St Gregory the Theologian: Have You Risen Up with the Spirit?

Feast of St Trypho the Martyr and St Perpetua & Her Companions

Gregory_Theologian_Square_2.jpgTHE WORD of Scripture recognizes three births for us: one from the body, one from baptism, and one from resurrection. The first takes place at night and in slavery and in passions. The second takes place in the day and in freedom and releases from passions, cutting away all the veil that has surrounded us since birth and leading us back toward the life on high. The third is more fearful and more swift, assembling in a moment all that has been created and presenting it to the Creator to give an account of its servitude and way of life here, as to whether one has followed only the flesh, or risen up with the Spirit and respected the grace of the re-creation. It is manifest that my Christ has honored in Himself all these births, the first by breathing in the first and living breath, the second by His incarnation and the baptism with which He was baptized, the third by the resurrection that He offered as firstfruits when He became firstborn among many brothers and thus deigned to become firstborn from the dead.

About two of the births, I mean the first and the last, I will not reflect at the present time; about the middle one indeed we must now reflect, since it gives its name to the Day of Lights. This illumination is radiance of souls, transformation of life, engagement of the conscience toward God. Illumination is help for our weakness, illumination is renunciation of the flesh, following of the Spirit, communion in the Word, setting right of the creature, a flood overwhelming sin, participation in light, dissolution of darkness. Illumination is a vehicle leading toward God, departure with Christ, support of faith, perfection of mind, key to the kingdom of heaven, change of life, deliverance from slavery, release from bonds, transformation of our composite nature. Illumination—what more need I add?—is the most beautiful and most magnificent of the gifts of God. As one speaks of the Holy of Holies and the Song of Songs, since they are more comprehensive and most excellent than others, so also this is more holy than all other illuminations that we possess.

Just as Christ, its giver, is called by many and diverse names, so also is His gift. Either because of the great joy we experience in regard to it—for those who are very much in love with something also take pleasure in uniting themselves with its names—or because of its many forms of benefit, we have made for it many names as well. We call it gift, grace, baptism, illumination, anointing, robe of incorruption, bath of rebirth, seal, everything honorable. It is a gift because no offering is given for it beforehand; and grace, as given even to debtors; and baptism, as burying sin in the water; and anointing, as priestly and royal, since they were the ones anointed; and illumination, as most radiant; and robe, as entirely covering shame; and bath, as washing clean; and seal, as a safeguard and a sign of authority. In this the heavens rejoice together, this the angels glorify because it is akin to their great radiance. This is an image of the blessedness to come. We desire to sing forth its praises, but we are not able to do so worthily.

—St Gregory the Theologian, Oration 40 On Baptism

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