By St. Gregory of Nazianzus
Again my Jesus, and again a mystery, a mystery lofty and divine and bringing down light from above. For the feast which we are celebrating today has for its origin the baptism of my Christ, the true light that illumines every man that comes into the world and brings about my own purification and strengthens that light which we received from the beginning from Him from above, but which we darkened and obscured by sin. I cannot contain my joy. I become inspired, and almost like John I announce the good news. Christ is bathed in light, let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized, let us go down with him, that we may also rise again with him.
While John is baptizing, Jesus approaches, perhaps also to sanctify the baptizer, and certainly to bury the old Adam in the water. But before these things and for the sake of these things he comes to sanctify the Jordan [and all creation]. As indeed he was spirit and flesh, so he begins [a new creation] by the Spirit and the water.
The baptizer does not accept this; Jesus insists. “I need to be baptized by you,” says the lamp to the sun, says the voice to the Word, says the friend of the bridegroom to the bridegroom himself, says the greatest of those born of womb to the first born of all creation, says the one who leaped in the womb to the one worshiped in the womb, says the one who was and will be the Forerunner to the one who has already come and who will be made manifest once again. “I need to be baptized by you”; and we should also add “and for your sake.” For John the prophet knew that he would be baptized by martyrdom and, like Peter, would have not only his feet cleansed.
Jesus comes up again out of the water. And he carries up with himself the world and “sees the heavens opened” which Adam had closed for himself and for those after him—as paradise also was closed for him with a flaming sword. And the Spirit testifies to Christ’s divinity, for he rushes toward one like himself, as does the voice from heaven, for from there comes the one to whom testimony is given. And the Spirit comes as a dove, for he honors the body, being seen in a bodily form, since it also is God by divinization—and since long ago the dove has been accustomed to announcing the good news of the flood’s end.
Let us honor today the baptism of Christ and celebrate well, not feasting with the belly but rejoicing spiritually. And how shall we feast? “Wash, become pure.” Be entirely purified and remain pure, for nothing gives so much joy to God as the conversion and salvation of human beings, for whose sake every discourse and every sacrament exist, that you may become like lights shining in the world, a life-giving force for other human beings; that as perfect lights standing beside the great Light, you may be initiated into the light of heaven, illumined with more purely and more clearly by the Trinity, from whom you have even now received in measure the one ray of the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory unto ages of ages. Amen.
These selections are taken from Oration 39, a homily St Gregory delivered as Archbishop of Constantinople on January 5 at the Vigil of the Epiphany in the year 381.