Dying and rising again with Christ
The great French Thinker and Theologian, Olivier Clément († 2009), once said that Christianity is not a religion like other religions, it is indeed no religion at all – if we understand by religion a collection of rules or regulations – but it is rather a „crisis” of all religions. According to Clément, Christianity is life itself, the new life in Christ. This new life, which Jesus Christ made possible for us, goes beyond every rule and every limitation, because it means having freedom through the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, we can only reach this new life, understood as freedom through the Holy Spirit, if we die to how we have been before.
„Truly, I tell all of you emphatically, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces a lot of grain.” (John 12,24). Through our baptism we died with Christ and rose with him; we buried the old being in us and clothed us with the new nature, which was created according to Christ’s image. We died because of the Law of sin so that we can serve the Law of God (see Romans 7,25). But dying and rising again with Christ is not just a moment, which we live during our baptism, it is a process, which lasts our whole life. Actually, Christian life is a constant renewal of our baptism, this means of dying and rising again with Christ.
Olivier Clément also said that our life consists again and again of partial dying and rising until death and final resurrection. We die a little bit every day, when we make negative experiences, where we realize that our life diminishes; and time and again we experience resurrection when we ask for God’s help. All negative experiences in the life of every human being - as in the whole world - are directly or indirectly related to sin, who brings death, because „for the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6,23).
However, a believer perceives in all experiences in life, the positive and the negative ones, the work of God’s grace, which leads man to redemption in a mysterious way – because “God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to know the truth fully” (1 Timothy 2,4) – and he learns to keep away from sin and to do good. He tries every day „to die to sin” and „to live righteously” (1 Peter 2,24). But to die to sin meaning to abandon egoism and exaggerated self-love, which passionately bind us to this world, is not easy at all. This fight with sin must be fought very seriously. The book of Hebrews (12,4) says: „In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
Christ warns us: „The one who loves his life will destroy it, and the one who hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” (John 12,25). He talks about the passionate love for one’s own life, clinging to belongings and pleasures, which close our horizon to eternity. Christ calls upon us to serve Him und to follow Him: „If anyone serves me, he must follow me. And where I am, there my servant will also be.” (John 12, 26). The Apostles were the first, who followed Christ and served Him; then all Christians at all times. To serve Christ means in concrete terms, to take part in His Life and His Mission, which culminated in His death and resurrection for the salvation and redemption of the world. To serve Christ means to be one with Him in his infinite love to the world; and to be ready at any time to give one’s own life for the other. We can also understand this from the Word of the Lord: „That’s the way it is with the Son of Man. He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many people.” (Matthew 20,28). From the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 25 we know that the criterion in the final judgment will be the service for our neighbor with whom Christ identifies himself.
But we cannot take part in the life of Christ and His Mission, when we do not die by and by to sin and to ourselves, when we do not overcome our egoism and do not cling to the temptations, belongings and things. Therefore, the Orthodox world places a special emphasis on asceticism. Asceticism means excersing self-restraint and fighting with oneself to overcome the passionate desires, which impede the work of grace hidden in our hearts and poured out since our baptism.
First of all, there is an asceticism of prayer. It is not always easy to pray. On the contrary! Prayer might annoy you; it can remain superficial and poor. Therefore, many Christians do not pray at all. To experience the joy of prayer, we must try in a serious and interior way to pray with the necessary attention so that the mind, which is energy of the heart, collects our thoughts and “descends to the heart” or “unites with the heart”. Only by doing that we can rejoice in the peace of the soul and the peace in our heart.
Besides that, there is asceticism of fasting and of self-restraint in drinking and eating, which requires us to live a moderate life so that we are able to pray more deeply and inwardly and can reach self-control. This means to be free from the things, temptations and belongings of this world.
There is asceticism of patience in experiences of suffering. The Savior prepares us for that with the words: „In the world you’ll have trouble, but be courageous—I’ve overcome the world!” (John 16,33). The experiences of suffering and the hardships of daily life are for us, even when they are not a punishment of God, an opportunity to stay firm in faith, courage and patience. For the believer, experiences of suffering prove to be great blessings of God in retrospect. When they are endured with faith and in patience, they make our life holy more than anything else, because through them we become aware of our own ontological inability and the necessity of God’s help.
Through asceticism of prayer, moderation and patience in suffering, and always being sustained by the grace received in baptism, the “old character” in us will die and “the new person” will put himself in the service of the neighbor to resemble Christ.