Because people has seen that John was endowed with great holiness, some thought he might be the Messiah, St Gregory the Great notes in one of his homilies. But John knew that a greater than he had come and that he stood in relation to him as the bride to the groom. It is a mark of his holiness and humility that contrary to the normal reaction of our fallen nature, John should be content to see himself decrease.
St Cyril of Alexandria reminds us of the importance of the fact that Jesus would baptise in the Holy Spirit and in fire; it shows that Jesus is who he says he is. It is the sole and peculiar property of the Substance that transcends all, to be able to bestow on people the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and make those that draw near unto it partakers of the divine nature. But this exists in Christ not as a thing received, nor by communication from another, but as his own and as belonging to his substance. He baptises in the Holy Spirit.
In the seventeenth of his catechetical lectures, St Cyril of Jerusalem instructs us that John, filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, was sanctified for the purpose of baptising the Lord. John himself did not impart the Spirit but preached the glad tidings of him who does.
In his baptismal instructions, St John Chrysostom notes that what happens with the body of Jesus happens with our own, because although it appeared as John was holding his body by the head, it was the Divine Word that led his body down into the waters of the Jordan and baptised him. The Master’s body was baptised by the Word, by the voice of the Father from heaven, whose words the blessed Saint reports here. So too, with your body, it is baptised in the threefold name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The priest baptises you not in his name, not with an act of his own, but in the name of the Trinity who enact the baptism.
St Maximus of Turin, in one of his sermons, draws for us the parallels between the great feast of the nativity which we have just celebrated, and this feast. The Holy Spirit who purified Our Lady, now sanctifies the running waters for Jesus; the Father who then overshadowed in power, now cries out with his voice. The first birth brought the Incarnation into the world, this second birth manifests who He is.
Origen, in his homilies on Luke’s Gospel, reminds us that the opening of the heavens signals the coming of the forgiveness for our sins.
In his homilies on Luke, St Ambrose stresses the great mystery of the Trinity. Though Deuteronomy (10:20) says we should serve God alone, God is not alone, for as Jesus tells us, the Father is with him (John 16:2).
St Cyril of Alexandria reminds us, in his commentary on St Luke, that Jesus had no need of baptism because he alone was pure and holy. Neither did he need the Spirit, for the Spirit that proceeds from God the Father is from him and equal to him in substance. What is happening here is that God, who through his love has provided for us a way of salvation, shows that we come to him through being baptised in the Threefold name and the washing away of the filth of our sins. Through the Spirit we are made partakers of the divine nature and gain the gift through adoption of being his children. So here, Jesus is the pattern for what we should do. Having set the example for us to follow, he prays that you and all of us should believe and come at the last to be with him.
St Cyprian notes the way in which having out on flesh and being willing to bear our sins, he also did not disdain to have his body laved in the water of regeneration.
In his exposition of Luke, St Ambrose reminds us that the grace of washing requires simplicity so that we might be innocent as a dove – and that image reminds us of the dove who returned to the ark – and the church is the ark of our salvation, and in the midst of the floods of the world the Holy Spirit brings to the Church the fruitful peace of God