But the descent into the water, and the triune immersion of the person in it, involves another mystery. For since the method of our salvation was made effectual not so much by His precepts in the way of teaching as by the deeds of Him Who has realized an actual fellowship with man, and has effected life as a living fact, so that by means of the flesh which He has assumed, and at the same time deified, everything kindred and related may be saved along with it, it was necessary that some means should be devised by which there might be, in the baptismal process, a kind of affinity and likeness between him who follows and Him Who leads the way. … What, then, have we beheld in the case of the Captain of our salvation? A three days’ state of death and then life again. Now some sort of resemblance in us to such things has to be planned. What, then, is the plan by which in us too a resemblance to that which took place in Him is completed? Everything that is affected by death has its proper and natural place, and that is the earth in which it is laid and hidden. Now earth and water have much mutual affinity. Alone of the elements they have weight and gravitate downwards; they mutually abide in each other; they are mutually confined. Seeing, then, the death of the Author of our life subjected Him to burial in earth and was in accord with our common nature, the imitation which we enact of that death is expressed in the neighbouring element. And as He, that Man from above, having taken deadness on Himself, after His being deposited in the earth, returned back to life the third day, so every one who is knitted to Him by virtue of his bodily form, looking forward to the same successful issue, I mean this arriving at life by having, instead of earth, water poured on him, and so submitting to that element, has represented for him in the three movements the three-days-delayed grace of the resurrection.
Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, 35
For Gregory of Nyssa the entire spiritual life is a mystery of death and resurrection. In this respect it is the realisation of the mystery of baptism, which, according to Saint Paul’s doctrine, enables us to die with Christ in order to be resurrected with Him. … Dying to sin and resurrected with Christ, the soul realises concretely the mystery of dying to its sinful tendencies and the bringing to life of the divine energies given to it in baptism.
Jean Daniélou, Platonisme et Théologie Mystique. Doctrine Spirituelle de Saint Grégoire de Nysse (Aubier, 1944) 17
I seem to keep coming back to Gregory of Nyssa, even if I also feel frustrated that I never get down to reading him as systematically as I want to! He somehow seems to go so directly to the heart of the matter. And I suppose that I’m also connecting with his thought on baptism, on death and resurrection, not only because it is Easter time (my apologies to any Orthodox readers, but I suppose that this is not entirely unrelated to Holy Week either) but also because I’m becoming fairly conscious of my own profession in a few weeks’ time. The imagery of monastic profession is fundamentally rooted in the life of baptism, in dying and rising in Christ, not simply as a static once-off event, but as a process of continual and ongoing transformation.