“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has given us a new birth into a living hope” (I Peter 1:3)
Imagine what a transformation in understanding St. Peter and the other apostles had felt when they would begin their daily prayers as Christians. From childhood they had begun: “Blessed art Thou, O God.” The essence of Judaism is belief in a God so remote that one rarely addressed Him other than as “Lord.” Then they learned from the Lord Himself, Jesus Christ, the same God is not only distant and unknown. He is quite near. He is like Jesus. Indeed, as He told Philip:
“Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father…I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” (John 14:10).
How much this speaks to our souls. This miracle is too much for our feeble minds to fathom. Other religions consider it the height of impertinence to attempt to bring divinity down to earth. It’s enough to believe and obey. And so do we; however, we realize several important spiritual facts about our God. We know that while He is One, He transcends the limits of oneness. He is Three Gods in One God. We know also that He is Person. This helps us to approach Him in our prayers. We are not praying to some impersonal Being, a mechanical, insensitive, uncomprehending and incompre-hensible deity remote from all existence. And if He didn’t understand what it’s like to be human, to grasp the vagaries of creature-like existence before the coming of Christ, now He knows.
Knows? Moreâ€”He loves us with a tenderness that we mere mortals cannot match. Our parenthood is mixed up with human passions, beginning from the conception of our children and continuing throughout our lives and theirs. The Father loves us to perfection. His love is not confused with ambition for us. We parents frequently attempt to live our lives again in our children, righting what we perceived as failures in our youth. Not so with God. He not only wants what’s best for us, He knows better than we just what that isâ€”eternal life with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven. But He never imposes His will on us; rather, God the Holy Spirit abides in our souls and prays for our transformation into divine likeness.
That gift of everlasting life is not natural. It requires so great a change that nothing less than a rebirth is in order. The New Testament is replete with the theme and possibility of our being born again. To be a Christian is to be one who is reborn into a new life that affects everything we do, think or attempt. Christianity is a radical faith. It calls on a person to go to the root of his or her being and make a complete break with all that is opposed to a life committed to serving, following and loving Jesus Christ.
The rebirth happens not because we make it happen. As you hear at the close of every Divine Liturgy, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (James 1:18). It is the will of God that we are given birth by the Word of truth in order that we become the first fruits of all humanity. On the tree of life we Christians are the first to blossom in the springtime that has no autumn.
Not just the Father and Son, but the Holy Spirit brings about the rebirth so essential to our victory over death and life everlasting. Recall the famous story of Nicodemus: a leading member of the Jewish community came to Jesus at night asking for clarification about Christ’s teaching on the Kingdom of God. The transformation, he was told takes place by a rebirth in the Holy Spirit.