[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary—25 January, Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle.
Ferial Day Following the Second Sunday After Epiphany.
READING FROM THE BOOK OF GENESIS 17:1-7
THE COVENANT BETWEEN GOD AND ABRAHAM WITH THE SIGN OF CIRCUMCISION:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
And God 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 among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house, or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he that is born in your house and he that is bought with your money, shall be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in thy sight!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.”
When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised; and all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
A READING FROM THE HOMILIES ON GENESIS BY ORIGEN
HOMILIES ON GENESIS, 3.3-4, 6; FOC 71 (1981) TR. HEINE
Many responses are given to Abraham by God, but they are not all delivered to one and the same man. For some are given to Abram and some to Abraham, that is, some are expressed after the change of name and others while he was still known by his name given at birth. First of all, before the change of name, that oracle is delivered to Abram by God which says: Go out from your country and your kindred and from your father’s house, and the rest. But no order is given in this about the covenant of God, no order about circumcision. For it was not possible while he was still Abram and was bearing the name of his physical birth to receive the covenant of God and the mark of circumcision. But when he went out from his country and his kindred, then responses of a more sacred kind are delivered to him. First God says to him: You shall no longer be called Abram, but Abraham shall be your name. Then at once he both received the covenant of God and accepted circumcision as a sign of faith, something he could not accept while he was still in his father’s house, still in the relationship of flesh and while he was still called Abram.
Since, therefore, we have reached these passages I wish to enquire if the omnipotent God, who holds dominion of heaven and earth, when he wished to make a covenant with a holy man put the main point of such an important matter in this, that the foreskin of his flesh and of his future progeny should be circumcised. For my covenant, the text says, shall be upon your flesh. Was this what the Lord of heaven and earth was conferring in the gift of the eternal covenant to him whom alone he had chosen from all men?
We, therefore, instructed by the Apostle Paul, say that just as many other things were made in the figure and image of future truth, so also that circumcision of flesh was bearing the form of spiritual circumcision. Hear, therefore, how Paul, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth teaches the Church of Christ about the mystery of circumcision. Behold, he says, the mutilation—speaking about the Jews who are mutilated in the flesh—for we, he says, are the circumcision, who serve God in spirit and have no confidence in the flesh. This is one opinion of Paul about circumcision. Hear also another: For he is not a Jew who is so outwardly; nor is that circumcision which is outwardly in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly with circumcision of the heart in the spirit, not in the letter. Does it not seem more appropriate to you to speak of a circumcision like this among the saints and friends of God than to speak of a pruning of the flesh?
But also each of our members must be said to be circumcised if they are devoted to the service of God’s commands. This is truly the mark of faith which contains the agreement of the eternal covenant between God and man.