“Some are reborn through water and the spirit (cf. John 3:5); others receive baptism in the Holy Spirit and in fire(cf. Matt. 3:11). I take these four things – water, spirit, fire, and Holy Spirit – to mean one and the same spirit of God. To some the Holy Spirit is water because He cleanses the external stains of their bodies. To others He is simply spirit because He makes them active in the practice of virtue. To others He is fire because he cleanses the interior defilement which lies deep within their souls. To others, according to Daniel, He is Holy Spirit because he bestows on them wisdom and spiritual knowledge (cf. Dan. 1:17; 5:11-120. for the single identical Spirit takes His different names from the different ways in which he acts on each person.
“The Law instituted the Sabbath, says Scripture, so that your ox and your servant might rest (cf. Exod. 20:10). Both of these are symbols for the body. … The Sabbath signifies the final goal pursued by them throughout the ascetic and the contemplative life, and so it provides for both of them a fitting rest.” ~The Philokalia
The most important part of the first line quoted above is that we are reborn. Many modern churches interpret this as something that happens with physical death when we are reborn as spirits. Others say that simply accepting Christ as our Savior makes us reborn. Neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever taught either of those beliefs. The great mystery schools didn’t teach it either. Yet all believed that we must be reborn. It should be obvious to any thinking person that being reborn cannot be such a simple thing as accepting someone’s philosophy and teachings. It doesn’t matter whether the teacher is Jesus, Buddha, or some Indian Guru. Jesus didn’t say, “Listen to what I say and you will be saved.” He said, “Follow me, do as I do, and you will be saved”. That is quite different from what is being practiced in the majority of Christian churches today.
The early Christians, Buddhists, Mystics, and others understood what was meant by rebirth. It means that the spirit and soul, which lie dormant when we enter the world of matter, must be awakened and made conscious. That makes us very different people. It makes us butterflies instead of caterpillars. Sadly, most of those who today claim to be reborn have not actually done this.
Water, Spirit, Fire, and Holy Spirit
I can agree with the Philokalia when it says that this rebirth through four different things all refers to rebirth through the spirit of God. In the specifics of each, I think they are only partly correct.
While water can represent a spiritual cleansing—which is certainly necessary for most of us—it can mean much more. We think of water as flowing. Water has waves. Energy also flows in waves. So another interpretation of water is as flowing waves of energy. Not just any energy. It is the spiritual energy that flows from God, into the spiritual sun (or Sun of Righteousness), and then into us. It is this energy that awakens and “feeds” the spirit and soul. It is, in that way, a means of being reborn. It is a means of spiritual rebirth.
To the ancients, fire and light meant the same thing. Since they got light from a fire, they used the words interchangeably. So yes, fire can burn the impurities out of us, but it does more. Thinking more in terms of light, it again represents that energy, that spiritual light, that comes to us through the Sun of Righteousness (“Sun,” not “Son”). This spiritual sun shines on all, but only those who turn to it and attune themselves to it receive and significant benefit. The Old Testament prophet Malachi did promise, however, that it would burn all the evil out of the world. That doesn’t mean people, animals, etc. will burst into flames. It means that we will all transform into spiritual beings. We must all go through a spiritual rebirth. Those who make the effort to transform early will be the leaders in that coming Golden Age of spirit.
Likewise, spiritual rebirth by spirit or the Holy Spirit means the same thing. That light, fire, flowing Water of Life that comes from the spiritual sun.
Law of the Sabbath
I have to admit that I never thought of the references to animals with regard to the Sabbath was really a reference to the human physical, or animal, body. Yet it makes perfect sense to see it that way. Of course, work animals need to be allowed to rest. But I think that is more of a daily thing rather than a weekly one.
When it comes to man, however, I see it differently. It isn’t so much that the physical body needs a day of rest once a week, although that might be a good thing also. I think what was really meant by those who started the idea of a Sabbath is a day of mental rest. Or more accurately, periods of mental rest. It could be a day or an hour. It might be just a few minutes. So in an allegorical way, the idea of a Sabbath is to remind us that we need to devote time to spiritual matters as well as physical and mental ones. It also is hinting at the need during spiritual practices to clear the mind as much as possible and let the true knowledge found in the spiritual light educate us. As the Zen masters say, you must empty your cup before it can be refilled with something else. The one who successfully empties his cup can experience that spiritual rebirth.