The Feast of Circumcision is one of the Seven Minor Feasts of the Lord in the Coptic Church; it is celebrated on the sixth day of the month of Tobe, eight days after the Nativity. God commanded the Jews to circumcise their newborn males, as a visible sign in the flesh, through which they establish a covenant with Him. However, after the coming of the Lord Christ to save humanity through the shedding of His blood, baptism became the sign of our covenant in the New Testament. This has become the new means to enter into the Creator’s presence, as we partake and enjoy the sacraments of the Church. Those who were uncircumcised in the Old Testament were not permitted to partake of the Passover. Similarly, those who are not baptized in the New Testament are not permitted to partake in the Holy Communion. People who were not circumcised were not considered to be God’s people, and in the same manner, those not baptized in the New Testament are not considered sons of God, and are unworthy of inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven.Baptism therefore has become the circumcision of the New Testament, whereby sin is stripped from the “old” man, and God adopts the “new” man as a son. For this reason, the circumcision of the spirit through baptism has become far more important in the New Testament than the circumcision of flesh.
In the years 51 and 52 A.D., the Apostolic Council was called to order; the primary objective was to discuss the issue of circumcision. The council reached a decree as written in the Book of Acts: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication” (Acts 15:28-29). The words “further burden” refer to the circumcision of flesh. God will accept the Gentiles who come repenting their sins, regardless of circumcision in the flesh. It is baptism and putting on the “new” man that is far more important. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul states, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything” (1 Cor. 7:19). Since circumcision in itself is a symbol of baptism, the Church recommends that circumcision precede baptism. Those who wish to be circumcised must do so prior to baptism. As for females, the Church forbids their circumcision completely, since a vital part of the female reproductive system is removed prompting medical doctors to advise against the procedure.
As for the rite of the Feast of Circumcision: the prayers are chanted in the joyous tune. The liturgy for the feast is identical to that prayed during the period from 30 Kiahk to 5 Tobe. Verses specific to the Nativity are chanted in the Hiten. In the Trisagion, the words `o ekpar;enou genneyic `ele`ycon `ymac is said in all three verses, and aumack is said instead of ak`i . As for the Psalm and Gospel Responses, they differ than those of the Nativity. The Praxis Response is the same as the Nativity’s, however some cantors prefer to chant a certain response to the circumcision.
May the blessing of this feast be with us all. Amen.
Mikhail, Deacon Albair Gamal, The Essentials in the Deacon’s Service, (Shobra, Egypt: Shikolani, 2002), p. 284. Translated from Arabic by Ragy Sharkawy, edited by Alexander A-Malek.