On the first, we celebrate the Circumcision according to the flesh of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
With Christ's circumcision, the law was cut off.
And with the law cut off, grace entered in.
The Circumcision according to the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He endured to receive for the love of mankind according to the decree of the ancient law,1 so that instead of the circumcision of the flesh by hand, He would institute for us the handless and spiritual circumcision, namely Holy Baptism. I call this the Lord's Circumcision, as we Christians have received it from the Holy Fathers, to celebrate it annually: so we celebrate it, considering it one of the Despotic feasts, by which we honor the Lord through it. Just as the Lord endured His Nativity in the flesh, and received all the features of human nature, all of which were irreproachable and blameless passions, so also the All-Good One was not ashamed to receive circumcision, for two reasons. First, He wanted to stop the mouths of heretics, who dared to say that the Lord did not truly receive flesh, but only so in appearance, such as the God-fighter Mani and his Manichean followers. For how was He circumcised if He did not truly receive flesh? And second, in order to bridle the Jews, who accused the Lord of not keeping the Sabbath. And how does He transgress the law, according to these false accusers of His, for He keeps the law with this His circumcision.2
Therefore, eight days after His birth from the Virgin, it pleased the Lord to be brought by His Mother and Joseph, to that appointed place where infants are usually circumcised, and there He was circumcised, and received the most-sweet name of Jesus. This is what the Archangel Gabriel called Him, when he made his announcement to the Theotokos, before the Lord was conceived in the womb of the Virgin, as Luke the Evangelist writes. After the circumcision, the Lord was with His parents, and lived as a human being, advancing and growing, both according to the age of His body, as well as in wisdom and grace, for our salvation. "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in grace with God and man" (Lk. 2:52).
Notes of St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite:
1. According to Ephraim the Syrian and Meletios the Athenian (Ecclesiastical History, vol. 1), the Lord was circumcised by Joseph, His father according to the law. And based on Meletios, Epiphanios says He was circumcised in the cave. However, the divine Evangelists did not write about this, nor did they want or find it necessary to do so, for it is not beneficial to our salvation to know such things.
Others wonder, what happened with that circumcised part of the divinized flesh of the Lord, namely the foreskin? Anastasios the Siniate and other Easterners say that this part was kept by the Virgin after the circumcision, as a sacred treasure, and it remained incorrupt until the Lord's Resurrection when He took it to Himself again. Theophylact of Bulgaria, in his interpretation of the Gospel, also writes that this part was received again by the Lord at His Resurrection.
In vain do some westerners claim to possess the circumcised flesh. One account maintained that it was kept at Cavillino, a city of Lower Burgundy (Fr. Bourgogne), in a certain church. The bishop of that place, one named Gaston, opened the reliquary supposedly containing the relic on the 19th day of April, in the year 1707, but he found nothing more than a little grain of sand and a tiny piece of gravel. In addition to this, Rome claimed to have the relic in the Church of Saint John the Lateran, as footnoted by Calmette in Luke ch. 2.
2. The wise Euthymios Zygabenos (in his interpretation of the fourth chapter of Luke) sets forth a third reason as to why the Lord was circumcised. For if He was not circumcised, He could not become a Teacher, but would be dismissed as someone from another race, and thus they would not believe He was the expected Christ of the seed of Abraham. For all the seed of Abraham had circumcision as a sign and seal, to distinguish them from other nations. The Lord ceased circumcision, having all the good reason to, according to Euthymios. The circumcision of the Jews was a type and foretelling of the Baptism of Christians. Just as Abraham set his seal and distinguished them from every nation, so also does Baptism for Christians. And just as by circumcision a physical part of the body is cut off, so also does Baptism cut off all existing sin. With the ceasing of the type, the prototype has come. And silencing what has been made known, that which brings light is established.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
Thou Who art by nature God, didst without change take human form, O most compassionate Lord, and in fulfilling the Law of Thine own will didst receive circumcision in the flesh, to banish hades and roll away the veil of our passions. Glory to Thy goodness; glory to Thy compassion; glory to Thy condescension, O Word.
Another Apolytikion in the First Tone
Thou Who sittest with the Father on a fiery throne in the heights wast pleased to be born of a Virgin through the Divine Spirit on earth. Wherefore Thou wast circumcised as a man on the eighth day. Glory to Thine all-gracious will; glory to Thy providence; glory to Thy condescension, O only Lover of mankind.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
In undergoing circumcision the Lord of all has circumcised the sins of mortal men. On this day He gives salvation to the world. And the Hierarch Basil, the Creator's lightbearer and Christ's initiate, rejoices in the highest.