January 14 will mark eight days since Christmas for us. According to Saint Luke’s Gospel, January 14 is the day when Jesus Christ was circumcised, following the law of Moses.
What is the meaning of the Circumcision of Jesus, why is it so special and how do we celebrate it?
You will find answers to those questions in this article.
In the Orthodox Church, January is one of the busiest months because it is all dedicated to Christ and the beginning of His earthly ministry.
First, we celebrate the Nativity of Jesus on January 7th, then His circumcision on the 14th. On January 19th we celebrate the Theophany (or Epiphany) - the day Jesus was baptized. And then on February 15th, 40 days after Christmas, we Commemorate the presentation of Jesus at the temple.
It is worth noticing that Christmas, Circumcision, and Presentation are three consecutive events that marked the beginning of Christ’s life and ministry on this earth, and we celebrate those feasts one after the other, just like it happened 2021 years ago. In a way, January and February are all about Jesus Christ in the Church’s liturgical calendar.
According to the law of Moses,
“Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised.”
As a Jew, Jesus Christ had to be circumcised just like every 8-day-old boy. It is after the ritual of circumcision that the Priest was supposed to give the child a name. Christ was not an exception - he was named Jesus (which means ‘God is with us’). As we might remember from the Gospel of St Luke, Archangel Gabriel declared to the Mother of God,
“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” (Luke 1:31)
We live in the New Testament, which was established by Christ. This means that we do not need to follow the Old Testament laws and rituals. Jesus made the ultimate Sacrifice, so we do not practice sacrifice now, even though it was required before Christ was born. So what is the meaning of this feast and why do we celebrate it?
There are a few things that the feast of Circumcision teaches us. First of all, by following the law of Moses, God shows us that He obeys the law and came to fulfill it, not to abolish it (Matthew 5:17).
Secondly, God shows to us that Jesus is in fact fully God and fully human, so He has to be circumcised just like every other human being.
Finally, we can see the ritual of Circumcision as the Old Testament way of being baptized. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant between God and His people and required a sacrifice of flesh. Now, Christians are born anew of water and Spirit. God’s Sacrifice canceled the sacrifice of flesh, which is why we do not practice it anymore.
In general, the Lord’s Circumcision reminds us that we have entered into a New Covenant with God. As it is stated in the New Testament,
“In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ.” (Colossians 2:11)
In the Orthodox tradition, we celebrate this feast on January 14th, exactly 8 days after Christmas (when counting, we include January 7th as the first day, which is why it makes 8 days, not 7).
On the day of the feast we celebrate a festive Divine Liturgy and sing special hymns. The first hymn is called a Troparion and it explains what happened on the day of Circumcision:
“Enthroned on high with the Eternal Father and Your divine Spirit,
O Jesus, You willed to be born on earth of the unwedded handmaid, your Mother.
Therefore You were circumcised as an eight-day old Child.
Glory to Your most gracious counsel;
Glory to Your dispensation;
Glory to Your condescension, O only Lover of mankind.”
(Troparion of the Circumcision)
The second hymn is called a Kontakion and it explains the meaning of the feast. It mentions the name of Saint Basil the Great because we commemorate this Church Father on the same day:
“The Lord of all accepts to be circumcised,
Thus, as He is good, excises the sins of mortal men.
Today He grants the world salvation,
While light-bearing Basil, high priest of our Creator,
Rejoices in heaven as a divine initiate of Christ.”
(Kontakion of the Circumcision)
If you would like for our Sisters to pray for you and your family on the feast day of the Lord’s Circumcision, click on this link and send us your prayer request.
With so many nice things about Christmas, its joy is easy to recognize. Yet it is much harder nowadays to see Christmas as a miracle. In our rational world, we have become too accustomed to putting everything to the test of reason.