Saturday, January 7, 2017

Baptism as the new birth in Christ.

By Saint Nicholas Cabasilas.

   To be baptized, is to be born according to Christ and to receive our very being and nature, having previously been nothing. This we can learn from many sources. First, from the very order itself: it is the first of the Mysteries into which we are initiated, and before the others this Mystery introduces Christians into the new life. Secondly, we may learn this from the very names which we call it, and thirdly, from the ceremonies which we employ and the words which we sing.
   This, then, is the order which we follow. First we are washed, then, when we have been anointed with chrism, we approach the sacred table. This is a clear proof that the baptismal washing is the beginning of life, its foundation and presupposition, that Christ Himself, who endured all things for our sake, considered it necessary to be baptized and underwent this before all else. As for the names, what else could they imply?. We call it "birth," "new birth," "new creation," and "seal," and in addition "baptism" [i.e., "dipping"], "clothing," "anointing," "charisma" [i.e., "gift"], "illumination," and "washing." These all signify this one thing, that this rite is the beginning of being for those who are in accordance with God and so live.
   Properly, then, "birth" appears to signify nothing else than this. "New birth" and "new creation" mean nothing else than that those who are born and created have been born previously and have lost their original form, but now return to it by a second birth. It is as when the material of a statue has lost its shape and a sculptor restores and refashions the image, since it is a form and shape effected - in us by Baptism. It engraves an image and imparts a form to our souls by conforming them to the death and resurrection of the Saviour. It is thus also called a "seal," since it conforms us to the image of the King and to His blessed form. Since the form clothes the material and puts an end to its formlessness we also call the Mystery "clothing"· and "baptism" [dipping"]. This is what Paul declares when he applies to it the terms "clothing" and "seal." At one time he speaks of Christ being engraved and formed on Christians, at other times as being wrapped around them like a garment. He speaks of the initiate as having been clothed and plunged into water, writing to the Galatians, "my little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you" (4:19), and "Jesus Christ was portrayed in you as crucified" (cf. 3:1), and "as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (3:27, cf. 1 Cor. 15:53, 2 Cor. 5:3). For until gold, silver, and bronze are softened and melted by fire, they are mere materials to the onlooker, so that they are called merely by the name of the material, "gold" or "silver" or "bronze." But when each acquires a shape from the blows of the iron tools it is no longer the material only, but the shape which appears to the onlookers, just as clothes become apparent to them before the bodies which they cover. Accordingly each receives a proper appellation, such as "statue," "ring," or something else which no longer indicates the material but the appearance or form only.
   Perhaps this is why the saving day of Baptism becomes the name's day for Christians. It is then that we are formed and shaped, and our shapeless and undefined life receives shape and definition. Besides, we become known to Him who knows His own, as Paul says, "having come to know God, or rather, to be known by God" (Gal. 4:9). On this day we hear the significant word, our name, as though then we were properly known, for to be known by God is to become truly known. For this reason David said of those who have no part in this life, "I will not make mention of their names upon my lips" (Ps. 16:4), since those who have removed themselves far from this light are unknown and unseen. Apart from light nothing is visible to the eyes of those who can see, nor is he known to God who has not received light from above. This is the reason: unless it becomes apparent to Him by the light it entirely lacks true existence. This is in accordance with the saying, "The Lord knows those who are His" (2 Tim. 2:19, Num. 16:5). Again of the foolish virgins He says that He knows them not (Mt. 25:12).
   For this reason Baptism is called "illumination." Since it confers true being it makes men known to God; because it leads to that light it removes from darkness and wickedness. Because it is an illumination it is also called a "washing." Since it removes all defilement it bestows on men pure converse with the light, removing as it were a barrier which blocks off the divine radiance from our souls.
   Baptism is called "gift" because it is a birth, for what might a person contribute to his own birth?. As in the case of physical birth we do not contribute even the desire for all the blessings derived from Baptism, were one to examine it closely. We wish for the things which we are able to conceive in our minds, but these blessings "the heart of man has not conceived" (1 Cor. 2: 9), and no one could imagine them before experiencing them. When we hear of the possibility of freedom and kingship we think in terms of a happy life which human thoughts can grasp. But this is entirely different, greater than both our thought and our desire.
   Baptism is called "anointing" because on those who are initiated it engraves Christ, who was anointed for us. It is a "seal" which imprints the Saviour Himself. As the anointing is actually applied to the whole form of the body of him who is anointed, so it imprints on him the Anointed One and displays His form and is really a sealing.
   By what has been said it has been shown that the seal has the same effect as the birth, just as the clothing and the plunging effect the same as the sealing. Since the free gift, the illumination, and the washing have the same effect as the new creation and the birth, it is evident that all the nomenclature of Baptism signifies one thing - the baptismal washing is our birth and the beginning of our life in Christ.

De Catanzaro C. (1974), The Life in Christ: Nicholas Cabasilas, St. Vladimir Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, U.S.A.