Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Baptism of Jesus

Theophany, Frank Wysochansky 

Theophany, Nana Quparadze 

Thou didst sanctify the streams of Jordan, sending down from heaven Thy Holy Spirit,
and didst crush the heads of the dragons that lurked therein.
(Orthodox prayer)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Blessed Epiphany

Most High God!
Thou that enkindlest
the fires of the shining stars!
O Jesus!
Thou that art peace and life and light and truth,
hear and grant our prayers.

This present day has been made holy
by thy mystic baptism,
whereby thou didst sanctify
those waters of the Jordan,
which of old were thrice turned back.

It is holy by the star shining in the heavens,
whereby thou didst announce
thy Virginal Mother's delivery
and didst, on the same day,
lead the Magi to adore thee in thy crib.

It is holy too,
by thy changing the water
of the pitchers into wine;
which the steward of the feast,
knowing that he had not so filled them,
drew forth for the guests.

Glory be to thee, O Lord Jesus,
that didst appear on this Day!
And to the Father and to the Holy Spirit,
for everlasting ages. Amen.
Hymn of St. Ambrose (338-397)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus

Today is the 8th day of Christmas, and the feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, also known in some places as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.  In fulfillment of the Law, Joseph and Mary took their newborn son to be circumcised on the eighth day, after-which he was given the name Jesus (which means Savior).  This feast is important because it proclaims the importance of the Incarnation- that God became flesh- that God became like us, in all ways.  That the Mighty Creator humiliated the divine self to become a baby who was hungry and needed to be nursed, who got dirty and needed to be bathed by his parents, who felt pain and bled at his circumcision.  As St. Athanasius wrote, God became human, so that humans might become god and partake in the divine nature.

This feast is also important because in Christ, the Law was fulfilled as the Son of God was marked with the sign of the Old Covenant.  In Christ, we were all circumcised, and with the fulfillment of the Law, Christ inaugurated the New Covenant, in which our hearts would be circumcised and marked as God's own forever with the sign of water baptism.

The Patristics have had many fruitful meditations on the blood of Christ shed at the Circumcision serving as a "down payment" of the precious blood that would be shed on the Cross.  I have some discomfort with Augustine and Anselm's theories of the atonement, by which God demanded Christ's blood as a payment for sin.  However, I do find it fruitful to contemplate on what this first drop of Christ's blood might mean in the overall scheme of God's saving actions in the world.  This drop of blood signifies, at least, God's willingness to suffer with us, and to experience once and for all, pain and sorrow, so that we could be free from it.  Of course even with Christ's victory over sin and death on the Cross, we continue to suffer, as we await the full dawning of the reign of God.  But, at least for me, there is much comfort in knowing that God is willing to continue to suffer with us, as we await the day of our redemption.

St. Basil the Great