The Grace of God has Appeared!

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nick cobb

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Jan 5, 2004, 7:12:02 PM1/5/04
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The Grace of God has Appeared

The epistle readings for the liturgy of Epiphany and the Sunday following
the festival deserve our careful attention and meditation. The reading for
the feast is taken from Saint Paul's letter to Titus.

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all people, training
us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright and
godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the
glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to
redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own
who are zealous for good deeds. (. . .) But when the goodness and loving
kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done
by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of
regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us
richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his
grace and become heirs of eternal life. (Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7)

The word for appearing in this letter is the Greek word epiphania. And where
the apostle uses the verb to appear, again the root word in Greek is
epiphanein.
The grace of God, is said to make its epiphany for the salvation of all
people. Divine grace shines forth so that something can happen in the lives
of people while still living m this world. What happens is that we are to
react to God's
grace by specific works of conversion. We are to respond to God's grace by
renouncing impiety and worldly passions which are our lustful cravings for
ego-gratification and fleshly pleasures which inevitably lead us to
hostility, anger, distress, frustration and depression. All this disappears
when God's grace appears. What comes instead is sobriety and uprightness;
dispassion, self-control, interior freedom and voluntary self-determination
according to God's will. This is real liberation; the only genuine
liberation that exists. All other "liberation" is in fact enslavement. For
the grace of God liberates; the power of the devil, working through the ego
and the flesh, enslaves.
When people respond to the grace of God that appears the result is one of
blessed hope; the happy expectation of another appearing, another epiphania,
which is that of the final "glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ"
which is to come at the end of the ages. In a word, the first appearing of
Jesus to "redeem us from all inquity and to purify us for himself as a
people zealous for good deeds" results directly in our anticipation of the
ultimate resolution of all things in the Lord's second coming: the epiphania
at the end.
Thus there are two epiphanies; two manifestations and appearances. The first
is for our salvation and redemption which God has accomplished in Christ
"not because of any deeds done by us in righteousness, but by virtue of his
own mercy." And the second is when, being "justified (or made righteous) by
his grace," we actually enter into the eternal life of God's kingdom. We
participate in the second only on condition that we love the first; and
prove our love by our godly lives fulfilled in good deeds.
The apostle Paul gives the same teaching in the letter ascribed to him to
the Ephesians which is read at the liturgy on the Lord's Day following the
Epiphany feast.

But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.
Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men." In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but
that he had also descended into the
lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above
the heavens, that he might fill all things. And his gifts were that some
should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and
teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the
body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith of the knowledge
of the Son of God, to mature personhood, to the measure of the stature of
the fulness of Christ. (Eph 4:7-13)

In His baptism in the Jordan, and in His subsequent ministry, the Son of God
descended into the human condition to the very depths so that He might fill
all things with Himself. And after His descent, He ascended into the
heavens, taking us with Him into the presence of God, and giving us gifts
for the sake of service. Each person has a different gift and a different
calling. Whatever it may be, it is given for the sake of building up the
body of Christ, which is the Church; and for the sake of the sanctity and
salvation of all. The goal of everyone is "mature personhood: the measure of
the stature of the fulness of Christ."

Earlier in the same letter to the Ephesians the apostle insisted that being
saved by grace through faith, the Christian people are Christ's workmanship
made for good works with the ultimate goal being to "know the love of Christ
which surpasses knowledge," and so to be "filled with all the fulness of
God." This takes place within Christ's Church "which is His body, the
fulness of Him who fills all in all." (Eph 1:23, 2:8-10, 3:19)

The grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all people. The salvation
which God's grace brings in its appearance is that all people might do the
good deeds that Christ Himself has done, and so attain unto the measure of
the stature of His fulness, thus being filled with all the fulness of God.
The apostle Paul sums this up for himself in his second letter to Timothy.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for
me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will
award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved
his appearing-epiphania. (2 Tim 4:7-8)

If we love the Lord's epiphany, and prove it by our zeal for good deeds,
than we too shall receive our crowns from Christ, the righteous judge, on
the Day of His final appearing.

Christ our Salvation has appeared,
Granting enlightenment.
Let the heavens greatly rejoice,
And let the clouds pour down righteousness on those who cry:
Blessed are You, 0 God of our fathers.1

Come, let us purify our senses.
Let us behold the fulness of divine glory in the flesh.
Let us see Christ baptized, fighting the devil's deceit.
Let us sing praises to His sinless person:
Blessed is our God who has appeared!
Glory to You!2

Come, 0 dwellers on the earth, harmfully led astray.
Let us purify our minds and our perceptions.
As we see Christ baptized in the flesh by the Forerunner John.
Let us all sing to Him, crying out with faith:
Blessed is our God who has appeared!
Glory to You!3

Lifegiving riches spring up for us in the Jordan streams. Baptismal grace by
which we who are enlightened by
the washing say:
Glory to You who enlightened the universe!
You give life to us who sing:
Blessed is our God who has appeared!
Glory to You !4

1Matins of the prefeast of Epiphany.
2Vespers of the postfeast of Epiphany.
SMatins of the postfeast of Epiphany.
4Matins of the postfeast of Epiphany.

[Taken from, "The Winter Pascha," by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko,
SVS Press, available at: 800-204-book.]

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