Why then is this day called Theophany? Because Christ made Himself known to all—not then when He was born, but when He was baptized. Until this time He was not known to the people. And that the people did not know Him, Who He was, listen to what John the Baptist says: “Amidst you standeth Him Whom ye know not of” (John 1:26). And is it surprising that others did not know Him, when even the Baptist did not know Him until that day? “And I—said he—knew Him not: but He that did send me to baptize with water, about this One did tell unto me: over Him that shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding upon Him, this One it is Who baptiseth in the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). Thus from this it is evident, that there are two Theophanies, and why Christ comes at baptism and on whichever baptism He comes, about this… it is necessary to know both the one and equally the other. And first it is necessary to speak your love about the latter, so that we might learn about the former. There was a Jewish baptism, which cleansed from bodily impurities, but not to remove sins. Thus, whoever committed adultery, or decided on thievery, or who did some other kind of misdeed, it did not free him from guilt. But whoever touched the bones of the dead, whoever tasted food forbidden by the law, whoever approached from contamination, whoever consorted with lepers—that one washed, and until evening was impure, and then cleansed. “Let one wash his body in pure water”—it says in the Scriptures—“and he will be unclean until evening, and then he will be clean” (Leviticus 15:5, 22:4). This was not truly of sins or impurities, but since the Jews lacked perfection, then God, accomplishing it by means of this greater piety, prepared them by their beginnings for a precise observance of important things.
Thus, Jewish cleansings did not free from sins, but only from bodily impurities. Not so with ours: it is far more sublime and it manifests a great grace, whereby it sets free from sin, it cleanses the spirit and bestows the gifts of the Spirit. And the baptism of John was far more sublime than the Jewish, but less so than ours: it was like a bridge between both baptisms, leading across itself from the first to the last. Wherefore John did not give guidance for observance of bodily purifications, but together with them he exhorted and advised to be converted from vice to good deeds and to trust in the hope of salvation and the accomplishing of good deeds, rather than in different washings and purifications by water. John did not say, “wash your clothes, wash your body, and ye will be pure,” but rather, “bear ye fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Since it was more than of the Jews, but less than ours, the baptism of John did not impart the Holy Spirit and it did not grant forgiveness by grace. It gave the commandment to repent, but it was powerless to absolve sins. Wherefore John did also say: “I baptize you with water… That One however will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11). Obviously, he did not baptize with the Spirit.