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January 1, 2023

Sermon – The Circumcision of Christ and the Feast of St. Basil the Great


The Sunday before the Feast of Holy Theophany

By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig

January 1, 2023


    Today, the 8th day of Christmas, is the commemoration of the Circumcision of Christ, which according to the Tradition of our Lord’s Day, was kept in accordance with Jewish Law. It is also the Feast of St. Basil the Great who is among our Church Fathers that helped to provide us with a Biblical understanding of our Faith. He together with St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian (commemorated together at the end of January) are called the “stars of Orthodoxy” because of their contribution in articulating Orthodox teaching on the Holy Trinity.

     Saturday, December 31st is the “Leave-taking” of the Feast of the Holy Nativity. It is the conclusion of the cycle of the Great feast. All during this period from Christmas to Theophany, the church prescribes that there be no fasting [December 25 to January 4 (inclusive)], however, on Thursday, January 5th, we observe a fast on the Eve of the Feast (Paramon/Pre-Feast) and serve the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. On Friday, January 6th. Theophania [“God revealed”] (Epiphany Epiphania “manifestation”) is the Great Feast of the Church second only to Holy Pascha. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated followed by the Great Blessing of the Waters.

    Each New Year the world searches for an experience of renewal in the hand of a clock and as has become the custom in our country the dropping of a crystal ball in the commercial center of our nation. For the Christian it is a time to understand and to recommitment ourselves to Christ and to revisit what it means to be baptized. In doing so, we can become reawakened to the knowledge of Christ’s love and His total sacrifice for the sins of the world. 

    In the former Feast of Christ’s birth, and especially with the commemoration of his circumcision today, the lesson is clear: our God was incarnate and became Man – just as we proclaim in the Creed. This event occurred in “the fullness of time” – the vocal point of history, such that everything is spoken of in terms of what took place before his birth and after his birth. Moreover, advent is emphasized in Church teaching: “not an aberration” but an actual event in history. This is also why the name of Pontius Pilate occurs in our Creed. The church made clear that the birth of the divine Son of God did in fact take place in history.

   In today’s Synaxarion we hear: The circumcision of our Lord shows that He received upon Himself the true body of man and not just seemly, as was later taught of Him by heretics. Our Lord was also circumcised because He wanted to fulfill the entire Law which He Himself gave through the prophets and forefathers.

   “The Old Testament circumcision was the prototype of the New Testament baptism.” For we hear St. Paul say (to the Galatians 6:15): “For neither does circumcision or uncircumcision mean anything, but only a new creation.” This was confirmed by the decision of the first formal letter of the Holy Apostles in Jerusalem in response to the Church of Antioch concerning the question of circumcision (Acts 15).

    Then in St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, heard in today’s epistle reading, we hear the clearest teaching on the subject: (2:8ff) “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have this fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In Him you were also circumcised, in putting off your sinful nature, not with a circumcision done with the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ. In baptism you were buried with Him and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead…” 

    Today’s Gospel reading (prescribed for the day) we hear about the Christ child at the age of 12, teaching in the Jerusalem Temple, but remained “obedient to them” increasing “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

    After about thirty years of a hidden life in Nazareth, Jesus is revealed to the world and begins His public ministry, beginning with His baptism by John in the River Jordan. {And this is precisely the historical context of the coming Feast of Theophany (Western)}. There are two purposes for the blessing of the Grace of God upon us on this Feast: First, we hear in one of the hymns of the Feast: Let us, the faithful, prepare… for the coming Feast of the Baptism of our God. Behold He has put on our flesh… and asks for the baptism of salvation so that He might regenerate all those who, in purity, have been illumined by faith, all those who share in His Spirit.

    Second, and in another hymn, we hear, In truth Christ our God comes to be baptized in the Jordan, and through His coming takes upon Himself the cleaning of our sins. This hymn is based upon the New Testament verse which reads: God made Him who had no sin to be sin (or a sin offering) for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (II Corinthians 5:21).

    And so the Feast is a celebration of a double grace: on the one hand, God’s means of purifying us with the element of water for the purification of our sins, and on the other hand, God’s grace is bestowed upon us for illumination and participation in the Holy Spirit.


    All of this was achieved by two actions of God. First, His Son’s voluntary humility, and second, the glorification of the Son by the Father, who at the same time manifests His Spirit appearing in the form of a dove. Christ’s humility is revealed in the fact that he submitted to be baptized by John in the River Jordan in order to fulfill all righteousness, not that He Himself needed to be forgiven for any sin by baptism, but that His divine presence and entrance into the Jordan was the means by which God once again demonstrated His love for the entire world, sanctifying it by water and His Spirit. He who was without sin made Himself the bearer of all our sins: and it is in the name of all sinners that Jesus made a public act of repentance. And so, Theophany, as the Feast of Baptism, is not only the Feast of Christ’s Baptism, but also of our own. It is the celebration of our new life in Christ. Something that is at the heart of all who yearn for that newness of life, that change, renewal and healing, that “New Year.”

    May we all rediscover the Mystery of our Faith, but more importantly come to understand what is essential to our life as Christians: Christ was born of the Virgin, He was circumcised in the flesh, was baptized by John in the Jordan… He who came to save man by His love and great mercy!



    O Lord Jesus Christ our God, renew us as we are reminded of our sacred commitment as those who are called to holiness. Shower us with your divine grace that we may be purified in mind, body and soul at the beginning of this New Year. Establish us in the Faith, illumine are hearts to ways of love, and keep us in your protective care. For Thou art He who dost bless and sanctify all things and unto Thee do we ascribe glory: to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. A-men.