Circumcision of Christ
Today, the secular world celebrates the beginning of the new year. For the Church, however, today is not the first day of the year — the Church year begins in September, and the cycle of movable feasts at Pascha — but rather the eighth day after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
In the prophecy we heard last night at Vespers, God chooses Abraham and established his covenant with him and his descendants. The sign of this covenant was to be circumcision, something which had to take place on the eighth day.
This is why the Lord, eight days after his birth as man, accepted to be circumcised in the flesh. He submitted himself, in other words, to the law that he himself had given the Jews, in order to fulfil that law. He takes upon himself the symbol in order to lead us to the reality, he enters the shadow in order to bring us out to the light. Now, circumcision is a symbol, among other things, of our being cleansed from the passions, from the carnal way of life, it is a symbol of our redemption from the ancestral sin and the consequences of the fall of the first-created man.
In other words, circumcision is a symbol of a new way of life, one that comes through our union with Christ, in whom they ‘have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts’ (Gal 5:24), as St Paul says; he also speaks about the circumcision of the heart, which is the true circumcision of the faithful.
And here we see how the feast of the Circumcision coincides with the celebration of the secular new year, because both feasts convey a message of new beginnings. The seventh day, the Sabbath, symbolises the completion of the first creation, of this world, which is now fallen. The eighth day, however, which is the day of the Lord, the day of resurrection, is the first day of the new creation, the day of restoration, rebirth, and eternity.
Let us then receive this message from these two feasts — the religious and the secular — and let us make a firm resolution to renew our relationship with the Lord — the Lord who became man for our sake, in order to free us from our passions, from sin, and from death — and let us renew our efforts in prayer, attendance at the divine services, the study of Scripture, and in acts of love and charity, in order to bring this relationship out of the shadows of the superficial circumcision and into the light, which shines in the depths of the circumcised heart. Amen.
Fr Kristian Akselberg