Archimandrite Iachint (Unciuleac, 1924-1998), the abbot of Putna Monastery from 1973 to 1992, was one of the most revered Romanian confessors of the twentieth century.
The words of Elder Iachint are full of spiritual joy and the deepest humility, without which the meaning of the feast of the Circumcision of the Lord cannot be understood. The rich spiritual gifts with which the Putna Monastery abbot was endowed by God were combined with his ever-present readiness to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. God immortalized this virtue of his forever, taking the Elder to Himself in eternity when he, despite his illness, was confessing the faithful, trying to comfort and spiritually strengthen everyone who sought him.
In order to understand the inexpressibly rich meaning of the current feast, we urge you to treat yourself with this homily of Elder Iachint, which, by its clear and rich flow resembles the deep and wise conversations of the Holy Fathers of old, the memory of one of whom, St. Basil the Great, we celebrate today.
And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the Child, His name was called Jesus (Lk. 2:21).
Our good Savior, having humbled Himself, took on a human body, not being ashamed to fully subject Himself to the Law of Moses, which He Himself gave on Mt. Sinai. The first act of submission of the Son to the Father was His incarnation in the form of a small Babe rather than as a grown man. His first act of submission to the Law was His circumcision on the eighth day, according to the Law of Moses, which says: And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised (Lev. 12:3).
Thus, on the day prescribed by the Law, the Infant was circumcised, and the elder Joseph gave Him the name Jesus, for thus He was called of the angel before He was conceived in the womb (Lk. 12:21).
But why was Jesus circumcised, as He wasn’t guilty of sin? First, to show Himself as obeying and fulfilling the Law. Then, so it was clear that He truly took on a human, not ghostly, body. Third, to give us an example of the deepest humility, for He appeared not merely in the form of man, but as man, overcoming sin although He Himself had no sin.
Why was He circumcised on the eighth day? Because the eighth day, according to the Holy Fathers (St. Gregory of Nyssa, for example), is a type of the eternal day, the repose of the coming eighth age. The first six days are the days of creation, of labor. The seventh day is the day of the Lord’s rest, the day of the earthly Sabbath, which constantly passes away, like man himself, and therefore is repeated every week. The eighth day is a symbol of the coming age, the day of eternal celebration with Christ, which will never end. And the thirty-three days that the Infant Jesus spent in Bethlehem until He was brought to the Temple, where He was taken into the arms of St. Symeon the God-Receiver, represent the thirty-three years that God lived on Earth until He crucified sin on the Cross.
But circumcision among the Jewish people not only served as a sign of the covenant between God and man (cf. Gen. 17:10-14), but also symbolized the redemption of ancestral sin itself, although the sin of Adam could not be forgiven in this way. Thus, circumcision was an Old Testament prefigurement of Baptism, and the Lord accepted circumcision to reveal Himself as the renewer of the Covenant, not a violator of it.
Our Lord Jesus Christ received three Baptisms on Earth: first, the baptism of the old Law—circumcision; then the baptism of repentance of St. John, which also was not perfect, because it could not impart forgiveness of sins, but was still higher than the old baptism inasmuch as it established a link between the Old and New Covenants; the last and most perfect baptism, which only Christians can receive on Earth, was the baptism of blood, of martyrdom, which Jesus Christ Himself received on the Cross for our sakes.
Great was the humility of the Lord! After all, the All-Good God was not ashamed of our fallen body! He was not ashamed of the circumcision of the flesh, but wanted to be the perceptible and bloodied Giver, Preserver, and Bearer of the Law! O the depth of the humility of Christ! He humbled Himself and accepted a perishable body. He humbled Himself, becoming an Infant small and powerless before men, to show us that only by being born again and becoming like innocent babes will we be able to again ascend to the Heaven from which we fell. He humbled Himself, being born in a manger of dumb beasts and in a foreign land.
He Who was surrounded by hosts of angels in Heaven, humbled Himself, giving Himself to be taken care of by the elderly Joseph. He Who sits upon the Throne of fire and upon Whom the Cherubim and Seraphim dare not gaze humbled Himself, giving Himself to be swaddled and touched by the hands of men.
He Who came to destroy the sins of men, drowning them in His precious blood, humbled Himself, accepting the circumcision of the flesh, like sinners.
But why did our Savior humble Himself so deeply? Because human pride was too great, and the wound of it could not be healed by anything but the balm of Christ’s humility. Disobedience is healed by obedience and pride is cured by humility. And for such deep humility from Him, God gave Him a name which is above every name, that is, Jesus, which means Savior, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11). As St. Peter himself testifies: Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
Today the Lawgiver becomes the fulfiller of the Law, to teach us perfect obedience; the Son of God becomes man for the sake of man and manifests Himself as an Infant under the Law, to shame man who transgresses the Law. Man, abiding in Paradise, had only one command from God, and even that he transgressed, but the Son of God, descending to earth, fulfilled all the commandments for man in order to heal the disobedience of Adam.
Today, He Who touched Mt. Sinai and made it smoke is touched, and by the hands of a sinful man, but He does not burn them, because He came to save man from the flames of the eternal fire.
Today the sinless One received the baptism of circumcision as an Infant under the Law, to teach us that we cannot be purified from sin, cannot be saved, without Baptism.
The perfect One received an imperfect baptism, and the imperfect receive the perfect Baptism unto sanctification. Jesus Christ received a feeble baptism, of which He had no need, but Christians, called by His name, receive the perfect Baptism of the Holy Spirit, in order to also become perfect.
Today He Who names all creatures received the name above all names in Heaven and on earth. Today the anointed of God reveals His unknown name to us. Today Emmanuel is revealed to men. Today, for the first time, people call the Son of God Jesus, as He was named by Gabriel in Nazareth (cf. Lk. 1:31). However, there, the archangel pronounced it, and only the Virgin heard it, but here, Joseph pronounces it, the Virgin repeats it, the shepherds hear it, Bethlehem learns it by heart, and the Magi spread it across the entire Earth. The nations learn of Him, the pagans begin to believe in Him, churches are erected in His name, and Christians bear His name in their hearts.
O, how dear under the sun is the name of Sweetest Jesus! By it, the Gospel of Christ is imprinted; by it, the Church of the Living God is praised. With it, the apostles are sent to preach. By it, Peter is praised in Rome. By it, Paul is inspired before Caesar. By it, the Christian peoples are comforted. By it, the faithful are strengthened in times of trouble. By it, enemies are burned; by its frequent repetition, demons are expelled from people and sinful spirits from their hearts. Mothers bear the name of Jesus on their lips. It is a staff for exiles in their wanderings. Monks repeat it ceaselessly in their humble deserts. By it, as by a sharp sword, hermits are defended from impure spirits in their beloved solitude. By the name of Jesus, the poor soften the hearts of the merciless. By it, as a shield, virgins protect the secret treasure of their virginity.
St. Ignatius bore the name of the Sweetest Jesus in his heart. His name, like a pearl hidden in the field of their hearts, was found by the saints through unceasing prayer and the frequent repetition of it. The martyrs were armed with it when they were thrown into the flames of fire and to be eaten by wild animals. By this name the Christian peoples are praised, the saving Church is glorified; by it, priests are strengthened, and by the name of Jesus, enmity, hatred, lust, impure spirits, and all kinds of sin are driven out of people. By the name of Jesus, sicknesses are healed, people are consoled, the anger of God is averted, drought is driven away, the harvest of the fields is plentiful, bread is multiplied on the table, the house is filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, enemies are reconciled, and our souls are saved.
Blessed and thrice-blessed are Christians who ceaselessly, or as often as possible, repeat the short prayer of our Savior Jesus Christ—“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Blessed are those who taste the sweetness of the name of Jesus, for they no longer experience any hardships in this foreign land!
The Lord Jesus Christ was circumcised to fulfill the commandment of the old Law. But in the law of grace, in Christianity, neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature (Gal. 6:15). That is, instead of circumcision, we must observe all the commandments of the Gospel, the most important of which are love, mercy, prayer, and fasting.
But if the Lord Jesus Christ had no sin, then did He have to be circumcised just to avoid inciting the Jews? They didn’t believe in Him anyways! No! The Lord was circumcised, that is, He submitted to the old Law, without hesitation, to thereby teach us to obey without murmuring or doubting the law of grace; that is, Church dogmas, the sacred canons, the commandments of the Gospel, the teachings of the saints and the instructions of our parents who gave us life, and also the laws of the nation we’re living in.
Every creation of God lives according to particular Divine laws. Nothing simply behaves as it will, by chance—neither the Heavenly angels, nor the stars of the sky, nor the creatures of the earth, nor the elements of the air. Even the demons don’t tempt man without the knowledge and permission of God. And if God has even reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day the angels which kept not their first estate (Jud. 1:6) because they opposed the will of God, then how will He spare us, Christians, who have received the law by the disposition of angels (Acts 7:53), who know the Gospel and the Church commandments given by Christ by heart, and do not observe them, but constantly violate them by our sins?
No, brothers. There’s no answer we can give to this. We have broken the law, we deserve judgment and punishment: either here in sicknesses, temptations, sorrows, or there in eternal torments. No sin goes unpunished. For every transgression and disobedience receives a just recompence of reward (Heb. 2:2). If we missed church without a respectable reason, then severe illnesses, strife, and eternal condemnation await us. If you don’t listen to the priest, you’re deprived of the blessing of God in your life. If we oppose our parents, or even berate and beat them, we will not be able to avoid their curse, that is, a sudden and severe death, and in the next world—the unquenchable fire. We have deprived our infants of life, we have resisted the commandment of God that says: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it (Gen. 1:28)—we are certain to be overtaken by the wrath of God in the present age and in the future age. If we remember evils, we do not forgive our neighbor, we will not see the face of Christ.
So what should we do to avoid all of this? Piously observe the laws of God, the decrees of the Church, the commandments of the Holy Fathers, the counsels of our superiors, and follow the good example of those who bore us. Children should obey their parents, as the Infant Jesus obeyed the elderly Joseph, despite the fact that he was not His father. Parents must love and raise their children well, as they themselves were raised by their parents. Christians must obey their priest, as the angels in Heaven obey Christ.
Everyone should watch over his own service. Everyone should fulfill his duties on Earth—both before Christ and the Gospel and before family and friends, and before the society he lives in. Let us also obey the authorities, for the powers that be are ordained of God (Rom. 13:1), as the Most Holy Virgin obeyed and went to Bethlehem for the census, and as Paul obeyed, traveling to Rome. Let us obey our elders; let us have mercy on the young and love for all—for our love will never perish (cf. 1 Cor. 13:8). And not only that, but let us obey as we ought to according to the law, and not outside the law of Christ, for no one is crowned, except he strive lawfully (2 Tim. 2:5).
If we live this way, then we will pass this present year in peace and our entire life in spiritual prosperity and joy, and then we will enter into the eighth age, that is, into the Heavenly Kingdom, where we will ever be with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.