Water and the Spirit

30 March OS 2018: Thursday of Renewal Week (Bright Thursday); S. John of the Ladder

Christ is Risen!

In today’s Gospel, the Lord tells Nicodemus that he must be born again:

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3: 1-15

The Lord’s requirement that we be born of water and the Spirit obviously refers to baptism and chrismation: In Holy Baptism we die and are resurrected with Christ, and in Holy Chrismation we receive the Holy Spirit. These two actions mark the two steps needed to enter the Kingdom of God: Redemption and Sanctification. By faith and baptism, the fruits of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross are imputed to us: we are, as St. Paul says, bought “with a price” – the Precious Blood of Our Lord – and therefore we belong to Christ. Our former master, the devil, no longer has power over us. Christ has freed us from the devil, sin, death, and hell. Baptism is our personal Pascha. By chrismation, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit to keep white our baptismal garment by fighting sin, acquiring the virtues, and growing in holiness. This is our personal Pentecost.

There are those who think that they only need be redeemed, and that the struggle for sanctification is not necessary. They are “saved” no matter what. There are those who want to deny or minimize the meaning of the Ancestral Sin, avoid all references to man’s fallen nature and just talk about “spirituality.” They are “holy” without having acquired the most elementary knowledge of man’s actual condition and the absolute, non-negotiable need for a Redeemer. The first want to live on the foundation without building the house. The waves and winds of life – earthly trials and demonic temptations – will knock them off their foundation easily and drown them. The second want to build a castle on the sand, and great will be the fall of their house.

Outside the Orthodox world, we can easily identify the two groups above as being the “Born-Agains” who believe that once they believe in Christ, they can never lose their salvation no matter what, and the second group are the New Agers, guru groupies, and people like that. But we have our own version of both types in the Orthodox fold: The first group are the nominal Orthodox who think that they do not have to grow in holiness, do not have to struggle (“that’s just for monks…”), and wear their Orthodoxy like a name-tag. They expect God to give them a “Get Out of Jail Free card” just for being baptized. The second group are those who want to revel in miracles, visions, and “elders,” and imagine that they are swimming in an atmosphere of otherworldly holiness without the struggle to fight for the True Faith against heresy and apostasy, to repent of the most obvious sins, and to overcome the most elementary passions. Great will be the fall of their house.

As we rejoice in the Resurrection, let us entreat the Lord humbly, through the prayers of Righteous Nicodemus, daily to give us ever more concrete knowledge of the fallenness of our human nature, so that we can confess our Redeemer with ever greater gratitude and absolute conviction. This will in turn spur us on to grow in holiness, so that we will not lose so great a salvation.

The Lord said: Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. Matthew 7: 21-27

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