The First Day of January: The Circumcision of Christ and the Feast Day of St. Basil the Great

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΓΕΝΝΑΤΑΙ, ΔΟΞΑΣΑΤΕ!

THE FIRST DAY OF THE MONTH OF JANUARY: THE CIRCUMCISION OF THE LORD AND THE FEAST OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT

Eight days after His Nativity, our Lord Jesus Christ deigned to be circumcised. He submitted to circumcision, first of all, to fulfill the Law. "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law," said He; "I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (St. Matthew, Ch. 5). He subjected Himself to the Law to free transgressors subject to the Law, as the Apostle teaches: "When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law" (Galatians, Ch. 4). By being circumcised, He demonstrated also that He had truly assumed human flesh, silencing the heretics who taught that His birth was an illusion. Christ's circumcision clearly showed that He had put on our nature, for how can a fleshless being undergo circumcision? Saint Ephraim the Syrian asks, "If Christ was not in the flesh, who was it that Joseph circumcised? Verily, Christ was incarnate, was circumcised as the Son of man, was reddened by His own infant blood; He suffered and cried from pain, in accordance with human nature" (St. Ephraim, Homily on the Transfiguration of the Lord). Furthermore, His physical circumcision foreshadowed our spiritual circumcision. Fulfilling the ancient, external Law, He ushered in the new, spiritual law. The Old Testament commanded that fleshly men be circumcised according to the flesh, but the spiritual man of the New Testament is taught to cut off the passions of the soul: anger, jealousy, pride, unclean desires, and other sinful inclinations. Christ was circumcised on the 8th day to indicate that we are enrolled as inheritors of the future life by being marked with His Blood, for the eighth day is the symbol of eternity, according to the teachers of the Church. In the fourth ode of the canon for the feast, the Venerable Stephen of Saint Savvas' Lavra writes, "The eighth day, whereon the Master was circumcised, is an image of everlasting life of the age to come." And Saint Gregory of Nyssa tells us, "The Law dictated that a child be circumcised on the eighth day, the number eight being symbolic of the future age" (St. Gregory of Nyssa on the Lord's Circumcision)

Circumcision was the Old Testament foretype of Holy Baptism and of the expurgation of Ancestral sin by Christ's blood shed willingly at the Passion. As such, it could not actually wipe out the transgression of our first parents. The ancient rite as an antededent of true purification, but was not the cleansing itself, which our Lord (Who substituted the New Testament Baptism of grace by water and the Spirit for Old Testament circumcision) performed when He took sin "out of the way, nailing it to His Cross" (Col., Ch. 2). Circumcision was a punishment, as it were, for Ancestral sin ("Original sin"), and a reminder that children are conceived in iniquities, as David says in psalm 50[51]. Like the scars of sin on their souls, the scars of circumcision remained on the flesh of infants. Christ, however, was born sinless: like us in every other way, He was a stranger to all iniquity. The brass serpent which Moses fashioned in the wilderness resembled a living snake, but had no venom; similarly, Christ, while possessing our nature, was born supernaturally and without sin of a blameless, unwedded mother. He had no need of enduring the painful wounds of circumcision, being sinless and Himself the Giver of the Law; nonetheless, He underwent the rite like a sinner. In coming to us, He assumed the transgression of the whole world, as the Apostle says, "The Father "made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin" (2 Corinthians Ch. 5). By His circumcision the Master showed even greater humility than by His Nativity, for at the Nativity He "made Himself of no reputation, and was made in the likeness of men" (Phil., Ch. 2), as Saint Paul confesses; but at the circumcision the Blameless One appears as a sinner, enduring pain, the penalty for sin. The Innocent One suffered innocently and could say with David, "Then did I restore that which I took not away" (Psalm 68), that is, "I suffered for sins I did not commit." Circumcision was the beginning of Christ's sufferings on our behalf, a foretaste of the cup from which he drank the bitter dregs on the Cross, when he cried, "It is finished" (St. John, 19). Now blood drips from the extremity of His flesh; later, rivers of blood will flow from every member of His body. It is helpful to gain proficiency at an early age in skills needed for later life, so He begins to suffer in infancy, becomes accustomed to suffer, and as a grown man can endure the cruelest of sufferings. (Source: The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints)

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THE LIFE OF OUR FATHER AMONG THE SAINTS BASIL THE GREAT, ARCHBISHOP OF CAESAREA IN CAPPADOCIA

Saint Basil, preeminent among hierarchs, wisest of saintly teachers, and wondrous favorite of God, was born in Cappadocia toward the end of the great Constantine's reign. His father was also named Basil, and his mother, Emmelia. He learned to read at the age of seven, and progressed so rapidly in his studies that five years later he was already engaged in philosophical inquiry. Eventually, he forsook his homeland and moved to Athens, the fount of Hellenic (Greek) wisdom, where he took lessons with the renowned teacher Evvulus, at the same time visiting the schools of Hymerius and Proeresius. Basil soon equaled, and then surpassed his teachers who were amazed at his diligence and intelligence, and still more at his modesty and purity. In Athens Saint Basil became friends with St. Gregory the Theologian, later Bishop of Nazianzus and for a time Patriarch of Constantinople; with Julian, future Emperor of Greece and Rome, and apostate from God; and with the sophist Libanius. Between St. Basil and St. Gregory a warm and unbreakable bond of love was formed, for both were meek, chaste, and upright. So close did they become, that they seemed to share a single soul.

The wondrous St. Basil devoted much effort to attaining an understanding of divine mysteries, to the point of neglecting to eat while he resolved whatever question was troubling him. Having dedicated himself for fifteen years to mastering Greek learning, the Saint concluded his studies with investigations into astronomy, but no secular knowledge sufficed to quench his thirst for the waters of True Wisdom. One night, while he was meditating on the only wise Creator and True God, a divine ray penetrated his heart, kindling in him a fiery longing to comprehend the Holy Scripture on the most profound level. Leaving Athens and his friend St. Gregory (who had become a teacher of rhetoric), St. Basil went to Egypt. There, in the possession of a certain Archimandrite Porphyrius, he found a large collection of theological writings, which he spent a year perusing. While so doing, he nourished himself solely on vegetables and drank nothing but water. During this time he significantly deepened his understanding of the True faith.

"...In Caesarea Basil became a monk and imitated the manner of life he had observed while visiting the ascetics of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia. He was also ordained Presbyter by Hermogenes, who became Archbishop after Leontius died, and he was appointed instructor of all the monks living in the diocese. When Hermogenes departed this world, the people wished to have the holy Basil as their prelate, remembering how he had been forechosen and considering him worthy of the episcopacy, but the Saint, who disliked being held in high esteem, hid from them. Eusebius, a virtuous but poorly educated man, was consecrated as a Bishop instead. Seeing what respect was accorded the wise and holy Basil, and constantly hearing his praises, Eusebius was overcome by envy toward God's favorite. The Venerable Basil learned this, and not wishing to be the cause of jealousy, retired into the wilderness of Pontus. The affectionate letters he wrote St. Gregory the Theologian convinced his good friend to join him there. They lived an angelic life together, and soon numerous monks had assembled at their retreat. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Saints compiled a rule for cenobites. The blessed Emmelia, St. Basil's mother, who resided in a village across the river Iris, provided their food. She was already a widow and was devoting her remaining years to pleasing God.

The time came when both Saint Basil and Saint Gregory had to leave the wilderness and serve the Church, which was then troubled by heretics. Saint Gregory's father, who was Bishop of Nazianzus (and also named Gregory), was elderly and unable to fend off the wolves vigorously, so he called his son home to assist him. Meanwhile Eusebius, Archbishop of Caesarea, sent a letter to St. Basil, asking the Saint's help in protecting the Church from the heretic Arians and expressing hope for a reconciliation. Seeing the Holy Church in such straits and regarding her well-being as more important than the benefits of life in the wilderness, St. Basil abandoned his seclusion and returned to Caesarea. He labored greatly there, defending Orthodoxy by his preaching and writings. Before long, Archbishop Eusebius surrendered his spirit into God's hands while resting in St. Basil's arms. The great Basil was elevated to the Archiepiscopal Throne and consecrated by numerous Bishops, among whom was Gregory of Nazianzus, father of St. Gregory the Theologian...At that time his mother, the blessed Emmelia, departed to the Lord. She was more than ninety years old. Her children were known for their outstanding virtue, especially Basil and Peter, another son, Gregory of Nyssa, and her eldest daughter, Macrina.

(To be continued: on the life and works of St. Basil the Great))

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Nativity,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George