January 2, 2024

Homily on the Circumcision of Christ and on Basil the Great (St. Andrew of Crete)

Homily on the Circumcision of Christ and on Basil the Great

By St. Andrew of Crete

It is pleasant and good to glorify everything that our Savior Christ, as the God-man, accomplished for us, since all this is filled with wonder and amazement. And how could it be otherwise? God appears among people and is known by them, submits to everything like a man, fulfills the commandments of the law and proclaims this fulfillment, in order to give in return His own law, full of grace and truth. What is also worthy of wonder is what the present discourse speaks of, that is, the circumcision of Christ according to the flesh, eight days after His seedless birth. This event is also full of wonder and should be glorified. For how is it possible not to consider it the greatest and most important miracle, that Christ fulfilled the law and, moreover, did it for our salvation? God takes a name. Unknown, similar to man in everything, He is clearly known through the name. By the name given to Him, He is not only called Son, just as the Father is called Father due to the fact that He begot the Son, and the Spirit is called Spirit due to His proceeding from the Father (since these Three are one God and in them one Divinity), but at the same time it is not false to call Him the Son of the Virgin, for He truly is; in this regard, He can be comprehensible to us and appears meek before us. And I, like a fugitive, having found the door of salvation open, boldly approach the Master and Creator.

Luke speaks about this event in his Gospel: “So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.' And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:15-21).

The Great Luke explains great mysteries to us here. Truly, his Gospel is worthy of Paul, who himself boasts about this: “According to my gospel” (1 Cor. 15:1; Rom. 14:24). For without this Gospel we could not ascertain, but indeed we verify, the annunciation of the Virgin, the birth of John, the census of the Savior, the birth in the cave, the announcement to the shepherds, the "Glory to God in the Highest, and on peace" of the angels (a sign of this peace being the registration under Augustus), the announcement to Symeon, the confession of Anna, the next of kin through Joseph the betrothed of Mary, who had come from two brothers, Melchi and Panther, who in turn begat Barpanther, the father of Joachim, from whom came the Theotokos. From Melchi was born Heli, by the wife of Mathan, who after widowhood married Melchi. He had a son named Jacob, from whom came Joseph the betrothed. He was the natural son of Jacob, though according to the law that of Heli. Of the latter, it was necessary to list him according to the marriage under the law, but his brother through his mother is from where the seed arose. From this we cleanly go back in kin to Adam, and his timeless birth from God. We are further told about Herod and Pilate, the two thieves, and other things which the other evangelists are silent about.

What does it mean when he says, “the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb?” He himself explains this when he talks about the appearance of an angel to Mary, who said: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest” (Luke 1:31-32). Matthew also speaks about the same thing, talking about the appearance of the angel of the Lord in a dream due to the disbelief of Joseph and after which he believed: "After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.'  So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 'Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,' which is translated, God with us.” (Matthew 1:18-23; Isaiah 7:14). You notice the agreement of the words of the evangelist and the prophet: “which is translated, God with us,” that is, the salvation of the people; the Master has come to be present with the servants. And in the angelic oracle He is called Jesus. By Jesus is meant that He did everything in His sympathy for the economy of our salvation. We have been given this time to know the deeper meaning of this day, because it shows us that the one grace presents to us another and unites them with knowledge, being illuminated with the brightness of this grace. Having already celebrated the ineffable birth, we realize that He was born, and we also realize that He was born without seed.

But how will I approach, the One who has been born? I am afraid and horrified of approaching the One who appeared in an incomprehensible way. I am indecisive and, like a runaway servant afraid of his master, I hide. But how can I free myself from this fear? This day will show me, testifying of Him who took on a name. What is the name? This name is Jesus, which means “salvation,” just as Emmanuel means “God with us,” that is, it indicates the reconciliation and union of God with people, which is why Jesus is called Savior. This was previously announced to the shepherds. They would not have bowed to the Child if they had not been encouraged by His name, after which they calmly went to Him to adore. What did the angel say to them? - “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10). What fear gripped them? Together with the appearance of an angel before them, “the glory of the Lord ,” it is said, “shone around them, and they were greatly afraid” (Luke 2:9). Therefore, encouraging them, the angel convinces them not to be afraid and, by the name of the Begotten One, resolves their fear. “Behold ,” he says, “do not be afraid, for I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11). What are you saying, angel? Does the name Jesus have so much power? "Yes," he answers, "for Jesus means Savior, who is Christ the Lord, - both God and man, the executor of authority and the compassionate one. Therefore, I told the shepherds not to be afraid and, by commanding Joseph to name the Child on the eighth day, I thereby made Him accessible to all people. The very nature of the Begotten One prompted me to call Him by appropriate names. Just as Joseph would not have followed the Mother of the Child voluntarily and without fear if I had not commanded him to do so, so I convinced the shepherds to resort to the Lord as their benefactor and ruler, and proclaimed that Jesus would be given as a name after circumcision, on the eighth day after birth, so that you dare to hasten without fear to the One who also accepted human nature. Realizing such a great condescension of the One who was born to you, glorify the grace of the present day.”

And what else does the eighth-day circumcision tell us? The eighth day is the completion of the week, and the beginning of the new. The child completes the week, and is perfected on the eighth day, being granted his name and being numbered with the perfect. The eighth day is the beginning of infancy, while through the period of the week he was a baby, now the child begins to learn. The eighth day leads on to the things of infancy: to crawl and to stand, and to speak, and to think. The week comes to completion, and the eighth day signifies perfection. Circumcision, in turn, was performed on the eighth day after the birth of the infant together with giving its first name.
And not without reason. When the human race during the time of Terah, the father of Abraham, began to cleave to idols, it pleased the Creator from the time of Abraham to distinguish His people with a special sign until the days of His appearance in the world, which was necessary for the renewal of man. Circumcision cuts off excess flesh and gives a sign of the future eighth day (perfection). But after the appearance of Christ into the world and His circumcision, it lost its meaning, and now rebirth takes place through the Holy Spirit. Circumcision was established because of idolatry and to distinguish the people of God, and also ceased due to the extreme development of idolatry. The former things serve as a symbol for the new.

Christ is the eighth Lawgiver from Adam. Adam was the first to accept the law, Noah the second, Abraham the third, Moses the fourth, David the fifth (1 Chronicles 16:2; 2 Chronicles 7:6), Ezra was the sixth lawgiver, who after the captivity of Babylon again communicated the law and some customs to the people, and John the Baptist, who preached the baptism of repentance to the people and baptized with water, was the seventh lawgiver. The eighth is Jesus Christ. Moses says about this Great Lawgiver: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; listen to him. And the man who will not listen to his words, as soon as that prophet speaks in my name, will be condemned” (Deut. 18:15, 19). Being the only one able to fulfill this, I perceive that he is referring to the Lord and Creator, Who worked divine and invisible works among us. And passing the Sabbath in His flesh through the law, on the eighth day of Resurrection, became the Law-giver for the whole world. I behold God, not only of the Jews, but of all nations, Who is born, anointed and perfecting all things in the Holy Spirit, and calling His own anointed people. And He cuts off our fleshly desires and passions, and turns them to a burnt sacrifice through good works and actions of the Kingdom of the Heavens. He is truly the Angel of Great Council of the Father, the Mighty God, the executor of authority, the Prince of Peace, the Father of the future age.

And if all this is wonderful, let us rejoice at the festival and further reveal its solemnity, adding joy to the joy and glorifying one of the servants of God, although “the souls of the righteous” are, as the Wise One says, “in the hand of God” (Wis. 3:1), since they all belong to God. However, some of them are closer than others, due to the fact that they immaculately resembled the image of God, as much as possible for a man. So, who is this one being glorified? This is Basil, the foundation of virtues, the support of the Cappadocians, the glorious praise of the entire universe, the organizer of order and decency of the Church, thanks to whom the currently existing churches of believers are established. Although the Church is guided by many other laws, established before and after, it equally uses the rules of Basil, who was worthily glorified for this and was even glorified by the godly wise men of his time. A man of God, a faithful servant, a steward of the Mysteries of God, and a man of spiritual desires! - this is how Scripture calls exalted men and those standing above what is visible. And I will call you the god of Pharaoh and all the Egyptian and opposing forces, the pillar and affirmation of the Church, the will of the Lord, the lamp of rational life in the world, the support of faith and the refuge of the Spirit. But why should I list all the names that virtue has approved for you? I will only say: "Come and reign" (Psalm 44:5) and shepherd us; everyone who finds themselves under your wings will be calm, and we thirst for your voice, O divine and sacred head, more than weary travelers yearn for a source of pure water. I will also call you a virgin, uncovetous, almost fleshless and bloodless, in writings standing after the Divine Word, wise among philosophers, transcendent among the worldly. The ancients are silent, for his divine words have been established. The new proclaims: this Basil is the best writer for us and for those who can perfectly study his works, distinguished by language and enlightening the ear; he alone is liked more than all writers by those seriously engaged in science, which is why he is given second place after the apostles. If the Basil the Great in our discourse is depicted as such that he is not far from the saints in his high life, then how else can we please you, Father Basil - you, who with the sharpness of your words exposes and drives out every error, who, like a bee, abides prudently in the pasture of the divinely inspired Scriptures, from whose meadows he gathers prophetic flowers and apostolic dew? You continuously instill virtues in the world, from which you prepare the divine honeycomb. You wisely create in the Holy Spirit the honey of immaculate faith, teach to neglect the activities of harmful wasps and fly to heaven itself. Like David, you exclaim: “How sweet is Your word to my throat O Lord" (Psalm 119:103).

Inflamed with love for you, faithful Basil, we now have great joy, although we do not bring this praise on our own (this would be bold), but we collected it from your kindest praisers and timed it to coincide with the real life-giving festival of the eight-day Circumcision. For on the day of Circumcision you ended your life, having served God all the time and for eight years occupying the throne of your hierarchical see. The great Gregory tells us about this in his longed-for writing about you, the theology infused with which shines brightly for us and testifies about you as a theologian, since you were both inspired by the same thing and contemplated the same thing. It seemed that one soul lived in both of you, but in two bodies. Together with him (testifying about you) is Gregory of Nyssa, the interpreter of the divine, almost equal to you in glory, with a family close to you by nature. With them, Ephraim, who revealed to the hearts of believers, with the assistance of the divine Spirit, the secrets of divine judgment, openly proclaims about you to those who do not know you and says with conviction that you were appointed to meditate on the divine and appeared for the good of the Church of God.

Father Basil! Rejoicing together with these divine heralds in the dwellings of the patriarchs, and in the mystagogies of the apostles and the prophets, enjoying the blessed life together with the crowned martyrs, choirs of monks, divine hierarchs and all the righteous who were nurtured on that which is good, remember us and intercede with your co-inhabitants, in order to implore our common Master about the salvation of all Christians. Pray with them that the king will govern in righteousness and reverence for God, so that in his thoughts he may have as an ally God, the eternal King, Who governs from on high, and so that he will guide his subjects, commanders and military rulers in piety; pray that the Lord will be an ally of the army and keep the rest of the people in unanimity of the divine faith and in mutual peace, so that He will appoint bishops who are wise in the knowledge of God and capable of good governance of your well-ordered Church and the Church entrusted to them. Pray that the Lord will keep the priests in piety, so that they may live godly and worthily sing the praises of Him who has now taken you to Himself, crowned you, and revealed you to all the faithful people as a glorious shepherd. This is the One who, being rich, became poor for our sake and appeared in the flesh, who, being with the Father, was born in a cave and was nursed in a manger, who was sung by the angels and caused wonder in the shepherds, who on the real eighth day was circumcised and received the name Jesus, Who made a cleansing sacrifice, was confessed by Symeon and Anna, received gifts from the Magi, fled to Egypt and “shook the idols of Egypt”, Who, having reached the age of perfection, was baptized by a servant and cast the sins of the world into the depths of the water, Who appeared in the world, was hated by the Jews, although He performed miracles before them, was finally betrayed, crucified and then buried, so that, having made hades captive, He would announce to those in hades about His resurrection. Three days later, He rose again and showed us a second eighth day while honoring the day of rest, leading to the future eighth day of complete liberation from the world. Then He openly appeared to the disciples, in their presence He was taken to heaven, and together with Him He lifted up humble human flesh. But He is known as the One Lord in two natures, worshiped with the Father and the divine Spirit, and has two wills and two energies. Therefore, He is comprehensible to us and incomprehensible, describable and indescribable, depicted by us in images and likenesses, and in them, through the medium of flesh and spirit, we worship Him. He is depicted equally with the men who theologized about Him and with all the saints, and equally with all the saints He has (in this way) communion with us, since by such worship glorification is raised to the prototype. You also teach us about this, Father Basil, saying: “Veneration of the image goes back to prototype." Having such an orthodoxy, let us avoid the fear of nations, and then the islands of the Church, which suffered deprivation of icons due to the outrages of the Hagarenes, will achieve liberation from this evil, as the prophet Isaiah says: “Renew yourself, islands, to God” (Is. 41:1). To Christ our God is due honor, glory, worship, with the all-good Father and the all-holy and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and to the endless ages of ages. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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