Circumcision / St Seraphim of Sarov / Forefeast of Theophany
Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the eighth day following His birth, He was brought into the Temple to observe the Law which prescribed that all males would be circumcised as a sign of their covenant with God.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who deigned to be incarnate for us, also follows through in observing the Jewish Law. As we discussed at the feast yesterday, Christ tells us He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. The Laws were a means of preparing the people of Israel for something greater which was yet to come… that ‘something greater’ was our Lord Jesus Christ.
And in fulfilling the Law, Christ takes things to a much deeper level… The Law tells us that we must not murder – Christ takes this a step further… internalizing things such that we not only must not murder, but we must not look upon our brother in anger. The Law tells us that we must not commit adultery – with the coming of Christ, we are instructed that we must not look upon another with lust in our heart. The Law prescribes circumcision of the flesh – but with Christ, that circumcision takes place in our heart – cutting off sin. The ancient sacrifice and offering of bread and wine is taken to an entirely different level with our Lord Jesus Christ, Who offers His Body and Blood. All the Laws of the Old Testament were but a foreshadowing of the fulfillment which was realized in Christ Jesus.
Our Lord summarizes all the Law and the Prophets with the admonition that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, and we are to love our neighbor as ourself. Christ both simplifies things and yet elevates things to a much more demanding commandment.
Many great saints throughout the life of the Church have followed this Gospel commandment to love God above all else. Taking that simple, yet challenging call to love God and to love our neighbor. Certainly one of these great saints is the one whom we commemorate today – Saint Seraphim of Sarov.
Saint Seraphim is surely one of the most beloved saints of the Orthodox Church. His love for God and neighbor so transformed his heart that he was literally overflowing with Paschal joy. Living in a hermitage in the forest, he reflected the life of Adam in paradise… even the beasts of the forest were tame in his presence. He famously fed the birds and befriended a bear who ate from his hand.
Just as Christ our Lord distilled all the Law and Prophets into the Gospel commandment of love, so too did St Seraphim condense and focus the Christian life. St Seraphim taught us: ‘prayer, fasting, vigil and all the other Christian practices may be helpful, however, they do not constitute the aim of our Christian life. Although it is true that they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end, the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.’
Just as all the Law and the Prophets can be distilled down to love of God and neighbor, so too can all the disciplines of our Christian life be distilled down to their true purpose – the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. And how might we discern whether our Christian life is helping us to acquire the Holy Spirit? By examining whether our prayer, our fasting, our vigil and all our other Christian practices are bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which St Paul teaches us are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. If our Christian striving is not bringing forth such fruit, then we must re-evaluate what is going on…
The Holy Spirit transforms that which It touches. Taking something ordinary and making it extraordinary.
And this now links us to the great feast we are preparing for this week… Holy Theophany, the baptism of our Lord. This coming Thursday we will celebrate the feast and we will serve the Great Blessing of Waters where the Holy Spirit comes down upon the water – turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.
And isn’t it this way with all things touched by God? By the grace of God, ordinary things may become extraordinary and holy. A simple piece of painted wood – through prayer and God’s grace becomes a holy icon, a window into heaven. An ordinary human life, through prayer and the grace of God, may become sanctified, may become holy.
This is part of the mystery and glory of Jesus Christ. He renews all things – all of creation rejoices in God that we may be united with Him!
Glory to God that He provides us with such an abundance of grace! The waters of Theophany shower us with God’s blessings, protection, and grace. What a tremendous gift indeed!
I encourage all of you to make the time to come to this rich feast and to the blessing of the waters. Liturgy will be Thursday at 7am, followed by the blessing of the waters. During these holy days following Theophany, I urge you to take advantage of the blessings offered to you by the Holy Church and invite the priest to sanctify your homes with the holy waters of Theophany. This begins the new year in the right way - with spiritual refreshment and encouragement.
May God’s law of love guide you in all things. May the wisdom of St Seraphim’s focus on the purpose of our Christian life inspire you to seek that acquisition of the Holy Spirit. And may the grace of the Holy Spirit transform all things in your life from that which is ordinary into the truly extraordinary presence of God’s grace!