44 Holy Illumination - July 15, 2007

Romans 15:1-7

Romans 6:3-11 (Baptism)

Matthew 9:27-35

Matthew 28:16-20 (Baptism)

We rejoice this morning in the baptism of Shaw Marie. We call baptism “Holy Illumination.” And in the Gospel assigned for this morning we read of two blind men who are illumined, who receive their sight, in accordance with their faith. As the Lord says to the blind men, “Let it come to be for you in accordance with your faith.”

Faith, writes St Maximus the Confessor, is true knowledge of God.[1] But to know God, to know anyone, is to be united with him in a communion of love. Faith, then, as the beginning of true knowledge born of love, proceeds from the heart, not from the mind. We put our faith, our trust in those whom we love, and in love, we come to know them as we are known by them, for we have become one with them.

The Lord says to us: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And St Maximus teaches us that faith, rightly expressed, is to keep the commandments of Christ. Practicing Christ’s commandments, then, is how we express our desire to love Christ more.

Because faith is not intellectual belief but knowledge that comes from love is one reason that the Church has baptized infants from the beginning. To say that an infant is not capable of believing in Christ is, in effect, to say that the infant is not capable of loving Christ. But we know that this is not true. Even the infant enjoys a taste of the love of Christ in the love of Mom and Dad. And we know that infants and little children love their Mom and Dad completely. In their love, they know Mom and Dad more intimately than anyone else, and they are known by Mom and Dad more intimately than by anyone else. In this, infants and little children, even before they have attained the “age of reason” are already perfectly fulfilling the commandment of Christ, “Honor your father and mother,” and so are manifesting their faith. Thus, we know that infants and little children believe because we know that they love and are loved. Indeed, Christ holds up the little child as the model all the faithful are to follow when he commands us to become as little children. He means to become as full of faith, i.e. as full of love, as little children.

When the Savior says to the blind men in this morning’s Gospel, “Do you believe I can do this?” we could take him to mean, do you love me as God and in your love for me, are you willing to practice my precepts? When the blind men answer, “Yes, Lord,” we could take them to be saying, “We love you, Lord; teach us your way, enlighten us with your precepts.” In this, they show that in their heart they are not blind; they truly believe, for they see the Lord as he truly is. Seeing him in faith, they love him. Therefore, the Lord says to them, “Let it come to be for you, in accordance with your faith.” Let it come to be that you are able to know and to see with your eyes me whom you believe and love in your heart.

“Let it come to be.” Spoken by the Word of God through whom all things came to be, these are words of creation. The first of God’s creation, as we learn from the New Testament Scriptures and from the teaching of the Apostolic Fathers, was the Church. She is the Light that came to be when God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. There was the Church. The Church is the first Mother, the true Eve, Mother of all living; for from her are born children of God, those who receive the Holy Spirit of God in God the Word as the Bride receives the seed of her Bridegroom in love.

In the light of the Church’s love for God, Adam is formed from the dust of the ground in a kind of Virgin Birth. It is a prefigurement of the Second Adam, Christ God, becoming man of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. In the light of the Church’s love for God, Eve is brought forth from the side of Adam. This is a pre-figurement of the Church, the Second Eve, coming forth into the world and being revealed in these last days in the blood and water that flow from the side of Christ on the Cross as he pours himself out for the life of the world in his absolute love for God his Father and the Church, his bride. The blood and water that flow from the side of Christ are the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist. Partaking of these sacraments, we are born from above as children of God. We are incorporated into and we become members of Christ’s crucified and risen body, his Church, which is enlivened by his Holy Spirit. Partaking of the sacraments of Holy Baptism, of Holy Chrismation and Holy Eucharist, we become partakers of the divine nature. To the degree that we give ourselves in love to Christ and his holy Church, to that degree it is no longer we who live but Christ in his Holy Spirit who lives in us.

When we bring anyone to the baptismal font, especially the infant, we are bringing that child whom we brought forth into the world and we are offering her to God in order that He might bring her forth from his body, the Church, as a child of God. We are fulfilling that command of God to Adam and Eve when he said to them: “From the dust you were taken, to the dust you shall return.” God is saying that they will die. In our baptism, we are united to a death like Christ’s. Therefore, we can say that the baptismal font is the “dust of the ground.” When we choose to give ourselves and our children to the dust of the ground, that is, to the baptismal font, we are practicing obedience to God’s command, "To the dust you shall return." And so, by coming to the baptismal font in obedience to God's command, we are practicing faith, which is the beginning of love for God, because faith is rightly expressed in the keeping of Christ’s commandments; and Christ said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

But, of course, this dust of the ground, the baptismal font, is filled with water. These are the waters of the Jordan in which Christ was baptized. The Church teaches us that the waters of Jordan in their spiritual meaning are the waters of creation. When Christ descended into the Jordan, therefore, he sanctified all the waters of creation. The waters here in this baptismal font, are therefore the waters of Jordan, the waters of creation that have been sanctified by the descent of the Holy Spirit. When because of his great love for us, Christ dies on the Cross, and his side is pierced with the spear, he pours out on the dust of the ground the living waters of his Holy Spirit, and the dust of death becomes saturated with the blood, the life, of God. If the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist are the blood and water that flowed from Christ’s side on the cross, then they are the concrete manifestation of his great love for us, and also the seal of our union with Christ in the likeness of his death and in the likeness of his resurrection. In his death, Christ God fills the dust of the ground with himself. He fills death with himself. When we are united to him through our baptism, he transfigures our death into a second birth, a Virgin Birth from the dust of the ground. We are raised from the baptismal font as we will be raised from the grave, born from above as children of God through the blood and water that flow from Christ’s side on the Cross.

Infants show an innate capacity for love. This is one evidence that to love God, to believe in the God who created us, is natural to us. To hate God, not to believe in God, is against our nature. To unite the infant through holy baptism to the likeness of Christ’s death is therefore to liberate the infant from the life of this world that does not believe in God and which is against our nature. St Paul has been telling us in our assigned Scripture readings this last week what that unnatural life of the world is. It is a life that does not love God because it loves itself. It is a life that does not follow or wish to follow the commandments of God; it wishes to follow after its own wisdom. It manifests its selfishness and its enmity against God through “sexual immorality, idolatry (self-love), adultery, greed, drunkenness, sexual perversions.”[2] 

Precisely from these, says St Paul, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”[3] These are the words that accompany the chrismation that follows our baptism. Therefore, when we bring the infant to the baptismal font to return her back to the dust of the ground in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are bringing her to the gates through which she passes over from this worldly life that is against her nature and into the light and life of God’s Heavenly Kingdom in which the world first came to be and which is most natural to us. In the baptismal font, she is “born from above” from the Virgin Bride of God, the Church, her Mother, as a child of God. In Chrismation, she is given the breath of God’s Holy Spirit to breathe. God now lives in her. Now he calls her to love him from within her soul, not from outside of it. And in Holy Eucharist she becomes a partaker of the divine nature.[4] She is incorporated bodily into the body of Christ, and becomes physically as well as spiritually a member of his holy Church.

In the waters of the baptismal font, she is immersed in the love of God. In the Church, in her holy sacraments, her liturgical worship, her ascetic way of life, her doctrines, she is surrounded by the love of God, made incarnate in the faithful, her new brothers and sisters in the Lord who surround her, who have also died to the deeds of the flesh in their baptism, and who are striving to live according to Christ’s commandments in their desire to love God. Under the guidance of loving parents, she grows up nurtured in this divine love of the Church. In that love, her spiritual eyes are illumined. She “comes to be” an enlightened child of God, seeing and hearing the mysteries of the Kingdom, knowing them in accordance with her faith, becoming one with them in accordance with her love for God. Amen.

[1] 1st Cent. On Theology §9, Philok. II, p. 116.

[2] I Cor 6:9.

[3] I Cor 6:11.

[4] II Pt 1:4