The first born of the new creation
From a sermon by Saint Gregory of Nyssa
The reign of life has begun, the tyranny of death is ended. A new birth has taken place, a new life has come, a new order of existence has appeared, our very nature has been transformed! This birth is not brought about by human generation, by the will of man, or by the desire of the flesh, but by God.
If you wonder how, I will explain in clear language. Faith is the womb that conceives this new life, baptism the rebirth by which it is brought forth into the light of day. The Church is its nurse; her teachings are its milk, the bread from heaven is its food. It is brought to maturity by the practice of virtue; it is wedded to wisdom; it gives birth to hope. Its home is the kingdom; its rich inheritance the joys of paradise; its end, not death, but the blessed and everlasting life prepared for those who are worthy.
This is the day the Lord has made – a day far different from those made when the world was first created and which are measured by the passage of time. This is the beginning of a new creation. On this day, as the prophet says, God makes a new heaven and a new earth. What is this new heaven? you may ask. It is the firmament of our faith in Christ. What is the new earth? A good heart, a heart like the earth, which drinks up the rain that falls on it and yields a rich harvest.
In this new creation, purity of life is the sun, the virtues are the stars, transparent goodness is the air, and the depths of the riches of wisdom and knowledge, the sea. Sound doctrine, the divine teachings are the grass and plants that feed God’s flock, the people whom he shepherds; the keeping of the commandments is the fruit borne by the trees.
On this day is created the true man, the man made in the image and likeness of God. For this day the Lord has made is the beginning of this new world. Of this day the prophet says that it is not like other days, nor is this night like other nights. But still we have not spoken of the greatest gift it has brought us. This day destroyed the pangs of death and brought to birth the firstborn of the dead.
I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God. O what wonderful good news! He who for our sake became like us in order to make us his brothers, now presents to his true Father his own humanity in order to draw all his kindred up after him.
From a treatise on John by Saint Augustine
The new commandment
A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.This commandment that he is giving them is a new one, the Lord Jesus tells his disciples. Yet was it not contained in the Old Law, where it is written: You shall love your neighbor as yourself? Why does the Lord call it new when it is clearly so old? Or is the commandment new because it divests us of our former selves and clothes us with the new man? Love does indeed renew the man who hears, or rather obeys its command; but only that love which Jesus distinguished from a natural love by the qualification: As I have loved you.
This is the kind of love that renews us. When we love as he loved us we become new men, heirs of the new covenant and singers of the new song. My brothers, this was the love that even in bygone days renewed the holy men, the patriarchs and prophets of old. In later times it renewed the blessed apostles, and now it is the turn of the Gentiles. From the entire human race throughout the world this love gathers together into one body a new people, to be the bride of God’s only Son. She is the bride of whom it is asked in the Song of Songs: Who is this who comes clothed in white?White indeed are her garments, for she has been made new; and the source of her renewal is none other than this new commandment.
And so all her members make each other’s welfare their common care. When one member suffers, all the members suffer with him, and if one member is glorified all the rest rejoice. They hear and obey the Lord’s words: A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; not as men love one another for their own selfish ends, nor merely on account of their common humanity, but because they are all gods and sons of the Most High. They love one another as God loves them so that they may be brothers of his only Son. He will lead them to the goal that alone will satisfy them, where all their desires will be fulfilled. For when God is all in all, there will be nothing left to desire.
This love is the gift of the Lord who said: As I have loved you, you also must love one another. His object in loving us, then, was to enable us to love each other. By loving us himself, our mighty head has linked us all together as members of his own body, bound to one another by the tender bond of love.