THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST AD 2020
To the Most Reverend and Right Reverend Hierarchs, Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Monastics,
Faithful of The Orthodox Archdiocese of America, of the Diocese of East and Southeast Asia,
of the Anglican Vicariate, and Friends:
Dearly Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In the Western Church, Epiphany celebrates the coming of the Magi, commonly and erroneously called “Three Kings” (we don't know that there were three, and they were probably court astrologers from Persia, not kings).
Just to be clear, Scripture DOES NOT tell us that they visited Jesus in the manger–Hallmark aside. Scripture is clear that Jesus was a CHILD (not an infant) and that Mary and Joseph were in a house, not the stable.
Also, just to debunk some of the hooey you've probably been seeing on anti-Christian TV, we can pretty well pinpoint within a year when Jesus was born (4 - 3 B.C.) and where (Bethlehem), and when the Magi would have arrived (when Jesus was a toddler). Contrary to the calumny you may have heard on the “History” (“Conjecture?”) Channel, etc., the Church has never claimed the Hallmark picture is accurate or Scriptural. In fact, many of us who are priests try very hard every year to state what really happened quite realistic and debunk the sentimentality that surrounds the very real scandal of God being born to an unwed teenage mother in an occupied country in a barbaric time and laid in a feeding trough near cows and donkeys.
In the Eastern Church, the Theophany is seen as the Baptism of our Lord. For in His Holy Baptism, He showed Himself to be truly God as the Father spoke and the Holy Spirit descended on Him.
OK, so what does this mean for us? I often think that the Church has a bit of idolatry about the past when we're not careful. The correct Orthodox way of thinking of the past is to “re-present” or to “make present” the great events of the past so that they are ours, as well...now. So, just as the faithful Jew can say at Passover, “WE were slaves in Egypt,” so the Faithful Orthodox Christian can say “Christ is born! Glorify Him!” And “Christ is Baptized! In the River ordan!” For if we see ourselves simply celebrating or commemorating PAST events, we miss the whole point of hristianity. We become a museum for antiquities rather than a Living Faith.
For, you see, WE are the Theophany. Jesus being visited by some star-gazers is no doubt a very pretty story. God's Son being baptized in the Jordan is interesting. But these stories are about as useful as horseshoes unless we understand what Holy Mother Church wants us to do with them.
We completely miss the point if we are not living as a Theophany...a “showing forth of God” to the nations. This is why Christianity has lost its power to heal, to convert, to move mountains. We've become either so obsessed with preservation, or so consumed by “relevance” that we've forgotten the point. The whole point of Christianity is this: That the Second Person of the Trinity condescended to us assumed our humanity, lived among us, and then emptied Himself for our sakes, being obedient even to death on the Cross, that we, yes...WE...would be justified and sanctified and transformed, “deified” to become as He is. (St. Ignatius, ca. 150). This is a doctrine in Orthodoxy called “Theosis.” What does that mean for today?
First, the Christian will ALWAYS be in tension with the World. If there is one thing that the Scriptures make clear, it is that the Christian is in the world, but cannot be of it. Get used to suffering. The powers of the world do not love us. They are opposed to us. Get over the desire to be comfy here. You won't be unless you belong to the world...then you're going to be quite UN-comfy after you die. While the Christian is not a party pooper all the time, we are often in the position of saying “Wait a minute...we can't do that.” We will almost always be in opposition to many of our government's initiatives, almost everything that is on TV, radio, magazines and the movies, and much of what the world deems “normal.” We are called, at some level, to be freaks, outcasts, even “fools for Christ.” If everything is going great and the world is giving you accolades and you are able to sit back and pat your stomach and be content–be afraid...be very afraid. For you have, most probably, ceased to be Christian.
Second, it means that our identification is with the poor and the outcast, not the rulers of this world. Read the Magnificat if you don't believe me.
Third, it means that we must convey Christ to others. We are to be Jesus' hands and feet and mouth and heart to the world. But let's be very clear. Jesus' love is NOT the New Age conception of “luuuuv.” Jesus' love was tough, demanding and clear. Jesus was always charitable, but never “tolerant.” And He didn't hold with various versions of “truth.” He was very clear that there is only one Truth–and He had it. Jesus didn't say, “I'm OK and you're OK.” He said, “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Light.....and you need to repent and come to the Father through ME.” While our Lord is very merciful, He isn't just OK with us staying where we are. We must Grow! We either grow together…or we grow apart.
The Church has lost power because it has ceased to be Prophetic. I don't mean that the Church should be talking about the future. I mean that the Church should be speaking the Word of God, The Truth, clearly and without fear, as the Prophets did. I can tell you from personal experience that this WON'T make you popular. Even some of your closest friends will tell you to be less judgmental, more “tolerant,” or “loving.” But what is “loving?”
Can it truly be said that I love a friend if I watch him or her destroying his or her life and I don't try to keep them from doing it?
If a friend of mine is a drug addict, how am I being loving: by going out and buying them drugs, or by doing an intervention?
When I was in the process of entering into a very stupid romantic relationship as a teenager in my life, a good friend tried to intervene. Now, I was incredibly stubborn and stupid and entered into it anyway...and boy did I pay the price! Was my friend being “unloving” by telling me how stupid I was? Or was that the most loving thing that he could have done?
The Church is going to need to start being “a voice crying in the wilderness.” We are coming to a point of history where the old ways won't work anymore. We have to stop seeing ourselves as either museum curators or party directors and start to see ourselves as “God's shock troops.”
Our age is SO similar to the one the Apostles lived in. We better start emulating the Great Saints and the Apostles if we want to remain true to our Faith.
Let us begin this Epiphany....to show forth our Lord. Christ demands it. Our Faith teaches it. We must BE it.
Now to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: the holy and consubstantial Trinity be praise, honor, dominion, glory and power, both now and ever and to the ages of ages. AMEN.
Christ is baptized! In the River Jordan!
Archbishop of New York
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Over the years, some have asked to have a copy of Archbishop Anthony’s Prayer. Here it is: