Gregory_of_NyssaThose who love Christ should not be troubled at our taking the transfor­mation of the staff into a serpent as a reference to the incar­nation.

The serpent may seem an incongruous symbol for this mystery and yet it is an image Truth himself does not repudiate, since he says in the Gospel:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. And the meaning is clear.

Holy Scripture calls the father of sin a serpent, so what is born of him must be a serpent too; sin must have the same name as its father.

Now since the Apostle asserts that the Lord was made sin for our sake by clothing himself in our sinful nature, it cannot be inappropriate to apply this symbol to him.

If sin is a serpent and the Lord became sin, it must be obvious to all that in becoming sin he became a serpent, which is simply another name for sin.

He became a serpent for our sake, so that he could consume and destroy the serpents of Egypt brought to life by the sorcerers.

Once he had done this he was changed into a staff again, and by this staff sinners are chastised and those who are climbing the difficult ascent of virtue are supported.

With good hope they lean upon the staff of faith, since faith is the assurance of things hoped for.

Those who attain an understanding of these mysteries become gods in comparison with people who resist the truth, who are seduced by the deceitfulness of the material and contingent, and disdain as useless listening to Him Who Is.

They value nothing but material benefits satisfying to their irrational instincts.

On the other hand, those who receive strength from the Light and great power and authority over their enemies are like well-­trained athletes, stripping to confront their opponents with courage and confidence.

They hold in their hands the staff which is the teaching of faith, and by that staff they will conquer the serpents of Egypt.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): The Life of Moses, 2.31-36 (SC 1bis:40-41); from the Monastic Office of Vigils for Tuesday of the First Week in Lent, Year 2

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