Source: Archdiocese of Canada Ė Orthodox Church in America
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Today we are celebrating a number of things, among them the Circumcision of Christ, which happened about eight days after His Birth. This feast-day was not celebrated in the early time of the Church, but came later. Today is also the feast of the departure to heaven of St Basil the Great, which was established before the feast of the Circumcision came into being. We know this because in the Churchís calendar they were serving the Liturgy of St Basil. St Basil actually took precedence, which is rather an odd thing, but it happened because St Basil the Great was so important for our Church. At the same time we are celebrating the feast of the Circumcision, which is somehow mixed in, but not the primary thing. Itís one of those Orthodox paradoxes Ė but thatís how we are.
Itís important for us that today we are celebrating the Circumcision of the Lord, His obedience, and that of His whole family, to the Law. He was raised in the tradition of Moses as everyone else of Jewish tradition was in those days. He grew up in a pious family. We understand that they were definitely observing the Laws of the day because the Saviour came from a long line of fourteen times three generations of people who suffered for the sake of the Promise of the Incarnation of the Saviour. All these people were faithful to God even though they were still waiting for the fulfillment of the Promise. Even though, as the Apostle Paul said in one of his writings, they had not seen what was to come, yet they were faithful to God, as Abraham was. Abraham trusted God even though it did not necessarily seem logical sometimes. This is an example for us of trust in God. In fact, there were many other people, likewise, who came before who were faithful to the love of God Ė God whom they knew, but could not see. Now we have seen God in the Incarnate Christ. He lived His life in accordance with the Law, but as we see in the Gospel, He was living according to the spirit of the Law, and not always according to the letter of the Law. He put things in their correct perspective.
According to the way the Law had developed, people were observing the Sabbath: it was extremely important to obey the law of rest on the Sabbath. All sorts of rules developed to make sure that people did not do any kind of work accidentally on the Sabbath. As we see the Lord saying, and the Apostle also saying, people were so busy obeying the little rules that they forgot that the Sabbath was made for man; man was not made for the Sabbath. What is this Sabbath? It is the one day in the week when we are supposed to rest. Of course, nowadays, the remembrance of the day of rest has been forgotten almost universally. Now we donít bother to rest, and that is not good. It is important for us to learn that the Lord directed us to rest, and we should rest regularly, somehow. When Iím talking to you about these things, Iím talking to myself as well, for I havenít properly learned how to do this even to this day.
According to the Gospel we heard today, the Lord was growing up in obedience to the Law. They were in Jerusalem in obedience to the Law when His parents lost Him, and went back to find Him. They found Him in the temple of the Lord where He was talking to the elders. He loved to be in the temple of the Lord. This has always been characteristic of Orthodox Christians throughout the past two thousand years. People love to be in the temple of the Lord. They love to come to the temple of the Lord to pray, and to worship Him Ė being in His presence. In some parts of the world where the churches are not locked up all the time yet (unlike North America where the church is now getting to be locked up all the time), people go to church; they light candles, and they stand there, and pray for a while. People love simply to be there in the presence of the Lord in the temple of the Lord.
In North America these days, and in the West in general, people are making a little too much of the ďfearĒ of God. There is an unhealthy fear of God, somehow, when they read the Gospel, and they make the mistake that people have been making for two thousand years, and more. People somehow cannot accept that God would empty Himself, take on human flesh, live as a human being, fully, yet remaining fully God, and allow us to kill Him, as it happened, so that He would rise from the dead on the third day in order to conquer sin, and death. Many people have had difficulty with this, and they still do. So they try to limit Christ, somehow, to being just some sort of a human being, or just a philosopher somehow, in order to make Him more acceptable to their reasoning. However, God is not boxed in like this. God is not limited like this. If God chooses to empty Himself, God is God, and He can do what He pleases. And it pleased Him to empty Himself, to become a human being for our sake in order that He would save us from ourselves. Really, that is what He was doing Ė saving us from ourselves. This is the extent of His love for us. And yet so many people have such a hard time accepting that God could love us that much. And yet, He did, and He does.
It is important to understand that the Saviour, in growing up as a human being, was also showing us the example of how we should be, living in complete harmony with God. He was showing us the direction. And if that is not enough for us, His Mother, also, following in this loving path of obedience to Godís will, shows us a human being likewise obedient to the will of God. She said Yes to God. This Yes is always bringing life. It brings suffering, too. All who follow God in this world suffer because the prince of darkness is not happy if the light shines in the darkness. Read the Gospel according to St John, chapter one. The light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness tries to overcome it, but does not succeed. In our lives it is important for us to remember that we Christians, bearing Christ, are lights shining in the darkness. We have Christís light, and if we have difficulties in our lives, it is connected to this same opposition to the light. Other Christians have suffered often before because they were shining with the light of Christ in the dark. We likewise have to take courage from the Saviour, because He is with us. We, who have been baptised into Christ, have put on Christ (cf. Galatians 3:27). He is with us, and He will be with us. He will protect.
St Basil the Great, whose memory we are celebrating today, is one such light who had to suffer. He did not suffer the death of martyrdom, but he had a very difficult life, nevertheless, in those early days, being faithful to Christ in a society which was not Christian. Yet, seventeen hundred years after his death, he is one of the greatest of the shining lights, and examples of Orthodox Christians. The Lord will do for you, and for me similar things. He will bring light in, and through you, and me, but we have to be faithful. Here in N, it was almost thought impossible that this parish could continue to be an example of Orthodox living, here in this community. Yet the Lord chose faithful people to come here again, and renew the life, and renew the visible presence. The Lord is with us. He will bless us. There has been a complete transformation, and God is blessing. The Lord will continue to strengthen, and bless those who labour for Him.
It is important for you, and for me, always, to keep our hearts, and our minds on the Saviour at all times in love. May we always be ready to respond promptly, and to do His will, like St Herman of Alaska who said (as we must all learn to say, and to live it out): ďFrom this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy willĒ, glorifying the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
1 January, 2007