Wednesday, February 10, 2016

If Chrysostom had watched the Super Bowl!


Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

This pales beside the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist, and the real 'Super Sunday', Pascha!

The Super Bowl and the secular Super Sunday is now over. The colossal social phenomenon -- the Super Bowl -- was viewed by hundreds of millions of people worldwide this past Sunday.  Not to be disparaging or dismissive, it might be wise to approach this phenomenon from the perspective of our shared Orthodox Christian faith.  No sense carrying on about the hype and the madness. When all is said and done, it is what it is.

But I could not avoid speculating on how someone like Saint John Chrysostom, who fell asleep in the Lord in AD 407, would have approached the Super Bowl phenomenon in his own unique and pastoral manner.  Of course, there is a huge chronological gap between Saint John's time and our own, but we also know that there 'is nothing new under the sun," and we can discover some very close parallels just under the surface when comparing different eras and their cultures.  Saint John very well knew and understood the lure of the "games" and other forms of public entertainment in his own time, as he lived in large, cosmopolitan and urban settings such as Constantinople and Antioch. Such urban settings invariably had a hippodrome -- the equivalent of our stadiums -- at the center of a teeming social milieu that was also open to public entertainment.

What is quite interesting in Saint John's pastoral approach is that even if there is an implicit criticism of these public forms of entertainment (as he was very critical of the "theatre" as it existed in his day), that was never his main concern.  Saint John would employ what we would call today "sports" and other diverse forms of entertainment in order to exhort his flock to be vigilant and committed in its adherence to and practice of the Gospel.  Being a "fan" of a sport is far from being a "member" of the Church.  As a pastor, Saint John would challenge his flock to ensure that the great gap in that distinction is not somehow closed by lack of vigilance.

The great saint was fully aware of a kind of nominal membership in the Church, and he was quick to point out how erosive of genuine faith that lack of commitment could be for the entire flock under his pastoral care.  Saint John was basically asking whether Christians are as committed to the Gospel and the life of the Church as they are adherents, participants and performers in the "entertainment industry" of the fourth and fifth centuries?  Primarily, this would include athletes and actors. Do Christians show the same level of passion for the Gospel as do the fans of the games and theatre? Here is one example from among many of how Saint John used his rhetorical skills in challenging Christians on this front:

"We run eagerly to dances and amusements.  We listen with pleasure to the foolishness of singers. We enjoy the foul words of actors for hours without getting bored.  And yet when God speaks we yawn, we scratch ourselves and feel dizzy.  Most peoples would run rabidly to the horse track, although there is no roof there to protect the audience from rain, even when it rains heavily or when the wind is lifting everything.  They don't mind bad weather or the cold or the distance. Nothing keeps them in their homes. When they are about to go to church, however, then the soft rain becomes an obstacle to them.  And if you ask them who Amos or Obadiah is, or how many prophets or apostles there are, they can't even open their mouths.  Yet they can tell you every detail about the horses, the singers and the actors.  What kind of state is this?"

Yet, this rhetorical deflation of the theatre and games serves as a backdrop that only intensifies the strength of his descriptions of the manifold riches of the Church, especially the Eucharist. From the same homily, here is Saint John's impassioned and rhetorically brilliant description of the glory of the Church:

"The Church is the foundation of virtue and the school of spiritual life.  Just cross its threshold at any time, and immediately you forget daily cares. Pass inside, and a spiritual ray will surround your soul. This stillness causes awe and teaches the Christian life.  It raises up your train of thought and doesn't allow you to remember present things.  It transports you from earth to Heaven.  And if the gain is so great when a worship service is not even taking place, just think, when the Liturgy is performed -- and the prophets teach, the Apostles preach the Gospel, Christ is among believers, God the Father accepts the performed sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit grants His own rejoicing -- what great benefit floods those who have attended church as they leave the church.

"The joy of anyone who rejoices is preserved in the Church.  The gladness of the embittered, the rejoicing of the saddened, the refreshment of the tortured, the comfort of the tired, all are found in the Church.  Because Christ says, 'Come to me, all who are tired and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest' [Matthew 11:28].  What is more longed for than [to hear] this Voice?  What sweeter than this invitation?  The Lord is calling you to a Banquet when He invites you to church. He urges you to be comforted from toils and He transports you to a place of comfort from pain, because He lightens you from the burden of sins. He heals distress with spiritual enjoyment, and sadness with joy."

Saint John was not called Chrysostom -- the "Golden-mouthed" -- for nothing!  He does not admonish his flock in this homily to give up on the games and other forms of entertainment; but he surely makes it clear that there is no comparison between the two.  And that, therefore, our desire and commitment cannot be so misplaced to somehow put the two on the same level of attraction.  The perfectly legitimate desire to "fit in" with one's neighbors and participate in socially popular events must be balanced by an awareness of not being fully of the world once one is baptized into the Church.

Bearing all of that in mind, if I were to write in the spirit of Saint John and try to apply his approach to parish life in the contemporary world, I would make the following pastoral "suggestions" based on the recent Super Bowl -- or for that matter, any existing commitment we might have to the world of professional sports/entertainment.

If you watched the Super Bowl from its opening kick-off to the end of the game, but if you chronically arrive late for the opening doxology of "Blessed is the Kingdom" at the Liturgy, then it may be time to show the same commitment to the Liturgy and arrive at the beginning.  That opening doxology opens us up to a reality hardly matched by an opening kick-off.

If you spent time watching all of the pre-game hype and analysis, all meant to prepare you for the game, but if you have never given much thought to arriving before the Liturgy for the reading of the Hours; then I would suggest arriving in church before the actual Liturgy begins in time for the pre-Eucharist chanting of those very Hours -- a mere 20 minutes.  This way you are able to settle in and calm down a bit in preparation for the Liturgy that will shortly unfold in all of its majesty.

If you have been engaged in some of the (endless) post-game analysis since last Sunday; or watched "highlights" of the game, or recall some of the more significant and game-changing plays of the game, but if you struggle by mid-week to remember what the Gospel was at last Sunday's Liturgy, then I would suggest engaging in some post-Liturgy analysis of the Gospel that you heard on any given Sunday with  family and/or friends (or within your own mind and heart).  Such "analysis" can eventually become genuine meditation of even contemplation.

 
To leave the Divine Liturgy as a "changed human being..."
 
This is all more than possible, according to Saint John, because of the inexhaustible riches of the Liturgy. Once again, Saint John exhorts us to leave the Liturgy as changed human beings, having communed of the Risen Lord:

"Let us depart from the Divine Liturgy like lions who are producing fire, having become fearsome even to the devil, because the holy Blood of the Lord that we commune waters our souls and gives us great strength.  When we commune of it worthily, it chases the demons far away and brings the angels and the Lord of the angels near us.  This Blood is the salvation of our souls; with this the soul is washed, with this it is adorned.  This Blood makes our minds brighter than fire; this makes our souls brighter than gold."

We are slowly drawing near to the Church's own "Super Sunday" which is, of course, Pascha.  Let our preparation and desire for that day far surpass any of our other passions or commitments, for the Lord taught us, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" [Matthew 6:21].

_______

For those who would like to read the full homily of St. John Chrysostom, entitled in the English translation as "Attending Church," please use the link provided for your convenience below. Some of the teaching may be "dated" or not as meaningful today with other social and cultural norms, but it is a truly magnificent homily, and can serve to revive our own appreciation of the Divine Liturgy.



Monday, January 25, 2016

The Christian Revolution


Dear Parish Faithful,


http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00D99NS4O/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?ie=UTF8&btkr=1
During the homily yesterday, I referred to a remarkable passage out of a remarkable book by the Orthodox philosopher/theologian David Bentley Hart.  He was explaining the over-all purpose of his  book Atheist Delusions - The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies and in the process produced a powerful paragraph about the revolutionary nature of the Christian Gospel as it pervaded the Graeco-Roman world of the first century A.D. and then beyond.  This is what we now refer to as late antiquity.  

Living in our own contemporary world, we can be unaware of the radical reassessment of reality offered by the Gospel. All I could do was offer a brief and inadequate summary of Bentley Hart's thesis yesterday.  So, I thought to share this part of the book's Introduction with this packed paragraph which, in its own way "speaks volumes."


The Christian “Revolution”
By David Bentley Hart


This book chiefly – or at least centrally – concerns the history of the early church, of roughly the first four centuries, and the story of how Christendom was born out of the culture of late antiquity. My chief ambition in writing is to call attention to the peculiar and radical nature of the new faith in that setting: 
how enormous a transformation Christianity constituted in the age of pagan Rome; the liberation it offered from fatalism, cosmic despair, and the terror of occult agencies; the immense dignity it conferred upon the human person; its subversion of the cruelest aspects of pagan society; its (alas, only partial) demystification of political power; its ability to create moral communities where none had existed before; and its elevation  of active charity above all other virtues. 
Stated in its most elementary and most buoyantly positive form, my argument is, first of all, that among all the many great transitions that have marked the evolution of Western civilization, whether convulsive or gradual, political or philosophical, social or scientific, material or spiritual, there has been only one – the triumph of Christianity – that can be called in the fullest sense a “revolution:” a truly massive and epochal revision of humanity’s  prevailing vision of reality, so pervasive in its influence and so vast in its consequences as actually to have created a new conception of the world, of history, of human nature, of time, and of the moral good. 
To my mind, I should add, it was an event immeasurably more impressive in its cultural creativity and more ennobling in its moral power than any other movement of spirit, will, imagination, inspiration or accomplishment than any other movement in the history of the West.  And I am convinced that, given how radically at variance Christianity was with the culture it slowly and relentlessly displaced, its eventual victory was an event of such implausibility as to strain the very limits of our understanding of  historical causality.

Atheist Delusions, p. x-xi


Friday, January 22, 2016

Life: “The most sublime expression of God’s creative activity”


Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


Friday, January 22, 2016 marks the 43rd Anniversary of the infamous Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973 that effectively legalized unrestricted access to abortion in the United States of America.  Despite reports of impending ominous weather, tens of thousands of people of faith—including many Orthodox Christians—will march in the nation’s capital to express our strong disagreement with such a law, thus providing us with a glaring and painful example of finding something morally and ethically unacceptable, though it is “legal.”

Our “peaceful protests”—violent protests by “pro-life” advocates are hardly justifiable—afford us the opportunity to remind ourselves of the Church’s ancient rejection of abortion.  As the Church began to expand in its initial period of growth, in came into contact and conflict with the Roman Empire and the proliferation of beliefs and practices that characterized the Empire’s prevailing culture.  As the “superpower” of its day, the Empire imposed itself both militarily and culturally on its far-flung territories and inhabitants.  Both abortion and infanticide were widespread practices, hardly challenged, I believe, for the most part.  An early formulation of Christian resistance to these practices can be found in the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, a document that dates back to the early second century, in which we read,


“Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not corrupt children; do not fornicate; do not steal; do not practice magic; do not go in for sorcery; do not murder a child by abortion or kill a new-born infant” [II, 2].

In the fourth century, Saint Basil the Great wrote the following:

“Those who give potions for the destruction of the child conceived in the womb are murderers, as are those who take potions which kill the child” [Letter 188, Canon 8].  

Saint Basil clearly does not apply all of the responsibility for this decision upon the mother of the child, but includes those who provide the “service.”  In today’s world, one can only imagine the enormous pressure placed upon a young and vulnerable woman to “terminate” an “unwanted pregnancy” by those around her, including her “medical advisors.”  The pressure increases with the psychological assurance that what is legal cannot be wrong—though one’s maternal intuitions and instincts may be offering an internal protest of a different nature.

It is essential to offer a positive response rather than simply rejecting abortion as immoral, though our very human instincts make such a rejection perfectly natural.  As Christians, we must continue to affirm the sacred gift of life within the context of what some have gone so far as to name a “culture of death”—in my opinion, not an unfair characterization.  I find such an affirmation at the very beginning of Father John Breck’s wonderful book, The Sacred Gift of Life, as he embarks on a theological, bioethical and pastoral articulation of what the Church has proclaimed “from the beginning”—the victory of life over death in Christ.

“Orthodox Christianity affirms that life is a gift, freely bestowed by the God of love,” Father John writes.  “Human life, therefore,
"is to be received and welcomed with an attitude of joy and thanksgiving.  It is to be cherished, preserved and protected as the most sublime expression of God’s creative activity.  God has brought us ‘from non-being into being’ for more than mere biological existence.  He has chosen us for Life, of which the ultimate end is participation in the eternal glory of the Risen Christ, ‘in the inheritance of the saints in light’” [Colossians 1:12; Ephesians 1:18].

We cannot simply be content with denouncing abortion as a evil practice, true as that may be.  We must actively seek to alleviate the conditions of those tempted into such a decision because of their harsh environments or marginalized social status.  Compassion—more than judgment—can be a much more effective response to a deeply troubling practice that wounds the sensibility and soul of any Christian who is aware of the God of life, Who has granted us life abundantly in Christ Jesus.

Currently, every sign indicates that the practice of abortion is here to stay in our secularized society that is experiencing a kind of moral/ethical  erosion produced by an ever-expanding moral relativism. (And this moral relativism has elevated "choice" to almost sacred status; while "life" suffers debasement as it is divorced from faith in God). 

I am not hearing any presidential candidate publicly speak against abortion, regardless of his/her party's platform or personal position.  Why risk undermining one's popularity over a "dead issue?" This can be discouraging.  However, a sense of vigilance and discernment should never be far from our minds, directing us to the theological, moral and ethical themes that are irreducible to pragmatic or utilitarian concerns.  If "human life" is ... "the most sublime expression of God's creative activity," then that is the only Christian "choice" to make.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Threefold Path of Ascent to God


Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


According to our ecclesiastical calendar, every year on January 17 – this past Sunday most currently - we commemorate one of the truly extraordinary saints of the Church; and one whose impact on the Church’s historical and spiritual development can hardly be over-estimated. And that would be St. Anthony the Great (+356) who is universally proclaimed as the “Father of monasticism.”

St. Anthony withdrew from the world to seek the Kingdom of God with an intensity and focus that was humanly speaking, practically “impossible,” but as the Lord said, “with God all things are possible” (MATT. 19:26).  He was inspired toward this act of radical withdrawal when he heard the words of the Lord in church one Sunday: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (MATT. 19:21).  After many years of prayer, fasting and vigil in the desert — during which he had to battle countless demons — St. Anthony learned that whatever he “accomplished” in the ascetic life was made possible by the grace of God. His Life became one of the most widely-read and influential books of the Church in late antiquity, the reading of which was instrumental in the spiritual development of Blessed Augustine of Hippo (+430); and has maintained its powerful attraction to this day. Perhaps the fact that it was written by St. Athanasius the Great (+373) has a great deal to do with that.

Some of St. Anthony’s most memorable “sayings” have been recorded and thus preserved throughout the centuries, so that his ancient wisdom can guide us to this day, whether we are married, celibate or a monastic. In the Alphabetical Collection of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, we hear his voice reaching to us from the 4th c. desert of Egypt with a timeless wisdom:

“This is the great work of a man: always to take blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.” (4)

If that produces a sense of discouragement or anxiety, St. Anthony further taught the “positive” side of this insight:

“Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” He even added: “Without temptation no-one can be saved.” (5)

He also said, “Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.” (9)

The desert became the arena of the spiritual struggle of ascending toward God. In fact, there eventually emerged over time a “threefold path of ascent” that profoundly outlined the course of outward action and inner activity that would lead a human person toward God. This is usually attributed to Evagrios of Pontus, whose works survive under the name of Neilos the Solitary. He has been called the great “psychologist of the desert” based on his insights into the working of the spirit in fighting off temptation and drawing closer to God in prayer.

At this point, I would like to introduce the work of one of my excellent students from my recently-completed Fall semester at XU. She had to analyze the threefold path of ascent as handed down from Evagrios in its three aspects of 1) praktiki; 2) physiki; and 3) theologia. Her answers were extremely well-done, and reflected a sound assimilation of the ideas expressed, rather than a simple rote memorization. It is always encouraging to witness quality work at the end of the semester, and I would like to share that with you:

Praktiki: “Praktiki” is the first part of the “Threefold Path of Spiritual Ascent” prescribed by Evagrius of Pontus. It refers to the practice of virtues and the practical application of spirituality in one’s daily life. It involves a constant “warfare against the passions” in order to acquire virtues and purify the heart. This stage of one’s spiritual journey is often referred to as the “active life,” and must begin with repentance, culminating in a purification of the passions. This purification is made manifest and leads to what Evagrius calls “apatheia,” the “gateway to love.” “Apatheia” involves spiritual freedom; in such a state one no longer yields to temptation. 

Physiki: “Physiki” is the second stage of Evagrius’ threefold path. This is referred to as “natural contemplation.” It is important to note that this part of the path does not necessarily follow praktiki; it may occur simultaneously. “Physiki” involves a way of looking at the world that sees it as it truly is; as God made it to be. In this way, it is a way of seeing God through nature, or even seeing nature through God. In turn, one can come to better understand oneself and one’s essence as a human being through contemplating and understanding God’s uncreated energies and how he manifests them in nature. An understanding of the “logos” or “word” is essential to physiki, as it forms the inner essence of all created things.

Theologia: “Theologia” refers to the contemplation of God. Prayer is the primary way to practice such contemplation. The two main types of prayer, liturgical prayer and personal prayer, are both essential to deepening one’s understanding of God. In both types of prayer, one’s goal should be to achieve “hesychia,” (inner stillness) or undistracted prayer. Liturgical prayer is a communal experience in which people gather to pray in communion with one another, usually engaging in oral, or spoken prayer. Personal prayer involves private contemplation and meditation. There are many different ways to pray. One type of prayer that is especially popular in the Orthodox Church is monologic prayer, which involves focusing one’s prayer on a single word or phrase.

Well-done indeed!  This is an essential part of our Tradition that all Orthodox Christians need to be aware of.

But now comes the truly hard part: Doing our utmost to put such a profound teaching into the practice of our daily lives at least on a level that would lift us up ever so slightly toward God!

Friday, January 15, 2016

More Wisdom on Prayer...


Dear Parish Faithful,


http://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Divine-Philosophers-Thomas-Mitrakos-ebook/dp/B00AEOPE76
From the book Wisdom of the Divine Philosophers, here are some words about prayer from the Holy Fathers and saints of the Church:

"As our body cannot live without breathing, so our soul cannot keep alive without knowing the Creator; for the ignorance of God is the death of the soul."  ~ St. Basil the Great

"Exhort yourself, force yourself, to prayer and every good work, however contrary be your inclination.  As a lazy horse, driven by a whip, is compelled by man to walk and to trot, even so must we coerce ourselves into performing every kind of labor, and how much more, to pray. God, beholding your efforts and your labor, will grant you zeal and inclination.  Habit of itself creates the inclination, and, it might be said, attracts us toward prayer and good deeds."  ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk


"Do not pray for the fulfillment of your wishes, for they may not accord with the will of God.  But pray as you have been taught, saying:  Thy will be done in me (LK. 22:42).  Always entreat Him in this way that His will be done.  For He desires what is good and profitable for you, whereas you do not always ask for this."  ~ Evagrios the Solitary
 

"Prayers at home are an introduction, a preparation for prayers in Church.  Thus he who is not accustomed to pray at home can seldom pray diligently in Church. Experience bears witness to this: anyone can observe it for himself."  ~ St. John of Kronstadt

'Prayer... Encounter with the Living God'


Dear Parish Faithful,

http://www.svspress.com/prayer-encounter-with-the-living-god/
I am now in possession of what appears to be a wonderful and wonderfully helpful book by one of today's most prominent and exciting new theologians:  Metropolitan Ilarion Alfeyev of the Russian Orthodox Church.  This new book has just been published by SVS Press.

This little book is the "perfect" starting point for anyone looking for some deep and practical insights into the "art of prayer."  It is a gift when a profound theologian can condense his vast knowledge and hopefully his personal experience of God in an extremely accessible and readable version that is meant for just about anyone who is a serious practicing Christian, but who may feel that there is something elusive and difficult about establishing a meaningful, consistent and effective prayer life.  His Eminence manages to say a great deal in a very limited amount of space, so every sentence is important and deserving of careful thought and reflection. 

As Met. Ilarion writes in the opening paragraph of the book:
Prayer is an encounter with the living God.  Christianity gives man direct access to God, who listens to man, helps him, and loves him. This is the fundamental difference between Christianity and, for example, Buddhism, in which during meditation the one praying deals with a certain impersonal super-being, in which he is immersed and in which he is dissolved, but he does not feel God as a living Person.  In Christian prayer, man feels the presence of the Living God.

And he writes elsewhere:
God does not need words; He needs men's hearts.  Words are secondary; of paramount importance are the feelings and dispositions with which we approach God.

I am sure that we will eventually obtain some copies for our parish bookstore.  Please speak with Nancy Farison if you would like to pre-order or reserve a copy.

Monday, January 11, 2016

'One Baptism for the remission of sins...'


Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

“I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins” [Nicene Creed]



The Great Feast of Theophany is more ancient that that of Christ’s Nativity.  In fact, it was precisely on January 6 that the Church first celebrated Christ’s birth (and the adoration of the Magi), together with His baptism in the Jordan.  These events—of the greatest significance not only in the life of Christ but in the “economy” of our salvation—were united in one celebration known as “Theophany,” which means “manifestation of God.”  (The Feast is also referred to as “Epiphany,” which simply means “manifestation.”)  In His Nativity and in His Baptism, Christ is “manifested,” or “revealed,” to the world as the Light of the world in order to dispel the darkness of ignorance and spiritual blindness which are the direct result of sin.  This Feast of Theophany is also referred to as the “Feast of Lights.”  It was in the fourth century that we began to celebrate our Lord’s Nativity (and the adoration of the Magi) as a separate and unique event on December 25, while January 6 remained as the Feast of Theophany, on which Christ’s Baptism was commemorated.

Why did the Feast of January 6 retain the title “Theophany/Epiphany” instead of December 25, when the manifestation of the eternal Light was first revealed in His Nativity in the flesh?  Saint John Chrysostom writes that it is “because it was not when He was born that He became manifest to all, but when He was baptized; for up to this day He was unknown to the majority.”

But not only was the Lord Jesus revealed to the world as He began His public ministry with His Baptism in the Jordan at the hands of Saint John the Baptist.  The Holy Trinity was manifested, for the “voice of the Father” bore witness to His beloved Son, and the Spirit, “in the form of a dove,” descended and rested upon the Son.  The Trinitarian nature of God was manifested when Christ came to the Jordan to be baptized.  Paraphrasing St. Irenaeus of Lyons, the Father anoints, the Son is anointed, and the Holy Spirit is the ointment.

Yet, if Baptism is for the “remission of sins,” then why is Christ baptized, for He is without sin [1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15]?  The liturgical texts repeatedly ask and answer this question for us in the following manner: “Though as God He needs no cleansing, yet for the sake of fallen man He is cleansed in the Jordan,” and “As a man He is cleansed, that I may be made clean.”  Christ is representative of all humanity.  He is baptized for our sake.  It is we who are cleansed and regenerated when He descends into the waters of the Jordan.

For with Christ, and in Christ, our human nature—the human nature He assumed in all of its fullness in the Incarnation—descends into the cleansing and purifying waters of the Jordan (anticipating sacramental Baptism), so that the very same human nature may ascend out of the waters renewed, restored and recreated.  As the New and Last Adam, He “sums up” all of us in Himself—for this reason He became man.  The Spirit descends and rests upon Christ, so that our humanity may be anointed in Him.  Saint Athanasios the Great writes, “when He is anointed… we it is who in Him are anointed….  When He is baptized, we it is who in Him are baptized.”  Every Baptism is an “extension of” and a “participation in” the one, unique Baptism of Christ; just as every Eucharist is an “extension of” and a “participation in” the one, unique Mystical Supper.  Actually, all of creation participates and is sanctified by the manifestation of God’s Son in the flesh: “At Thine appearing in the body, the earth was sanctified, the waters blessed, the heavens enlightened.”

We die to sin in Baptism and are raised to new life—for this reason the baptismal font is both tomb and womb, as Saint Cyril of Jerusalem tells us.  Our pre- and post-baptismal lives must manifest some real change, according to Saint Gregory of Nyssa (+395).  In fact, I would like to append a few paragraphs from some of Saint Gregory’s writings about Baptism from his Great Catechism in order to allow him to describe the meaning of that need for change.  Saint Gregory wrote in the fourth century—a time when he could presuppose adult baptism as the norm—but we can apply his teaching to our own consciousness of being Christians as we grow up in the Faith following “infant Baptism.”

Saint Gregory writes:

When discussing Baptism and spiritual birth, we have to consider what happens to our life following Baptism.  This is a point which many of those who approach the grace of Baptism neglect; they delude themselves by being born in appearance only and not in reality.  For through birth from above, our life is supposed to undergo a change.  But if we continue in our present sinful state, then there is really no change in us.  Indeed, I do not see how a man who continues to be the same can be considered to have become different when there is no noticeable change in him…. 
Now the physically born child certainly shares his parents’ nature.  If you have been born of God and have become His child, then let your way of life testify to the presence of God within you.  Make it clear Who your Father is!  For the very attributes by which we recognize God are the very marks by which a child of His must reveal His relationship with God.  ‘God is goodness and there is no unrighteousness in Him…  The Lord is gracious to all…  He loves His enemies…  He is merciful and forgives transgressions.’  These and many other characteristics revealed by the Scripture are what make a Godly life…
If you are like this and you embody the Spirit of God, then you have genuinely become a child of God, but if you persist in displaying evil, then it is useless to prattle to yourself and to others about your birth from above.  You are still merely a son of man, not a son of that Most High God!  You love lies and vanity, and you are still immersed in the corruptible things of this world.  Don’t you know in what way a man becomes a child of God?  Why, in no other way than by becoming holy!