We are preparing to commemorate the Circumcision of our Lord. We remember the events that happened in Christ's life on the eighth day from His birth, when, in keeping with the Law of Moses, his parents brought him to the temple to be circumcised. Circumcision was a part of the Covenant of the Lord with the Jewish people.
To the Jews, circumcision meant becoming a part of God's chosen people. Under the terms of His covenant, God would offer protection and land to Abraham and his descendants, and they undertake to be the servants of God and live by His commandments.
It is easy to see circumcision as an equivalent of Christian baptism. Circumcision was a sign of belonging to the people of Israel. Likewise, for Christians, baptism was their entry to the Christian church. In this equivalence lies the first meaning of the feast of circumcision.
Another less obvious meaning refers to the existence of two aspects of circumcision. One is physical, the cutting of the foreskin. The other is spiritual, the circumcision of the heart. In the Scripture, The Lord calls the Jews people with uncircumcised hearts (Acts 7: 51). An uncircumcised heart is a heart that gives in to passionate desires, answers sinful impulses and is prone to temptations. It is a heart that escapes the service of the Lord and would rather worship idols. In the spiritual sense, to circumcise our hearts means to constrain our will by opposing the passions dwelling in us.
Yet many of these passions come from the world, its culture and ways of life. Hence, the circumcision of the heart necessitates a struggle with worldly pressures. For example, the world teaches us to live in fear, even of events with no direct impact on our lives, such as the decline in investments, or the worsening of the foreign trade balance. It also encourages us to maximize personal gain in all our actions and decisions. These gains may be tangible things as money or other material assets, but also the less tangible ones, such as power, fame, or glory.
To circumcise our hearts means to keep them pure amid the everyday pressures of the world. The Holy Fathers speak of breaking away from the world in most of their writings, but nowhere do they mention the possibility of reconciling ourselves with it. In his ascent to God, a Christian will necessarily remain in soft opposition to the world. The Lord Himself calls on us, as we oppose the ways of the world, to be as wise as snakes and as simple as doves (Matthew 10: 16). He tells us not to fight the world head-on but to exercise wisdom. He wants us to continue with our lives, to keep our energy and endurance, but also to place our hopes and aspirations on Him as the Provider of this World, without Whose will not a hair of our head will perish (Matthew 10: 29 – 31).
For its part, the world is offering Christians a way of reconciliation. It would be most happy to assign to them the role of helpers in the hardships of its own making, like caring for the poor, sick and elderly. It is willing to reward such work and even glorify it. However, it quickly becomes indignant at any attempt to undermine its complacency and the lukewarm wisdom that it is trying to teach others.
On our part, we must keep our guard over our hearts. We may succeed in acting as pious Christians. We may even accomplish a lot of good works and fulfil all the commandments. However, we will not succeed in our spiritual struggle unless we learn to regard with criticism and irony the things that the world presents to us as virtues.
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On January 19th, the Orthodox Church celebrates the joyous Feast of Theophany. In Christian tradition, the feast of Theophany commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ by Saint John the Baptist and the manifestation of Christ as God.