In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate a day that is called by many names: the Baptism of our Lord, Theophany, and it is also called Illumining. We commemorate our Lord's baptism today in the Jordan. Theophany is the appearance of God, where indeed the Holy Trinity manifested Himself after Our Lord's baptism. Why would we call it Illumining? It is because through baptism we are indeed illuminated.
The Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen was the eldest of the seven deacons, appointed by the Apostles themselves, and therefore he is called “archdeacon.” He was the first Christian martyr, and he suffered for Christ when he was about thirty. In the words of Asterias, he was “the starting point of the martyrs, the instructor of suffering for Christ, the foundation of righteous confession, since Stephen was the first to shed his blood for the Gospel.”
Filled with the Holy Spirit, St Stephen preached Christianity and defeated Jewish teachers of the Law in debate. The Jews maligned St Stephen, saying that he had uttered blasphemy against God and against Moses. St Stephen came before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest to answer these charges. He gave a fiery speech, in which he recounted the history of the Jewish nation, and denounced the Jews for persecuting the prophets, and also for executing the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ (Acts ch. 7).
This holy man is called ``the God-bearer'' because he constantly bore the name of the Living God in his heart and on his lips. According to tradition, he was thus named because he was held in the arms of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ. On a day when the Lord was teaching His disciples humility, He took a child and placed him among them, saying: Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:4). This child was Ignatius. Later, Ignatius was a disciple of St. John the Theologian, together with Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. As Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius governed the Church of God as a good shepherd and was the first to introduce antiphonal chanting in the Church, in which two choirs alternate the chanting. This manner of chanting was revealed to St. Ignatius by the angels in heaven. When Emperor Trajan was passing through Antioch on his way to do battle with the Persians, he heard of Ignatius, summoned him and counseled him to offer sacrifice to the idols. If Ignatius would do so, Trajan would bestow upon him the rank of senator. As the counsels and threats of the emperor were in vain, St. Ignatius was shackled in irons and sent to Rome in the company of ten merciless soldiers, to be thrown to the wild beasts. Ignatius rejoiced in suffering for his Lord, only praying to God that the wild beasts would become the tomb for his body and that no one would prevent him from this death. After a long and difficult journey from Asia through Thrace, Macedonia and Epirus, Ignatius arrived in Rome, where he was thrown to the lions in the circus. The lions tore him to pieces and devoured him, leaving only several of the larger bones and his heart. This glorious lover of the Lord Christ suffered in the year 106 in Rome at the time of the Christ-hating Emperor Trajan. Ignatius has appeared many times from the other world and worked miracles, even to this day helping all who call upon him for help.
Danilo was the son of wealthy and God-loving parents. In his youth he was given a good upbringing. King Milutin took him to his court, but out of great love for God he fled and was tonsured a monk in the Monastery of Konèulsk near the Ibar. Later, he was the abbot of the Monastery of Hilandar [Mount Athos] and suffered much from the plundering Latin Crusaders. He was the Bishop of Banja, then of Hum, and finally the Archbishop of Serbia. From beginning to end, he was a strict ascetic and had the special gift of tears. He made peace between Kings Dragutin and Milutin, and later between Milutin and Stefan of Deèani. He fought fervently against the Latins as well as the Bogomils. Under his supervision, the Monasteries of Banja and Deèani were built, and he restored and built many other churches. He wrote the genealogy of the Serbian kings and saints. Untiring in his service to God to the end of his life, he entered peacefully into rest on the night between the nineteenth and twentieth of December, 1338, during the reign of Tsar Du an. Danilo was a great hierarch, a great ascetic, a great laborer and a great patriot.
This glorious saint, celebrated even today throughout the entire world, was the only son of his eminent and wealthy parents, Theophanes and Nona, citizens of the city of Patara in Lycia. Since he was the only son bestowed on them by God, the parents returned the gift to God by dedicating their son to Him.
St. Nicholas learned of the spiritual life from his uncle Nicholas, Bishop of Patara, and was tonsured a monk in the Monastery of New Zion founded by his uncle. Following the death of his parents, Nicholas distributed all his inherited goods to the poor, not keeping anything for himself. As a priest in Patara, he was known for his charity, even though he carefully concealed his charitable works, fulfilling the words of the Lord: Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth (Matthew 6:3).When he gave himself over to solitude and silence, thinking to live that way until his death, a voice from on high came to him: ``Nicholas, for your ascetic labor, work among the people, if thou desirest to be crowned by Me.'' Immediately after that, by God's wondrous providence, he was chosen archbishop of the city of Myra in Lycia. Merciful, wise and fearless, Nicholas was a true shepherd to his flock.
The angels of God were celebrated by men from earliest times but this celebration was often turned into the divinization of angels (IV Kings 23:5 [II Kgs KJV]). The heretics wove all sorts of fables concerning the angels. Some of them looked upon angels as gods; others, although they did not consider them gods, called them the creators of the whole visible world. The local Council of Laodicea (four or five years before the First Ecumenical Council) rejected the worship of angels as gods and established the proper veneration of angels in its Thirty-fifth Canon.
In the fourth century, during the time of Sylvester, Pope of Rome, and Alexander, Patriarch of Alexandria, the present Feast of Archangel Michael and all the other heavenly powers was instituted for celebration in the month of November. Why precisely in November? Because November is the ninth month after March, and March is considered to be the month in which the world was created. Also, as the ninth month after March, November was chosen for the nine orders of angels who were created first. St. Dionysius the Areopagite, a disciple of the Apostle Paul (who was taken up into the third heaven), described these nine orders of angels in his book, On the Celestial Hierarchies, as follows: six-winged Seraphim, many-eyed Cherubim, God-bearing Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Virtues, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. The leader of all the angelic hosts is the Archangel Michael.