Sunday, January 1, 2012

Circumcision of our Lord, the circumcision of our hearts and resolutions for a new year

On January 1, the Holy Orthodox Church not only commemorates our Father among the saints, Basil the Great but also the Circumcision of our Lord. Though not one of the seven great feasts of the Lord, its importance cannot be emphasized enough as these days from Nativity to Circumcision through Theophany rightly emphasize that it is God become flesh, flesh that He would take with Him to His Cross on Great and Holy Friday and flesh that would rise again after death and be deified with Christ's Ascension to His Father and our Father. That flesh assumed from the Holy Virgin would be washed and ceremonially cut.

At the Great Vespers of the Feast, we read three Old Testament readings, the first from Genesis saying thus:

God said unto Abraham: Thou shalt keep My covenant, thou and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. And this is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. Every male among you shall be circumcised, ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a token of a covenant between Me and you. And the child that is eight days old shall be circumcised by you, every male throughout your generations. And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin on the eighth day, that soul shall be cut from his generations, since he hath set at naught My covenant.

At the Gospel of the Liturgy of Circumcision, we read from that of St. Luke, which is one of the shortest pericopes for the feasts of our Lord:

And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

So, Jesus' parents fulfilled the law as commanded them, even though it was very clear since the revelations of Gabriel to both Mary and to Joseph that the child that they would raise would not be any ordinary child, but the Saviour and the Messiah, even if they couldn't comprehend then as it would be revealed after His Resurrection from the dead. Still, they did as commanded by God for the sake of the covenant.

Despite Jesus' keeping of the Law, St. Paul says that the circumcision that Christians endure is not one of flesh, but one of the spirit. In his letter to the Colossians, which is the Epistle for the day, St. Paul spiritualizes our Lords's circumcision, that we still are circumcised but through the mystery of baptism. He writes:

In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

On great feasts of the Lord, at the Trisagion hymn, we sing St. Paul's words "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." Our baptism is the start of our communion with God and is maintained through our participation in the other mysteries such as confession and, of course, the Eucharist. We did not sing that hymn today (a Liturgical oddity, but that's a post for a different time). Still, we have put on Christ in baptism and that baptism initiates us into everything Christ did, from His birth to His Death and Resurrection to His Ascension and to His second, glorious coming. We should also put on his circumcision.

But it should not be a circumcision of the flesh (though many of us here in the US have undergone that. Did you know that only Israel and the United States are the only two countries which mandate circumcision for newborn males? Sorry, I digress...); it should be a circumcision of the heart. As originally the Law was written on tablets of stone, so the new covenant is written on our hearts. As the original circumcision was on the foreskin, now we are called to circumcise the hardness of our own hearts.

In many ways, this feast falls perfectly on the beginning of the civil new year when many of us are planning resolutions for what we want to do differently for 2012. The circumcision of our own hearts should be right up there along with losing weight, paying off debts, reading more, etc. Circumcising the heart can be done in many ways, but it should always be accompanied by prayer. With that in mind, let me offer you how I plan to circumcise the hardness of my heart in the coming year. These are in no particular order.
1) Read the appointed readings of each day in the original Greek and in the Latin translation according to St. Jerome. Not only do I get to read the words which bear witness to the Fountain of Life, but keep my Greek and Latin in some good practice.
2) Every morning, with or after the morning prayers, read the Hexapsalmi. These six psalms are read at every Orthros, and, according to our tradition, these same psalms will be read by our Guardian Angel before the Dread Judgment Seat of Christ. They are psalms of the penitent who knows his sin yet places his hope in God. The psalms are 3, 38 (37), 62 (61), 88 (89), 102 (103) and 142 (143).
3) Small compline every night. It's 15 minutes and it shouldn't be that much of a burden before going to bed.
4) Confession once a month. It's not a requirement, but I think just a good thing to do.
5) Log in less to the discussion boards. Hardening your heart is so easy every time you need to log in and say someone is wrong.

There it is, my planned circumcision(s) for 2012. Like other circumcisions, I mean, resolutions, I'm sure that my consistency will be sorely lacking, but I am thankful that our salvation is never dependent strict adherence to our works.


  1. Thank you for the enlightening post. Orthodoxy is so wonderfully Whole and Life-Creating! Many years to you and yours in 2012!

  2. Thank you. And to you and yours as well.

    Update 1: Still doing pretty well with the daily readings. However, the Hexapsalmi is giving me some problems. It's just trying to find time during the day to do them!