Presvytera Melanie DiStefano lives with her husband Rev Fr Joseph DiStefano and their son Michael Seraphim. Together they serve the parish of St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Youngstown, Ohio. Melanie has a background in Chemical Engineering and graduated from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology with a Masters of Divinity in 2003.
Humility, Repentance, and Community: Critical Ingredients for a Divine Revelation
In examining the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism and the revelation of The Holy Trinity – Theophany – Two questions were prominent in my mind:
- What can we learn about Who God is and what He is like in this revelation?
- How are we humans to experience a meeting with Him, an epiphany, if you will?
And so as I examined scripture the following themes were woven throughout these accounts: “humility or other-centeredness”, “repentance”, and “community”.
Every person, Every One, in the story of Christ’s baptism refers to “the other”. No one’s focus is on self: neither the Persons of The Trinity, nor the human beings who witnessed His revelation. With His voice God the Father bore witness that Jesus is truly His Son– directing us to, and glorifying The Other. The Spirit descended onto The Son in the form of a dove – pointing to The Other. The Son prayed and saw the heavens open and The Spirit descend upon Him – Jesus looked upward to The Other. Jesus also showed other-centeredness in his submission to man when he allowed John to baptize Him. This He did though He needed no man to sanctify Himself. He did so “to fulfill all righteousness”. So what does that mean? Although there is an infinite depth to that statement, here’s what we can learn from the teachings of the Church. Jesus was baptized as an example for us to follow because He never asks us to do anything that He Himself has not done first. We also learn that He did so to sanctify not only humanity but all of creation: “Christ hath appeared in the Jordan River, to sanctify the waters”. This is why The Church celebrates “The Blessing of the Waters” service liturgically on Theophany: to make present for us once again this sanctification of water which blesses and sanctifies all it touches.
I can’t help but meditate on Jesus’ own submission to man. God Himself “is made (for a time) a little lower than the angels”. Such humility I cannot fathom. It’s as if He is saying to us in His sweet, most loving voice “I know you are hurting and lost and you need Me. I know you are angry at Me because you suffer and don’t know where I am and how to find Me…I will do anything for you to know that I love you. I desire you to have true “life and to have it abundantly””. I will humble Myself before you to show you Who “I AM”. I am NOT a God waiting to punish you at every turn. I am NOT One Who lords power over you and makes you feel small and insignificant. I want to lift you up to Myself; and I will, but first I must cleanse you and teach you The Way…” The Persons of The Holy Trinity glorify one another and the focus of this revelation is intended for mankind. Divine focus is on the other; and, because we were created in His image, we become truly human when our focus is off of self and onto others.
Humanity deflects from self also in these accounts, not only in Jesus Christ the God-Man. St John the Baptist has given us an example of what it looks like to be authentically human. He said “I did not know Him but that He should be revealed I came baptizing…” And later upon encountering Christ he says “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” How beautiful that his only desire was to reveal The Christ. No vain silliness in his thoughts like “I am so special I have been ordained to reveal The Christ! Look at me – I was sent by God. Why don’t you people appreciate my holiness and listen to me? I toil and fast and eat bugs for God’s sake!” No! Rather he cries “He must increase and I must decrease.”
The event of Christ’s baptism reveals how we will know Christ. The Trinity, a Community, was revealed within community. What a clear message: we become sanctified in the presence of, and in one mind with, others. The people in the Jordan that day were not baptized alone – “Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him” and then Jesus came into their midst. We are not Christians in a vacuum – but “are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another”. We need each other to more fully experience His revelation. “Where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them” said He. All the more motivation to attend liturgy, isn’t it?
Lest we forget that there is a manner in which we need “seek…the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, allow me to point out another epiphany. The people who came to be baptized and thus were blessed to experience God’s Self-Revelation first heeded the message of repentance. John said “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand”. They listened and humbled themselves to someone else’s advice. They accepted responsibility for their sins and were initiated into a new, changed life focused on God’s Kingdom. The message of repentance is just as true for us today as it was then. To the extent one repents, they will more clearly behold the Truth.
Many of us (I) dislike being chastised. There is a deceptively safe feeling I get when I escape into a fantasy world thinking I can figure it all out on my own – cowering from criticism and cringing at rebuke. I can think of a few times within Holy Confession where the words of my confessor cut like a knife. Correction sometimes hurts (my ego). But I know without it, the diseases of my soul cannot be cut out. Without it, I will not be made well. I must accept correction and strive to change my ways. The Pharisees and Sadducees came to John in the Jordan but for the wrong reasons – they weren’t willing to repent. For them, their attendance was a focus on self – a kind of seal of their righteousness or stamp of approval. They were present but did not see Him as He was because they were too busy loving themselves to gaze outward and Upward.
God is Three Persons in loving Community – referring to One Another in a perfect, infinite cycle. If we are created in His image we can learn who we are truly meant to be by knowing Him. The Trinity is humble and each person deflects glory to The Other. How different fallen humanity operates! The narcissism and isolation of our age are symptoms of this disease of self-centeredness. And oh how the devil loves this. His very name in Greek means “the one who divides”. He hates community, unity, love.
When we catch ourselves in a state of self-centeredness we can be sure under whose influence we have fallen. In this state I don’t want to be around others. I fear interactions with them and with the Lord. Sometimes it feels easier to not try and follow His commandments and prepare for Holy Communion – it’s so much pressure to live up to! So I refrain. But what good am I then? I become a non-person for apart from Him, I am not me. I am reminded here that God doesn’t mind my weaknesses as much as I do. It is what He came to heal in me, after all. Jesus said to St Paul when he requested that the thorn in his side be removed “My grace is sufficient for you for My strength is made perfect in weakness”.
On this Holy Theophany, let us run to God and His saints in the Church. Let us seek to know Him more fully by humbling ourselves to the teachings of the ancient Church and the advice of Christ-centered spiritual guides. Let us look to Him for healing and the grace to repent. And let us share His love and mercy with our fellow man, raising our voices together in truth “You appeared to the world today, and Your light, O Lord, has left its mark upon us. With fuller understanding we sing to You: “You Came, You were made manifest, O Light unapproachable.””
 Matthew 3:15
 Apolytikion of the Eve of Epiphany
 Hebrews 2:9
 John 10:10
 John 8:58
 John 1:31
 Matthew 3:14
 John 3:30
 Matthew 3:5
 Romans 12:5
 Matthew 18:20
 Matthew 6:33
 Matthew 3:2
 2 Corinthians 12:9
 Kontakion of Holy Epiphany
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