The Sunday after Holy Theophany and the Commemoration of St. John the Baptist
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
January 7, 2018
Repentance is the path to the Kingdom no different from the time of John the Baptist. The difference is that we, you and I, have received the gift of the Spirit – Christ’s Spirit; the Holy Spirit; at Holy Baptism. The “Comforter,” the “Spirit of Truth” who has come to sanctify and illumine.
St. John who is being commemorated today; who is called “The Forerunner;” preparing people for the coming of Christ. St. John also was he who identified Jesus as the “Anointed One” (The Messiah).
St. John had a clear and blunt message to the Israelites of his day. His message was a call to repentance. The Gospel last Friday records that there were many coming to be baptized by him. His words were not muted in any way. He was direct in speaking about the “wrath” of God’s judgment for those who did not repent. His message even went further to describe what must change among those who had come to him. He said to those coming for baptism: “Bear fruits that [is consistent or befits] repentance.” He placed a demand upon those who had come to be baptized by him. He wanted to be sure that the people understood should accompany repentance. He wanted to be sure that the people were not coming to be baptized for a mere ritual cleansing.
In doing so, St. John is very specific. In one of his rebukes he addressed the people’s complacency by saying: “…do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father for I tell you, God is able to raise up children of Abraham from these stones!’” Going on, he says, “‘The axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’” His words were to remind the people that one’s heritage was not a guarantee and that everyone was called to repent of their sins.
What was John’s purpose? He brought the people’s attention to what we call today in the church, “a good Confession;” one that is sincere, heartfelt with contrition, but more importantly bears with it the earnest desire for change.
For the Christian Baptism does not provide a cure for sin. It is called the “laver of regeneration;” a cleansing to renew. Holy Baptism is: “The Rite of Initiation.” It is only the beginning of a journey on a path.
In the earliest periods of the Church, Baptism was not something that was taken very seriously (as it should today). In fact many were not Baptized until much older. St. Basil the Great (age 24). Similarly St. John Chrysostom. St. Constantine the Emperor was not even baptized until he was on his deathbed. The church took Baptism so seriously that it listed certain professions as disqualifying for Baptism.
Holy Baptism, as one of the seven Sacraments, is in fact the First of Sacraments that equips us for life — and a life of sanctification and purification. One is Baptized and “sealed” with the gift of the Holy Spirit. This means that with the All-holy Spirit (Christ’s Spirit) is a help to us (Paraklete) — an aid to: illumine, to guide, to strengthen, and to purify and sanctify — all to enable us in doing God’s will, to keep His commandments Holy Spirit. The Sacrament of Confession with the prayer of absolution, as well as the Sacrament of Holy Unction therefore is the means by which we maintain our union with God and remain reconciled with anyone that we are estranged from.
Those who came to be baptized by John the Baptist, St. Luke’s Gospel records, engaged in a conversation. They began to ask him questions: each one, from various walks of life (tax collectors; soldiers). They were puzzled and confused by his words. That was because they knew their weakness and the fickleness of our sinful nature. They asked him: “What then shall we do? His answers were very specific! To tax collectors he said: “Collect no more than you are supposed to.” to soldiers he replied: “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation and be content with your wages.”
Today we hear from St. John what was the expectation in what was to be received — what you and I have received in Christ’s baptism: “He [Christ] baptizes with the Holy Spirit…” It is for us a “refiners fire,” one that purifies and sanctifies us each and every day of our life.