Tag Archives: Theophany

Doubt: It Ain’t What I Think

Sunday, January 19 (OS January 6), 2020: The Holy Theophany. The Baptism of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Epistle: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Something interesting happens in the conversation between John and his younger cousin. John is hesitant to baptize Jesus. “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” Can you not hear an older cousin or sibling say just these words to his junior?

But rather than arguing with him, Jesus responds gently. “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

By His answer to John, Jesus transforms a moment of doubt into an occasion of faith. And not only this. John’s willingness, weak as it is, to do what Jesus asks becomes a revelation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. As we hear in the troparion for today, “When You were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, worship of the Trinity was revealed.”

Through the gentle touch of grace, doubt becomes faith and an experience of the overwhelming and all-encompassing love of God.

Living as we do in an age when we confuse faith in God with what we believe about God, it is easy to also confuse doubt with a lack of intellectual understanding or certitude. And yet, doubt is different.

In the Reform Orthodox Jewish prayer book, there is a lovely prayer. “I thank You O Lord for doubt, for by doubt You reveal to me the limits of my faith.” To doubt is not only an experience of the limits of my faith but, as we see in the Gospel, an invitation to grow in faith.

I think it is more helpful to think doubt not as the lack of certitude (intellectual or emotional) but as a distraction. I doubt not because I don’t understand God or because I don’t love God but because at the moment I take my eyes off of God.

The fact is, God is always more than my understanding of Him. And however much I love Him, because He is Infinite there is always more of Him to love if I can speak that way. Doubt is symptomatic of my shifting my attention from God but on the things of this world.

For St John the Baptist, the cause of his distraction was his fixation on his own limited understanding of righteousness and his own role in the coming of the Messiah. St Paul warns St Titus of doing something similar telling him that “ the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy.”

Paul goes on to say that we are saved through Holy Baptism–that is, “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior”–and for this reason, have become “heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

What we have received, we have received from above, from the Hand of God. And what we are to become, is beyond our ability to conceive because it too comes to us from above.

Given this, it isn’t surprising that at times I lose my way because I have lost my focus on Jesus Christ and the Kingdom. As I struggle to be faithful, to live in hope, and to accept in thanksgiving the gift that I and you and all of us who are in Christ have been given, it is little wonder that now and then we fall short and are distracted.

We are distracted precisely because the gift is more than we can imagine. The gift is beyond what we can receive. And so, inevitably, I run up against the limits of my faith, hope and love of the God Who, as St Gregory Palamas says, “is not only beyond our knowing but our unknowing as well.”

Whether in ourselves or others, we should judge doubt gently.

The reason why is that one of the great tricks of the Enemy is to confuse us. He whispers in our ear that questions and struggles are signs of our sinfulness. They might be. And at times, to speak only for myself, they are.

But even when they are, God uses our doubts as occasions for repentance, for growth in holiness and for a deepening of our love for Him and an awareness of His love for us.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! When we doubt, when we encounter the doubts of others, let us at that moment fix our eyes every more firmly on Jesus Christ.

Let us, by all means, confess with John that we do not understand. And if we do, we will hear that same gentle word of encouragement that John hears today from Jesus. “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

It is in saying this, that God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit transforms our doubt into a deeper faith by revealing not things about Himself but revealing more fully Himself.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

For the Life of the World

January 6, 2017: The Holy Theophany of Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Epistle: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

The ascetical character of Orthodox spirituality is hard to miss. Talk to an Orthodox Christian about his or her spiritual life and you’ll hear about fasting and long services.

Sometimes, though, it does seem as if we miss the point of the ascetical life. For many of us, it does seem as if the ascetical struggle is the point of the Christian life and not, as we hear in the epistle, a means to an end.

We are the Apostle Paul tells us called to turn away from “ungodliness and worldly lust” so that we can, in turn, live “soberly, righteously, and godly” lives. The fruit of ascetical struggle isn’t simply moral improvement but faith in our “great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” and “blessed hope” in divine “kindness and love.” Asceticism, in other words, is meant to transform us into disciples and apostles of Christ.

Important as ascetical struggle is, it is not the source of our life in Christ. No, the source, the beginning of our transformation is found in Holy Baptism.  St Paul means when he says that we who have been baptized in Christ share in His burial resurrection (see Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27). Or, as he says in today’s epistle, we are saved “by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” in Holy Baptism. And it is through this great gift of baptism that we are “justified by his grace” and made “heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Without prejudice to the other sacraments—above all the Eucharist—our life in Christ begins in baptism.

And how could it not? Look what happens in the Gospel when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan by John.

As Jesus comes up out of the water, “the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'” What the Father says to the Son, in the Son he says of each of us at our baptism. And the same Spirit that the Father sends to anoint His Son, He sends to us as well in our chrismation.

And because like Jesus, we are now beloved of the Father and because, again like Jesus, we are anointed with the Holy Spirit, how can we—how can I—fail to do the works that He did?

How easily, we—I—forget that all the Father gave the Son  He has given me, given you, as well. All that the Father gives to the Son on the banks of Jordan, He gives to us as well at our baptism and chrismation. This is why we can be called “Christian.” We are, each of us, “other Christs” and His ministry is ours as well.

This is why we need to keep the ascetical life to the best of our abilities. We have been set aside, ordained if you will, by God for the same great work of His Son. Ascetical struggle is nothing more or less than the habit of receiving in gratitude the grace God has given us in Holy Baptism.

Ascetical struggle also helps, as Paul suggests in today’s reading, to cultivate the habits of sober, righteous and godly living. sobriety, righteousness, and godliness are the fruits of Christian discipleship; of lives shaped around the Person and teaching of Christ. And the fruit of discipleship is the good work of a daily, hourly, witness to Christ and the Gospel.

My brothers and sisters in Christ!

Having been baptized in Christ, we have been clothed with divine glory! Let us commit ourselves to ascetical struggle not as an end in itself but as the means by which we remove from our lives anything that obscures the beauty of our calling. And let us do this not simply for our own sake but for the life of the world!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory