Buried With Christ in Baptism – St. Basil

This Holy week reading on imitating Christ’s death by being buried with him through baptism amplifies St. Paul’s words in Romans 6:11 that in the sacrament of baptism we are baptized into Christ’s death, being buried as it were with him under the saving waters and being reborn as sons and daughters of God.  This post is especially important for those involved in RCIA.

 

When mankind was estranged from him by disobedience, God our Savior made a plan for raising us from our fall and restoring us to friendship with himself. According to this plan Christ came in the flesh, he showed us the gospel way of life, he suffered, died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead. He did this so that we could be saved by imitation of him, and recover our original status as sons of God by adoption.

To attain holiness, then, we must not only pattern our lives on Christ’s by being gentle, humble and patient, we must also imitate him in his death. Taking Christ for his model, Paul said that he wanted to become like him in his death in the hope that he too would be raised from death to life.

We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism. If we ask what this kind of burial means 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 a man is born again. In other words, we have to begin a new life, and we cannot do so until our previous life has been brought to an end. When runners reach the turning point on a racecourse, they have to pause briefly before they can go back in the opposite direction. So also when we wish to reverse the direction of our lives there must be a pause, or a death, to mark the end of one life and the beginning of another.

buried with Jesus Christ in baptism imitating his death

 

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 that 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 this saving baptism only once because there was only one death and one resurrection for the salvation of the world, and baptism is its symbol.

This reading on being buried with Christ through baptism is taken from St. Basil the Great’s seminal work, On the Holy Spirit (Cap 15, 35: PG 32, 127-130).  It  appears, along with Hebrews 12:1-13, in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for Tuesday in Holy Week, and is a fitting reflection for RCIA catechumens and sponsors upon the baptisms that will take place later in the week at the Easter Vigil.

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Basil the Great, St.

Born around 330AD, St. Basil the Great received the best education in pagan and Christian culture available in his day, studying in his native Cappadocia, Constantinople, and Athens. Yet St. Basil’s life changed course decidedly when he forsook a worldly career to embrace the monastic life. He lived a life of prayer and tranquility, far from the turbulence of city life until his bishop, Eusebius, called upon St. Basil in 364 to help defend orthodox Christianity against the Arian emperor, Valens. In 370 Basil was chosen to succeed Eusebius as bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Here he found himself in the thick of the fray between those Orthodox, Catholic Christians who confessed Christ’s full divinity, and the various Arian parties who taught that Jesus was not equal to God the Father. He soon was also engaged in battling those called “Pneumatomachi” (“fighters against the spirit”) who denied the full divinity of the Holy Spirit. Yet he also is famous for his care for the poor, and build a series of hostels and hospitals around Caesarea to relieve their suffering.

 

St. Basil the Great was one of the most influential of the Greek Fathers of the Church during the “Golden Age of the Fathers” (the 4th and 5th Centuries). St. Basil, his brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and his best friend, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, are known as “the Cappadocian Fathers” after the region of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) from which they came. His rule for monks set the tone for religious life in the East and his book On the Holy Spirit laid the groundwork for the clarification of the Spirit’s full divinity that was defined by the first Council of Constantinople in 380AD. Together with his friend, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, St. Basil compiled the “Philocalia,” a selection from the works of Origen which grew to be a spiritual classic of Eastern Christianity. His three “Books Against Eunomius” are also important for their doctrine on Christ’s full divinity. His Monastic Rule forms to this day the basis of virtually all religious life in the Eastern Churches and the liturgy named after him is one of the principal liturgies of the Byzantine tradition. St. Basil the Great died in 379 AD, the year before the First Council of Constantinople finished the Creed we now recite each Sunday.