A Pause

From On the Holy Spirit, 35 (ca. 364)

We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism. If we ask what kind of burial this is 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 former life has been brought to an end. When runners reach a turning point on a racecourse, they have to pause briefly before they can go back in the opposite direction. So when we wish to reverse the course 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 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 the saving baptism only once because there was only death and the one resurrection for the salvation of the world, and baptism is its symbol.

St. Basil the Great (330-379) was Bishop of Caesarea and a devoted advocate of Nicene Christology, traditionally acclaimed as one of the four Eastern Doctors of the Church. A rule written by him is the basis of communal monastic life in the Eastern Church, and he founded the first major Christian hospital. His treatise On the Holy Spirit is an important defense of the divinity of the Holy Spirit, written during the Eunomian Controversy. His feast day is June 14.


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