Participate in His Death to Participate in His Resurrection

From a treatise On the Holy Spirit by Basil the Great

When humankind was estranged by disobedience, God our Saviour made a plan for raising us from our fall and restoring us to friendship with himself. According to this plan Christ came in the flesh, he showed us the gospel way of life, he suffered, died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead. He did this so that we could be saved by imitation of him, and recover our original status as children of God by adoption.

To attain holiness, then, we must not only pattern our lives on that of Christ by being gentle, humble and patient, but we must also imitate him in his death. Taking Christ for his model, Paul said that he wanted to become like him in his death in the hope that he too would be raised from death to life. We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism. If we ask what this kind of burial means and what benefit we may hope to derive from it, it means first of all making a complete break with our former way of life, and our Lord himself said that this cannot be done unless we are born again. In other words, we have to begin a new life, and we cannot do so until our previous life has been brought to an end. When runners reach the turning point on a racecourse, they have to pause briefly before they can go back in the opposite direction. So also when we wish to reverse the direction of our lives there must be a pause, or a death, to mark the end of one life and the beginning of another.

Our descent into hell takes place when we imitate the burial of Christ by our baptism. The bodies of the baptized are in a sense buried in the water as a symbol of their renunciation of the sins of their unregenerate nature. As the Apostle says: ‘The circumcision you have undergone is not an operation performed by human hands, but the complete stripping away of your unregenerate nature. This is the circumcision that Christ gave us, and it is accomplished by our burial with him in baptism.’ Baptism cleanses the soul from the pollution of worldly thoughts and inclinations: ‘You will wash me,’ says the psalmist, ‘and I shall be whiter than snow.’ We receive this saving baptism only once because there was only one death and one resurrection for the salvation of the world, and baptism is its symbol. Source: Atwell, Robert (2011-09-08). Celebrating the Seasons (Kindle Locations 4293-4311). Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Kindle Edition.

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3 thoughts on “Participate in His Death to Participate in His Resurrection

  1. It always makes me nervous to hear that baptism is the “complete stripping away of our unregenerate nature.” Would it be right to add that this stripping/dying is a process? I was baptized and confirmed at age 16, for a number of years lived a worldly life, and finally met my Lord at age 36. Even then, though I can see the gradual waning of worldly desires, they are not eradicated. I think my experience is pretty common.

    • Susan,

      You are right. There is a paradox at work. In baptism all is accomplished. Our discipleship is a life of transformation – living out what was completely accomplished in our baptism. Both are true. Thus the paradox. It is like the event of baptism is stretched out over an entire lifetime so to speak.

      So, our baptism “lacks nothing” and is in no way contradictory to our experience “after it.”

      Words fall short to express how the baptismal event and our whole life of discipleship are one and the same reality.

      If St. Basil’s words are set in the context of the entire witness of the saints this becomes what I must conclude they understood to be the case.

      • Yes. That’s it exactly: the event of baptism is stretched out over our whole lifetime. Everything that happens, even when we are walking away from Him, is a step in the process whose end is already true. What a comfort.

        FB: Susan Prudhomme Author

        http://www.susanprudhomme.com

        The Forest: Book I of Menchian Journeys (OakTara 2011)

        The Wisdom of Ambrose (OakTara 2011)

        Plura (blurb.com)

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