by Fr. James C. Meena
The Fathers of the Church proved very wise when they established a certain sequence of Feasts for our observance. It wasn't until the latter centuries of the first millennium that they established December 25th as the day in which we would celebrate the Nativity of Christ and they did that in response to a social problem. We do not know the exact date of Jesus' birth but the Fathers of the Church, in response to a pagan celebration called the Saturnalia, which took place in late December, declared that this would be the time when we would acknowledge and celebrate the Birth of our Lord. Prior to that, the Nativity was celebrated in conjunction with the Feast of Epiphany, on the sixth of January.
As we study the sequence of things we can almost see what was evolving in the minds of the Fathers of the Church. On January 1st, the Church is called upon to celebrate that moment in Christ's Life when, as an infant, he was brought to the Temple to fulfill the sacred tradition of the Jewish people that all male children would be circumcised. So we have observed the Nativity of Christ and then, a week later, a Feast which is held in proper sequence to that Nativity, because it was on the eighth day that the male Jewish children were circumcised. Just a few days later we leap forward from His infancy to His adulthood and acknowledge His Baptism and the start of His Ministry, and we have the sequence of beginnings which the Church Fathers worked out so carefully in order that we might understand that while there is a past and future for Christians, everything is sort of now . . . new beginnings, all the time.
Jesus was circumcised on the first day of January fulfilling the Commandment that God gave to Abraham, our spiritual forefather, in order that He might show that He was, as a man, keeping the covenant that God established with Abraham and all his seed thereafter. It wasn't until He was baptised as a man and established the act of baptism as a Sacrament of remission of sin, that the need for circumcision was obviated because now we had a new covenant, a new initiatory act that established the relationship between God and Man.
How wise the Fathers of the Church are, in that they bring our attention to these Old Testamental acts in order that we might know that the New Testament, the Life of Christ, is concealed in the Old Testament and that the Old Testament is revealed in the New, the Life of Christ. We need to understand that we trace our lineage as far back as the historical record might go to that time when man first heard the voice of the one true God.
You all receive calendars from the Church. And those of you who have used these calendars know when we are to celebrate Epiphany, when Easter is coming, when is Palm Sunday, when is Holy Thursday, but one thing I never really paid much attention to is that on these calendars, which are printed for the Church but not by the Church, it names the month in the banner of each page and then the year, but did you know that according to the Church's calculation this is not 1979, it is the year 7487 and actually, if they were being printed by the Church, the date would be January and the year would be 7487 because the Church measures our historical years from that first moment when man began to keep a record of time in relationship to his contacts with God.
So we are not only yesterday and tomorrow but we are today. We are all these things and we should have an awareness of our own roots and our own presence. As we celebrate the birth of Christ, and as we probably allow the Feast of the Circumcision to slip by us with hardly a notice and as we look forward to observing His Baptism, let us be rebaptised in spirit, let us reaffirm our initiatory vows. Let us reassert that testimony which was made in our behalf by our Godparents that we confess Christ as the Son of God and we repudiate all things which do not belong to Him. Everyday should be a new birth, a new baptism, a reaffirmation. As we rise up from our bed in the morning, we should thank God for the beginning of a new day. And as we lay ourselves down in the evening we should commend ourselves into His care so that each day is a day of commencement for us and even at the end of the day it is not a finality but the anticipation of a new beginning in God's care.
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America