For many reasons, I have not been able to post much lately. However, I wanted to get a good Christmas post in while the Feast is still going on, and so here we are. Yesterday marked the mid-point of the feast, the sixth of the twelve days during which we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, according to the flesh. Today, the seventh day, is the even of another feast which is sometimes forgotten between the the first day of Christmas, and Theophany (twelve days later), and that is the Circumcision of Christ.
Of course, there are questions like "Why would we celebrate that?" Especially when St. Paul urges the Gentile Christians not to be circumcised. In fact, St. Paul was the defender of the Orthodox position at the first council of the Church, in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15; the only aspects of the Law required of Gentile Christians was to refrain from eating blood, or from animals that had been strangled, or meat offered to idols, and not to engage in fornication. So why the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ?
Well, the answer for that lies in the epistles of St. Paul as well. In fact, in addition to the rather striking statement in 1 Corinthians, chapter seven, "Was any one at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was any one at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God," St. Paul also gives a good defense of not only this matter, but of those who would seek to Judaize in general in the Epistle to the Galatians (III:2-29):
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain? -- if it really is in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Thus Abraham "believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them." Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for "He who through faith is righteous shall live"; but the law does not rest on faith, for "He who does them shall live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, "Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree" -- that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. To give a human example, brethren: no one annuls even a man's will, or adds to it, once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many; but, referring to one, "And to your offspring," which is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained by angels through an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one; but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.So there we have it. Christ was circumcised according to the Law so that the Law could be fulfilled in one of Abraham's offspring, that the nations might be blessed through him. And so it is that the need for circumcision according to the Law has passed away, along with the other strictures of the Law not outlined by the Holy Apostles in Acts 15. If you have been baptized into Christ, you have put on Christ--St. Paul seems to take his statement there quite literally. There is no need to Judaize in order to be saved.
This is especially important, this time of year, because there are certain among the heterodox who made vicious slander about the birth of the Lord, saying that the early Church apostatized and "moved" the celebration to the Birth of Christ in order to coincide with the pagan festivals centered on the Winter Solstice, such as that of Sol Invictus or Mithras or the indigenous Celtic religion. Many of these people make much of the association of examples from Christ's life and how they fit the "pattern" established by the Jewish festivals. And since there is no festival, in the Mosaic Law, for midwinter, they conclude that the celebration of Christmas is, in fact, an error that became popular to give Christians something to do while their pagan neighbors were partying during midwinter.
Of course, there is a Jewish festival in midwinter--Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights. Of course, the Miracle of the Lamps occurs in the Maccabees, scriptures that have been excised not only from the Old Testament that the Protestants use, but also from the scriptures used by modern Jews (who, nevertheless, celebrate the festival for eight nights). The significance of the number eight here should mean something too--for, since the earliest times, the number eight has been associated with Christ. The Kingdom of Heaven is called the Eighth Day, and the whole of the new creation is centered on the theological significance of the perfection of Christ, who is both Alpha and Omega, origin and ending, the summation of all things. So, if the Light burned for eight days in the temple, through a miracle, why do we fail to see that the True Light burned for eight days in a cave in Bethlehem of Judea, in a manger of beasts, revealing for us that He was both Truly God and Truly Man, and that the uncontainable, uncircumscribable God, submitted to the circumcision of His flesh to as evidence of His equality with us in His taking on flesh. In submitting to circumcision, He proved His humanity--He was able to be cut, to have that flesh which He put on removed, foreshadowing for those with eyes to see it, His passion and the pains which He would suffer for us all.
Christmas, then, is not the Christian appropriation of some pagan feast, but the fulfillment of yet another Jewish one; and in keeping it properly, with all the attendant days of the twelve day feast, we see that on the eighth day, Christ is circumcised in the flesh, so that we might be free of the law and can be circumcised in our hearts. And thus, the arguments of those who would try to destroy the importance of the Feast of the Nativity, or Christmas, by calling it a pagan feast do so at their own peril: for to deny that significance of the Feast where we celebrate the Incarnation (which includes the Feasts of the Nativity, the Synaxis of the Mother of God, the Circumcision of Christ, and culminates with the Theophany, that is, the revealing of His Godhood at His baptism in the Jordan) is to deny that He is the God made man, the Savior of the world, who put on flesh for our sake and suffered that we might be free of the curse of sin and death. Woe to those who deny His Divinity! But greater woe to those who deny His humanity, for, as St. Gregory the Theologian so eloquently stated, "That which is unassumed is unhealed." If Christ is not fully man, in addition to being fully God, then whatever part of Him was not totally as we are, that same part was not redeemed by Him for us. And to say that He was not the perfect sacrifice for sin is the same thing as saying that He is not the Savior, not the Christ.
So, in the spirit of Christmas, let us leave such foolish notions alone, and remember that:
Kontakion of the Feast (Tone 3)
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One.
Angels with Shepherds glorify Him,
the wise men journey with the star;
since for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child.