What humility looks like.

Homily 293 – 31st Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 7, 2018

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

We have been inundated with input over the past three or four days. The Baptism of Christ is a really big deal. There is more to come – the leavetaking of the feast of Theophany, known in Greek as the apodosis, is actually next Sunday.

The system of Forefeasts and Afterfeasts can tell us a lot about the importance of a particular feast day.

Pascha doesn’t have a forefeast, but the afterfeast is 39 days long – ending the day prior to the Ascension.

The Nativity of our Lord has a forefeast of 5 days, and an afterfeast of 7 days. That totals 12 days of hymnography about the Nativity in the life of the Church, plus the feast itself.

Theophany has a 4 day Forefeast, and a 9 day afterfeast. 13 days, plus the feast.

The other great feasts have one day of forefeast, and a range of 2 days to 9 days of afterfeast.

What we learn is that after Pascha, the Church spends more time with Theophany than any other feast on the calendar.

I suspect most of us would put Christmas – the Nativity of our Lord – as second. But the Church doesn’t.

We elevate Nativity not because of anything in the Church – and it is third, by the way – but perhaps we elevate it for non-Church reasons.

Important reasons like family gatherings and traditions. Warm feelings of gratitude. Reflection on life, and priorities.

But my guess is that in the average American household there is very little to no conversation about the significance of the Incarnation. Fewer still the conversation about the dual natures in one being coming into the world.

Baptism, on the other hand, is one thing that absolutely permeates the Christian world.

Every single group that has an affiliation with Jesus has Baptism. Some do infant baptism.

Protestant groups have baptism. Mormons have baptism. The Amish have baptism. Jehovah’s Witnesses have baptism.

It is fascinating that regardless of the disagreements we have with other groups that call themselves Christian, all of us have baptism.

Today, in what is the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist, we find that Baptism precedes even Christ.

The call of the prophets, of which John was proclaimed the greatest by our Lord, that call is always identical – repent. Change the way you live.

Baptism was part of repentance. It was a transforming signal to the world, to God, to the demons, even to ourselves.

When Christ was baptized, though, a seismic shift occurred. Seismic. The foundations of the cosmos shook.

Christ didn’t need to repent. He is God! How can perfection change? Even a third rate philosopher would tell you that if perfection changes, it is no longer perfect!

What Christ did, through John, is demonstrate something. Something essential. He spent His entire life on Earth demonstrating this.

Humility. Utter and complete humility.

Jesus is as superior as it gets – yet allows himself to be baptized by John. Imagine hiring a valet, or a servant, and then being the servant of that person.

We can’t even fathom the idea! Yet, what Christ did was exponentially more significant.

It is diametrically opposed to everything the world has always believed. The great – the powerful – the mighty – they are the ones to be served. They are waited on hand and foot. They do not serve others!

And yet the Creator of all that exists comes to us incarnate – like us – and doesn’t demand anything. Nothing. He only serves us. He washes the feet of the disciples. He suffers and is crucified.

In the literature of the Orthodox faith, the elders, the monks, the spiritual greats of our Church all tell us the same thing. We have to become humble. Humble in action. Humble in spirit.

They also tell us how to do it. They tell us the reason we are not humble is because our mind – our thought, our reason – is not in the proper subjection to the heart – which is what we translate the greek word nous.

The nous is that faculty within all of us that is our core – the part of us that connects to God.

When humanity fell, the nous was overpowered by our mind and our reason. Our intellect. Instead of intellect being a tool and a servant, it became a master.

Christ overcame that, by choosing against every intellectual part of his being, to die on a cross. The ultimate humiliation.

We are only asked to die to our reputation or our standing socially. Some may be asked to die physically. The Church regards them as the same.

So our hope this day is the hope of repentance. The hope of Baptism. The restoration of the proper order.

So that we may become proper humans. Children of the Living God who created us, and who loves us enough to serve us.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.