Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
And 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 (Gospel Reading-January 1)
Good morning Prayer Team!
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
A story is told of a woman who prepared a ham for her family to eat every year on New Year’s Day. When she prepared the ham, she cut a large piece off one end and placed it at the side of the ham in her cooking pan. Her daughter watched her mother for years prepare the ham for New Year’s. When she had a home and family of her own, the daughter also followed the “tradition” of making a ham for New Year’s Day. She, too, like her mother, would cut one end of the ham off and place it beside the rest of the ham in her cooking pan. One day, her daughter asked her, “mommy, why do you cut the end of the ham off and place it next to the bigger portion in the pan?” She answered, “well, this is the way that Yiayia (Greek for grandmother) does it. I’m not really sure why I do it, so let’s ask her.” So, they went to Yiayia’s house and asked her. Yiayia got out her pan. She said to her daughter and grand-daughter, “You see this pan, it is very small. The ham does not fit. So I cut the end off of the ham and put it to the side.” The daughter felt a little perplexed at the moment. Here she thought that the cutting off of the end of the ham was an integral part of the New Year’s ritual. And now she realized that this wasn’t part of the feast at all, that it was unnecessary to cut the ham because she had a large pan to cook it in.
And this is how “traditions” are born. Something we just do and have really no idea why we are doing it. There are some “Traditions” (with a capital T) that are born directly from scripture. And there are other “traditions” (note the small t) that come from our Yiayia’s, we call these “old wives tales” or in the Greek culture “yiayialogy,” and because “yiayia is never wrong,” these traditions grow into really incorrect understanding and sometimes incorrect practice.
There is a Greek tradition where a child is not named until it is baptized. There is no scriptural basis for this whatsoever. The scriptures say very clearly that Jesus was circumcised when He was eight days old, according to Jewish Law, and was given the name Jesus at THAT time. There is a prayer in the Orthodox Church for a child who is eight days old, where the child receives its name, and receives it from its parents, not its Godparents, another cultural custom. All of our Traditions are based in scripture. This one is no exception.
There are some other important things to note about the circumcision of Christ. First, it was the Law that anyone who was one of God’s people, a Jewish male, needed to be circumcised. They needed a “mark” on them to “mark” them as a child of God. So, Jesus followed the Law. He did not come to abolish the Law, but to supercede the Law. And in order to supercede the Law, he needed to do the things that the Law required, one of which was being circumcised.
In modern Christianity, a “mark” of God is still required among God’s children. No, the mark is not circumcision of the flesh (the decision to circumcise a child is a medical decision, made in consultation with a doctor—there is no religious requirement to circumcise a child), but rather a circumcision of the heart. In Romans 2:28-29, St. Paul writes:
For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.
And the sign of the “circumcision of the heart” is baptism, the mark of God upon each of us, but an indelible mark of God upon our hearts. There is still a ritual that we undergo in order to become a Christian, but the ritual is baptism.
The point of today’s reflection is to say that reading scripture is really important. It is really important to understand what we believe and where our beliefs come from. Many times our cultural ideas are not necessarily in line with what scripture says, hence the 8 day naming versus naming at a baptism. It is also important to mention that we worship neither “Tradition” nor “tradition.” We worship Christ. Traditions help us have a framework in which to practice our faith; traditions needlessly confuse us and in some way inhibit us from learning and practicing the faith correctly. As you make your New Year’s resolutions today, to put into practice tomorrow, make reading scripture, even small amounts, a part of your daily life.
In essence being God, most compassionate Master, You assumed human nature without transmutation. Fulfilling the Law of Your own will You accepted circumcision in the flesh, to bring an end to the shadow and to remove the passions that cover us. Glory to Your benevolence o Lord; glory to Your compassion; glory to You inexpressible condescension o Word. (Apolytikion of January 1, trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Read the Scriptures today!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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