On the Baptism of Christ by St. Maximus of Turin

January 21, 2014

The Gospel mentions, as we have just heard read, that the Lord came to the Jordan for the sake of baptism and that He wished to be consecrated by the heavenly mysteries in that same river. We should not be astonished that the Lord and Master of Baptism itself did this, since He said: “Whoever does thus and teaches thus shall be called very great in the Kingdom of heaven.”  He wished, therefore, to do first what He ordered should be done by all, so that the good teacher would not so much suggest His teaching in words as carry it out in actions and would strengthen our faith in deed and understanding alike. That all this happened today is clear because we can gather its truth from reason itself. For reason demands that after the Day of the Lord’s Birth–during the same season, despite the intervening years—this feast should follow, which feast should itself also, I think be called a birthday. For then He was born to human beings, but on this day He was reborn in the sacraments; then He was brought forth by a virgin, but on this day He was generated by a Mystery.  For the Lord arranged that the festivals of human beings should not be too far separated from one another. Thus in a single season those who rejoiced over the newborn on earth might exult in the one sanctified from heaven, and those who possessed the virgin’s offspring through the angels’ proclamation might hold fast the Son of God through the heavens’ witness, so that people would be certain that He Whom the Virgin bore and the Divinity acknowledged was the Son of God. Extraordinary births merit extraordinary attentions: in the one, when He is born as a Man, Mary His Mother nourishes Him at her breast; in the other, when He is Begotten in Mystery, God His Father overshadows Him with His voice, saying: “For this is My Son, in Whom I am well pleased; hear Him.” The mother, then, caresses the tender child in her bosom, the Father ministers to His loving Son with His Testimony; the mother, I say, hold Him up to be adored by the Magi, the Father manifests Him to be worshiped by the Gentiles.

He is held, then, by His Mother at her breast when He is born, but His Father unceasingly extends the warmth of His breast to Him, for we read that He always reposes in the Father’s Bosom, as the Evangelist says: “No one has ever seen God except the Only-Begotten Son, Who is in the Father’s bosom.” Willingly, therefore, does the Lord repose in the bosom of the saints—which is why He chose the breast of John the Evangelist—so that they might rest in Him.  But the bosom upon which Christ finds rest is not furnished by the corporeal breast nor is it covered with splendid clothing, but it is composed of the practice of the heavenly virtues. In John the Evangelist the bosom for Christ was faith, in God His Father it is Divinity, and in Mary His Mother Virginity. Where there is a dwelling for the virtues, there is a bosom for Christ; where He finds the lodging of the heavenly commands, there He lays His head. Therefore He says to sinners and to the faithless: “The foxes have holdes and the birds of the heaven have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His Head.”

The Lord Jesus, then, came today to baptism, and He wanted His Holy Body to be washed with water. Perhaps someone should say: “Why did one who is Holy want to be baptized?”  Listen, then! Christ is baptized not that He might be sanctified by the waters but that He Himself might sanctify the waters and purify with His own purification the streams that He touches. For Christ’s consecration is greater than that of the element. For when the Saviour is washed all water is cleansed for our baptism, and the source is purified so that the grace of the washing might be ministered to the people who would follow after. Christ underwent baptism first, then, so that after Him the Christian people might confidently follow. I understand that this is a mystery, for thus also the pillar of fire went first through the Read Sea so that the children of Israel might follow on a tranquil path, and it went through the waters first in order to prepare the way for those coming after it.  What took place, as the Apostle says, was the mystery of baptism. Clearly this was a kind of baptism, where a cloud covered the people and water carried them. But the same Christ the Lord Who did all these things now goes through Baptism before the Christian people in the pillar of His Body–He Who at that time went through the sea before the children of Israel in the pillar of fire. This, I say, is the column which at that time offered light to the eyes of those who followed and now ministers light to the hearts of those who believe, which then made firm a watery path in the waves and now strengthens the traces of faith in the wasthing. Through this faith—as was the case with the children of Israel–the one who walks calmly will not fear Egypt in pursuit.

[Homily 100 from “The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin”, Ancient Christian Writers, Issue 50]