Epiphany is one of the Major Feasts of the Orthodox Church standing shoulder to shoulder with the great feast of Nativity and Easter. During this feast, the church recalls the baptism of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by St. John the Baptist.
The blessed Epiphany:
Unlike the Old Testament ritual of water purification, St. John the Baptist denoted the start of the Christian baptism by calling men to confess, repent of their sins, be baptized, and to do fruits worthy of repentance. He said to them, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”(Matt 3:11).
The Lord Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, was not in need to be baptized, because He was without sin (1 Pet 2:22). It was not because He had a need for baptism, rather; it was through Him that the cleansing act was sanctified. St. John, through the Holy Spirit, recognized the Lord as his God, declared that he was unworthy to bear his sandals. So, he excused himself from baptizing Him because he could not conceive that baptism was necessary for the One who had come to blot out the sins of the world. St. John thought that he ought to be baptized by Christ, saying, “It is I who should be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Christ the Lord revealed the mystery of His dispensation by saying, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt3:14, 15). Therefore the Lord did not want to be baptized for His own sake, but for ours, in order to fulfill all righteousness. That is to say that I the Lord Jesus Christ, upon His Holy Baptism, transformed the water of baptism into the means in which we enter into the Kingdom of God. In His baptism, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended, and the Father spoke from heaven, saying “This is my Beloved Son, of whom I am well pleased.”(Mt 3:17)
The feast of circumcision is one of the seven minor feasts for the Master. It comes on the eighth day of the birth of Christ, i.e. Toubah 6th / January 14th.
The rite of circumcision:
St. Luke stated that Baby Jesus was circumcised, according to the Jewish tradition, on the eighth day, and was called by the name of Jesus, as he said, “When the eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (Lk2:21). The Giver of Law, the Lord Christ, accepted to submit Himself to the Law of Moses, and to fulfill it personally by His own will in complete humility. He fulfilled all the rite and duties of the Old Testament, not only His circumcision, according to His divine plan, in perfect humility. Therefore, in the Divine Liturgy, we say to Him, “You fulfilled the Law on my behalf”. Thus, He gave us Himself as great example to imitate, for obeying the divine commandments given to us for our benefit.
This rite started when the Lord said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male child in your generations… and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant” (Gen17:9-14). Circumcision was the sign of a personal covenant, on the level of the hidden inner relation, between God and every person of His people; and this is why it is called “the covenant of circumcision” (Act7:8). It was very important for a Jew to fulfill this rite because the death of an uncircumcised Jew means eternal rejection from the inheritance of the people of God. Thus, it is a must to fulfill it even unto death. It was prohibited, for example, to practice this rite during the time of the Maccabees because of the pagan authority persecution. At the same time, circumcision was connected, in Moses Law, with celebrating the Passover (Exud12:43-50); as every uncircumcised was not permitted to eat the Passover lamb because he was considered a foreigner to the people of God.
This rite was accompanied with giving a name to the new child. The selected name should match that of a family members to assure the child’s relationship to the people of God; exactly like what happened with John the Baptist at his circumcision, when his relatives wanted to call him “Zachariah” after his father (Lk1:59-63).