The water of salvation

Daily Reading for March 18 • Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, 386

You were conducted by the hand to the holy pool of sacred baptism, just as Christ was conveyed from the cross to the sepulcher close at hand. You submerged yourself three times in the water and emerged; by this symbolic action you were secretly re-enacting the burial of Christ three days in the tomb. Just as our Saviour spent three days and nights in the womb of the earth, so you upon first emerging were representing Christ’s first day in the earth, and by your immersion his first night. For at night one can no longer see but during the day one has light; so you saw nothing when immersed as if it were night, but you emerged as if to the light of day. In one and the same action you died and were born: the water of salvation became both tomb and mother for you.

What Solomon said in another context is apposite to you: “There is a time to be born, and a time to die,” but the opposite is true in your case—there is a time to die and a time to be born. A single moment achieves both ends, and your begetting was simultaneous with your death.

What a strange and astonishing situation! We did not really die, we were not really buried, we did not really hang from a cross and rise again. Our imitation was symbolic, but our salvation is real.

From the baptismal instructions of Cyril of Jerusalem, quoted in Seeking Life: The Baptismal Invitation of the Rule of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2009).

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