Circumcision of our Lord and The Feast of St. Basil the Great

Circumcision of our LordJanuary 1

Liturgy touches two subjects:

1. The circumcision of Jesus
2. The anniversary of the death of St. Basil the Great

The Circumcision of Jesus

The Circumcision is the principal feast of the day. Eight days after His birth, the Child was circumcised according to the Mosaic Law and was given the name assigned to Him by an angel before He was conceived – Jesus. In Gospel for today, we read the history of the feast: “And when eight days were fulfilled for his circumcision, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the Angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Lk. 2:21).

Christ could have accomplished our redemption by a simple word, but He desired to carry our His saving mission through a series of actions which were finally crowned with His death and resurrection. All these various acts between His birth and resurrection were performed for our sake, to help us understand the nature and meaning our redemption. One of these acts, was His circumcision. Circumcision had a sacramental character in the Old Testament and was the first legal observance required by God of the descendants of Abraham. It was, in fact, a sacrament of initiation into the service if God. The law of circumcision remained in force until the death of Christ; and our Lord being born under this law, submitted Himself to it.

The liturgy sees, in the act of circumcision, Christ giving us an example of obedience to the law, teaching us humility and revealing His infinite mercy. “The all – good God did not disdain to be circumcised by the circumcision of flesh; but offered Himself as a sign and example of salvation to all, for the Maker of the Law fulfills the precepts of the Law and the preaching of the prophets concerning Him” (stichera of vespers).

The feast dates back to the early centuries and the Fathers of the fourth century, especially St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Ambrose, have many references to it in their families.

St. Basil the GreatSt. Basil the Great

On the same day, we also celebrate the feast of St. Basil the Great. St. Basil is one of the most distinguished Doctors of the Church. Born about 330 A.D. he was the oldest of five sons. Three of his brothers became bishops, one of whom was St. Gregory of Nyssa who, together with St. Basil himself and his very close friend, St. Gregoryy of Nazianus, make up the trio known as “The Three Cappadocians.”

St. Basil became bishop of Caesarea and was a heroic champion of the Catholic faith against the Arian heresy. He was a great theologian, a powerful preacher, and a tireless writer of doctrinal works and numerous letters and homilies. His letters tell the story of his active and varied life. The founder of Eastern monasticism, he edited that form of the Divine Liturgy which bears his name. By common consent, he ranks among the greatest figures of Church history, yet he died January 1, 279, when scarcely 49 years old.

When Modestus, the prefect of Cappadocia, sent by Emperor Valens to introduce Arianism as the state religion, found himself unsuccessful in his attempt he wrote to Valens: “Emperor, we are bested by this leader of the Church, Basil. His is too strong for threats, too firm for words, too clever for persuasion.”

As early as the fourth century, Anatolius of Constantinople and, centuries later, St. John Damascene and St. Germanus wrote many hymns and troparions with which the Church still glorifies St. Basil. St. John Damascene glorifies St. Basil in the stichera of matins: “O Father Basil, you followed in the life bearing steps, the steps of Christ, the faithful Head of Shepherds, for you went forth to offer yourself for the church, O Most blessed.” In other sticheras, St. Damascene speaks of him as one “who became worthy of the throne of the apostles.” “chief of priests,” and the “shining star of Caesarea.”

On this day, as is only fitting, the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is celebrated.

Although the feasts of the Circumcision and St. Basil fall on the secular New Year’s Day, the liturgy takes no notice of it. But we, as good Christians, should at least privately pay God the homage of willing allegiance at the threshold of the civil year. He is the Lord of time. May we use the precious days of the new year in full accord with the purposes of Divine Providence, making each of them a stepping stone to eternity.

–Basil Shereghy

Next Feast Days

December 27 Feast of St. Stephen, the Protomartyr
 January 1 Circumcision of our Lord and The Feast of St. Basil the Great
 January 6 Epiphany (the Baptism of our Lord) … ( Theophany)
 January 30 Feasts of the Three Holy Hierarchs