Tomorrow, all across the world, we welcome in the New Year. Orthodox Christians will also celebrate the feast of St. Basil the Great. Credited with writing one of the liturgies the Orthodox Church still celebrates to this day, as one who defended orthodoxy against Arianism, as one who had a tremendous influence on the monastic traditions of the Church, and a champion for the poor by founding a hospital, poor house and hospice, we remember him every year on January 1.
By tradition we cut the Vasilopita, or St. Basil’s Bread, baked with a coin. During a famine, an excessive tax was levied upon the people, for which St. Basil called the Emperor to task. When the Emperor repented and gave St. Basil the treasures to give back to the people, the saint baked portions of the treasure into bread. By God’s grace, each person who received the bread got exactly what had been taken from them.
Lost in all this celebration is the fact that January 1 is also the celebration of the circumcision of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ:
At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. — Luke 2:21
During the Vespers of this feast we sing:
The supremely good God was not ashamed to be circumcised in the flesh; but for our salvation He offered Himself as a type and example to all. For the Author of the Law fulfills the precepts of the Law and the things that the Prophets preached of Him. O You Who holds all things in Your grasp, and was wrapped in swaddling bands, O Lord, glory be to You! — Stichera from the Vespers of January 1.
The Church emphasizes that Christ fulfilled the Law, and He shed His own flesh and blood to do so. The significance of this becomes clear when we understand the purpose of the Law. The primary purpose of Scripture is revelation, and the Law reveals to us our sin. It demonstrates to us how easy it is to break the covenants we have with God and our fellow human beings. It shows us how our relationships with God and with our fellow human beings suffer from our sin. When we strive to fulfill the Law, it becomes obvious as to how far we are separated from God.
In Jesus Christ, this all changes. Not only does He take on our humanity, not only does He sacrifice Himself for our salvation, but He tears down the wall of division — that which separates us from God. This is demonstrated by His fulfillment of the Law. What is impossible for us becomes possible in Jesus Christ. By perfectly doing everything the Law prescribes, Christ shows us that we are no longer separated from God. Emmanuel! God is With Us!
Happy New Year and may the blessings of Christ be upon you in the coming year. Amen.