St Gregory of Nyssa

On the Baptism of Christ

St Gregory of Nyssa, the younger brother of St Basil the Great, was one of the most influential theologians of the early Church. In his famous sermon On the Baptism of Christ the Saint begins by explaining the ongoing significance of baptism for the Orthodox Christian: “Baptism, then, is a purification from sins, a remission of trespasses, a cause of renovation and regeneration. For as the child new-born is free from accusations and from penalties, so too the child of regeneration has nothing for which to answer, being released by royal bounty from accountability.”

St Gregory goes on to note that baptism involves both an imitation and a prefiguring of Christ’s life: just as Jesus was concealed in the Earth for three days, the person to be baptised is also immersed three times in water (the element akin to earth). The water depicts the cleansing that we receive through baptism, and is transformed through the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit.

The Saint lays down an ultimate challenge for us to continually prove that our baptism has changed us: “Show me, after the sacramental grace, the change in your ways that should follow it, and make known by the purity of your conversation the difference effected by your transformation for the better. For of those things which are before our eyes nothing is altered: the characteristics of the body remain unchanged, and the mould of the visible nature is no-wise different. But there is certainly need of some manifest proof, by which we may recognize the new-born man, discerning by clear tokens the new from the old.”

May we all rise to this challenge and be grateful for God’s paternal gift – the Sacrament of Baptism.

Source: Lychnos December 2019 – January 2020