... for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:78–79).
Do we give life, light, warmth, joy peace and health in our lives? Do we penetrate the dark cellars of the world wet with its rottenness? As members of Christ's Body, the Church, we who have through baptism "put on Christ"[iii] must have His light shine on and reflect off us to all mankind especially those surrounding us (Morelli, 2007). As St. Theophylact (Stade, trans., 2004) tells us: "He arose like the sun from their midst, and those who are wise have Him as their boast."
The Promise of the King of the Gentiles and the Desired of All
The conversion of pagans is mentioned in the psalms. The Lord God says to King David, the prefigure of Christ: "You are my son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession." (Ps 2:7–8) And again David says: "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him." (Ps 21:27). St. Maximus the Confessor, writes of David: "..the reign of the great David prefigures the worship set forth in the Gospel, for it enshrines to perfection God's most intimate purposes." (Philokalia IV).
The prophet Jeremiah uses the title 'King of the gentile nations': "Who would not fear thee, O King of the nations? For this is thy due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like thee" (Jeremiah 10:7) Isaiah references this newborn babe (Isiah 28:16), writing, " therefore thus says the Lord God, 'Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: He who believes will not be in haste.'" Jesus is God, the Son of His Father, of Whom His Father is "well pleased" (Matthew 3:17), and this confirmed by the Holy Spirit. In St. Matthew's Gospel (21:42) Jesus calls himself the cornerstone: "Have you never read in the scriptures: 'The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?" Jesus is to be our cornerstone, the first laid, and all of us are to align with Him.
As king both of the chosen people and the Gentiles, Jesus will be the cornerstone uniting all. St. Paul tells the Ephesians (2:11-14): "Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility " What better way to break down the barriers of man-made divisions than to recall the words of St. Paul to the Galatians (3:27–29): "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female [iv]; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise."
Do we see that the Gospel applies to all around us? Do we reflect Christ as the King of all, invites all mankind to see Him as the object of their desire? The person lowest in terms of social, economic or social stature, the person we see whom we are tempted to see as most despised is very person the Christ-child was born for. It is just this person that the Father wants to know that Jesus is His Son, the truth of which the Holy Spirit confirmed. This is an invitation to all of us who claim to be followers of Christ, to the heal nations and peoples, the lowliest and most infirm of mankind.
A personal test: Is there any individual of a particular language group, nation, race, lifestyle, handicapped, religion, sex, occupation, income bracket, color or appearance that we love differently from the person who we love the most? Love means we desire and work toward the 'good and welfare' of all mankind. This means we love all people of all categories as all are children of God.
Love means we desire God to dwell in them. Love means we care for and work toward their spiritual, psychological and physical welfare. In practice this means in emulation of Christ-God, we are all 'good Samaritans.' For example, from the Southwestern United States where I reside, regardless of whether a person comes from north or south of the U.S. border, if that person needed education, employment, food, or health care, I would be the 'good Samaritan' by filling the need. "But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.'" (Lk 10:33–35) And remember the words of Jesus recorded by St. Luke (10:37): "And Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.'" If we do not heed these words of Jesus and practice this love, then these words of Our Lord apply to us: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?" (Mt 23:23; 33) Applying this commandment to love is the true meaning of the Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, the lover and healer of mankind.
The Promise of Emmanuel: "God with Us"
Finally we can reflect on God's promise told to us by Isaiah the Prophet (7:14–15): "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good."
St. Matthew, writing after he was called to be an apostle and enlightened by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, knowing the significance of the Theophany, knowing the meaning of "all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Session at the right hand, and the second and glorious Advent,"[v] wrote almost the exact words of Isaiah quoted above "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanu-el (which means, God with us)." (Mt 1:23) We know that the one who fulfills the promises and titles of the Old Testament is none other than God Himself. His mission is to "save his people from their sins." (Mt 1:21) He does this not as just as a man. He comes to us as the God-man. Indeed St. Paul ends his first epistle to the Corinthians (16:22) by praying: "Our Lord, come!"
The Meaning of "God With Us" for Us
Here is a personal prayer applicable to each one of us. We ask God to "abide with us." Isaiah (33:22) identifies a deliverer who is God Himself: "For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us." We know this Lord is God Himself. He revealed Himself to us at the Theophany. At Orthros we pray: "God is the Lord Who hath shown us light. Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord." If He is to fulfill these titles, we have a corresponding obligation. If the Christ who was "born in a cavern and lay in a manger for our salvation" is our Lawgiver, we are to accept and obey His Law. If this child is King, we are to accord him obedience, submission and worship.
St. Matthew (8:17) tells us: "This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases." If He is the physician of our souls, so too, we are to be His instruments of healing ourselves and those around us. The healing ministry of the Church, the "Church as hospital" (Morelli, 2006; Vlachos, 1994, 1998) is none other than the ministry of Christ himself. The obligation we have to heal ourselves and those around us is none other than doing what Christ, who was revealed to us as God by His own Father's word and confirmed by the Holy Spirit, came on earth to accomplish. Healing is our and joy, ministry and obligation:
"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master" (Matthew 10:24).
Morelli, G. (2006, December 21). The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing. www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliHealing.php.
Morelli, G. (2007, January 12). A Theophany Within. www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliTheophany.php.
Parsch, P. (1962). The Church's Year of Grace. (Vol. 1) Collegeville, MI: The Liturgical Press.
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds.). (1995). The Philokalia, Volume 4: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Markarios of Corinth. London: Faber and Faber.
St. Gregory Palamas (C. Veniamin, ed., 2008). The Saving Work of Christ. Waymart, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing.
St. Theophylact (Stade, trans., 2004). The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke. House Springs, MO: Chrysostom Press.
Vlachos, Bishop Hierotheos (1994). Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science of the Fathers. Lavadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery.
Vlachos, Bishop Hierotheos (1998). The Mind of the Orthodox Church. Lavadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery.
[i] Prothesis Prayer from the Divine Liturgy.
[ii] Some translations, such as the Challoner-Reims version, read: "Hosanna in the Highest, Peace in earth to men of good will." Translating the last phrase as 'good will toward men' is not accurate.
[iii] Baptismal hymn of Pascha: "As may of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia" (see Gal 3:27).
[iv] A proper understanding of male-female is critical for interpreting this passage. St. Paul's teaching that there is neither male nor female has been understood by the Church from the earliest times to mean that males and females have equal potential to attain holiness, sanctification and deification. God revealed Himself as: Father and Jesus as: Son. This is not of human origin, but Divine. Thus, the Father who begets is what He is because of His Son, though not in second place after Him.
It is important to note the following technical distinctions:
- Sex: What you are biologically, male or female.
- Sexual Orientation: The sex of the individual the person is sexually attracted to, i.e. :same sex or opposite sex attraction.
- Sexual Desire or Strength: The degree of attraction, from weak to strong.
- Gender Identity: The sexual characteristics a person perceives himself as having that are socially defined, irrespective of their biological sex. In most Western countries, a male (male) who perceives himself as male (gender) would not wear a skirt. A female (sex) who perceives herself as female (gender) might wear lipstick.
Secularists and feminists attempt to eliminate the scientific term sex differences and recast all differences between male and female as gender differences, and thus capable of re-definition. This teaching runs contrary to the mind of the Church. In the mystery of the plan of salvation, God uses our sex differences to reveal Himself to us. For example, Christ, incarnate in the male sex, is the one high priest; the male priesthood is His only appropriate and allowable icon. This is unchangeable. St. John of Damascus describes the Theotokos, the God-bearer, in iconography as the carrier and nurturer of her Son. She is also the container and bearer of "The Word," described as "more honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim." This is the essential teaching the Holy Spirit inspired Orthodox Church has passed on to us.
[v] From the Anaphora of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.