January 1, 2021

On the Circumcision of the Lord and the New Year (Archim. George Kapsanis)


By Archimandrite George Kapsanis,
Former Abbot of Gregoriou Monastery on Mount Athos

Delivered in 1990

The sacred hymns we chanted tonight also revealed to us the deep theological meaning of today's feast, the Circumcision of the Lord. They said: "The Savior descends among the human race, He took the covering of swaddling clothes, nor did He detest the circumcision of the flesh." It is an unfathomable mystery, this great condescension, the extreme humiliation of our God-man Lord, who accepted all human life to begin with, but also to fulfill these types of the Mosaic Law and to suffer this circumcision. That is why the sacred hymnographer is struck with awe seeing the Lord, not only being wrapped in the swaddling clothes of a baby, but also enduring this circumcision, that is, the cutting of His holy flesh. And all this for our salvation.

It was God's command in the Old Testament that the Israelites be circumcised; and that was a sign of God's covenant. He who was circumcised belonged to the people of the Covenant, to the people who had the promises of God. It was a sign of agreement between God and the faithful Israelites. That is why you could not be a faithful Israelite who did not accept circumcision. But this circumcision - the circumcision of the flesh - was instituted by God to prepare the people and direct them to another circumcision, which would be the true circumcision, the circumcision no longer of the flesh, but the circumcision of the old man, the circumcision of the passions and the clothing of the new man of Grace. That is why the Apostle Paul and the Fathers of our Church say that circumcision in the Old Testament was the symbol of the true circumcision, of holy Baptism.

Now the new Israel of Grace again has a sign of the Covenant, the New Covenant. The sign of the Old Covenant was circumcision. The sign of the New Covenant is holy Baptism. In the Old Covenant, male children were circumcised. Now female children, all men and women, accept the new circumcision of Grace, the Baptism of Grace, and become members of the people of God, the new Israel, the Israel of Grace. And this circumcision is done with holy Baptism, with which the old man is circumcised, cut off, and the new man is consecrated. At that time in the Old Testament they had only circumcision. Now in the New Testament we have circumcision of the old man but we also have a consecration within the new man, the man of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Then they cut off, but did not receive the Holy Spirit. Now the old man is cut off, but we receive the Holy Spirit.

That is why this is the true circumcision, the holy Baptism of the Church. And this is the new sign of Grace, the sign of the New Covenant, that all sealed Christians have. That is why the Christian through holy Baptism is sealed with the mark of the Holy and Life-giving Cross, and we Christians are, as the prayers of the Church say, sealed with "the mark of the sign of the Son of man", that is, with the Holy and Life-giving Cross of Christ. We are not sealed with a carnal circumcision, but we are sealed with a spiritual and eternal seal. With a seal that does not pass through the passage of the flesh. When the Israelite died and his body decomposed, the sealing of the circumcision of the Old Testament also decomposed. Now when the Christian has died, having the spiritual seal of the Grace of God and the Holy and Life-giving Cross, this seal is eternal and indelible upon him. And he does not lose it, unless he denies the faith and Orthodoxy and falls into atheism or other religions and sects.

We are therefore accompanied by the new garment of the Grace of the New Covenant, the new sign of God's people. And this is something that fills us with gratitude to God, that we are all with His own holy seal, with His own indelible spiritual seal. We are not like the Gentiles, like the unsealed ones outside of Christ, which is why they are a prey of demons. When the devil sees the unsealed, he easily makes them his own. But when he sees someone sealed with the name of Jesus Christ and with the holy Baptism, he cannot make him his own, unless he gives his heart to the devil. Neither the devil or the antichrist has any power over those sealed in the name of Jesus Christ.

And we are experiencing all this today, which is the first of the year. And we ask the Lord to forgive us, first of all because as people who are sinners and weak, we have made him bitter many times in our lives but also in the time that has passed. And it is not only the great sins with which we grieve the Holy God, our Maker and our Creator and our Lord. I was thinking today as I was liturgizing the following: Every time our mind leaves God, do we not grieve God? Why did God create us? He created us to be united with Him. To be in constant communion with Him. And when we let our minds wander here and there, even in good things but things that are not God, does not God become bitter? When He sees that we do not have the desire to be always united with Him? And for all Christians, but also for us Monks who seek perfection, who seek the perfect pleasure of God, to fully please God, does it not pain our soul, that so much time of our lives has passed - and this year that has passed - without having the constant memory of God?

And that is why our supplication rises up fervently to the Lord: First of all, to forgive all our sins. And secondly to give us His Grace, His blessing, His enlightenment and His own divine power, so that in the new year we may strive not to grieve Him in anything, or at least to grieve Him much less than we grieved Him, in the time that has passed. And may His goodness and His love not only require us not to grieve Him, but also to please Him, and may such be our life and our struggle and our prayer and our asceticism and our obedience and our participation in the timeless Mysteries and the attendance of the sacred Services, so that we may please our Lord and God. And when this year will pass, if God wills and we live and reach the next year, let us review the year that has passed so we can say: "Thank you Lord, because with your Grace we have made you less bitter this year than last year.”

This is my humble prayer for all the brothers and for our beloved Christian brothers, who are our friends and brothers and associates, but also to all the fathers of the Monastery, that the Lord will find us worthy that we do not make Him bitter this year. Just to please Him. And yet, this is my prayer for our Nation, the Greek and Orthodox Nation: May the Lord enlighten all the rulers of the Nation, the clergy and the laity, in the year to come not to make Him bitter, as we made Him bitter last year, not only with many sins - active sins - but also with bills, which were completely contrary to the holy will of the Lord, such as the bill on the legalization of abortion, which unfortunately still exists, and as it exists, is a cause of great bitterness for the Holy God towards our people, from whom the Lord asks for other things and expects other things.

I pray all the fathers of the Monastery be richly blessed of the Lord, and to all the lay brothers many years to the glory of God, in repentance, in sanctification and in preparation for the departure from this world, which may find us all in the best time of our lives.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.