The great Paul declared that the written “Law possesses a shadow of future good things, not the very image itself” (Heb 10:1). For it is just so with painters who have set their sights on the original form and the living shape: first, using black pigment they carefully outline the form of their subject in shadows on the canvas. Then, artfully mixing up different colors, and casting them in shadow and light, they clearly display the original shape through imitation of its form. So too the Law of the Spirit, just as in living forms and pure objects, envisions the good things prepared in heaven for those who are worthy: now the shadows and types of these things, through Moses and the Old [Testament], were faintly sketched out beforehand. But through Christ and the New [Testament], the teachings of piety and truth, indeed cast to such an extent in very florid and bright colors, have been set before the eyes of those who see the brighter form of celestial and unseen good things. Just as when the form has been arranged in colors, and has received its proper beauty, the shadow which was laid down is hidden and passes away: so now while good things have been hidden in heaven, when later they are revealed, the same image of the things, passing away, will cease to be. As it is written, “Then the prophecies will pass away, then forms of knowledge will cease: for we know only partially, and we prophesy only partially. But when completion has come, then what is partial will pass away” (1 Cor 13:8-10). So therefore the old things have gone away, while all the new things have come to be; and the shadows and the types have passed away, while the images of things themselves have suddenly become visible through the grace of the Spirit and the apostolic wisdom of God, let us disregard the rest of the legal types, and the shadows: let us have regard instead for the finely etched form of the things itself.
Also does the divine apostle say: “forgetting what is behind, and stretching toward what is ahead, we pursue the goal, to the reward of God’s portion above [Phil 3:13]; so that we may no longer be children tossed about by waves, and borne about by every wind [anemos]” (that is, spirit [pneuma]) “of doctrine” (Eph 4:14), let us speak and discern and reason not like children—in the manner of the child-minded, or mindless, Jews—but “let us attain to the perfect man, to the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13), through both performing (poiein) and contemplating (theōrein) in a spiritual manner his Law. For this did the only-begotten Word of God become flesh for us. For this did the Lord God show himself to us as a child: so that which is childish and imperfect of our intellect may be transformed into perfection and firmly virile mind.
On this account also the Exalted One took part in the legal purifications and observances, and the other shadowy traditions, and indeed even in circumcision on the eighth day. The result is that he, paying back our debt in these matters, and liberating us from all of the legal servitude and childish behavior (politeia), delivered us. For the commandment of circumcision was necessary, and it was unavoidable: not only insofar as it occurred in the older Law, and was received of old from Abraham, and was affirmed by Moses himself and the Law, and the prophets in turn unto future generations as a custom; but, because it was given by God as a sign of the greater and spiritual circumcision, out of necessity the thing itself oppressed all with its yoke: until the Lawgiver, in similarity to us, in his love of humankind, shared in the same flesh, and, in the likeness of others, deigned likewise to be circumcised, thereupon demonstrating the greater circumcision, that which is in baptism, how the former remained imperfect and functioned ineffectively, he annulled it and put a stop to it: now Jesus is circumcised according to his own eight-day Law, not so that he might teach us to be circumcised, but so that he might put a stop to circumcision; rather, so that he might divest us of the preconception of the old, useless [Law], and reveal the power of the new and salvific one; so that he might abolish [circumcision] according to the flesh, and cause it to sprout anew according the spirit; for Christ is circumcised in a refutation of the former [Law’s] weakness and in an affirmation of the latter [Law’s] strength.
For he did not come to abolish the law (cf. Matt 5:27), as if it were foreign (allotrion), but rather he came fulfilling it by this deed, as his own (oikeion) and having been established by himself, as his own doctrine and the commandment of God. He came fulfilling the letter and preaching the spirit. And just as the best painter first engraves the outline of the truth “in himself,” so to speak, and so makes clear the image’s beauty, through which he might more accurately strive toward it and craft the perfection of the model, with great clarity and inspiration; so also circumcision according to the flesh outlines not only a reckoning of sins, and the circumcision of Christ in baptism (cf. Col 2:12), but indeed also subtly and in shadows it describes the resurrection and alteration of all, according to which all carnal discernment of human beings is circumcised and excised, and transformed into another living being.
Circumcision according to the flesh is like some obscure and shadowy prototype. So also the eight days were first established as law. This octave, I think, alludes to the eternal and future octave; when the time for the image of the thing themselves (so to speak) and of the circumcision in the spirit was not yet ripe, it became necessary for circumcision according to the flesh to be established as law. But now that it has appeared in the spirit, through Christ, through him it was necessary for circumcision in the flesh to be annulled for all people. For if indeed the reason and the Law for circumcision in the flesh and animal sacrifices was perfect, and able to perfect those who kept them correctly, at no time and in no way would they be able to be dissolved (cf. Heb 10:1-4). For the word of the Lord, as it is written, remains forever (cf. Isa 40:8).
But then it was given as a discipline (paidagōgia) of the imperfect of habit and of the children until the time of their correction: when perfection became clear in his time, it was entirely necessary for the imperfect and weaker to be annulled and diminished. It was necessary, at the rising of the sun, for the moon and the stars to grow dim and shrink; and when the true circumcision and ministry were laid bare, it was necessary for the shadowy perceptions of the truth and the types to withdraw. Because of this, accordingly God the Word first became flesh, and on this the eighth day today was bodily circumcised: so that, discharging on our behalf the debt in the letter, the law of the spirit was introduced for all eternity: and the worse was concealed and covered over by the better. Through this also the priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek has been cut off from the priesthood according to the order of Aaron (cf. Heb 7:5, 11), so that the shadows have been ended, while the truth has been allowed to speak freely: and so that the imperfection and childishness of the legal traditions have been hidden from sight, while the perfection and magnificence of the gospel doctrines have been brought to light.
For this also [came] Peter and Paul, the pinnacles of the divine mysteries, for this also all of the holy apostles and disciples, educated first in the written Law, and the one practicing circumcision in the flesh transformed circumcision into the spirit, and into baptism, so that, the spirit of servitude having been nullified through them, the spirit of grace and of sonship has been brought to life again for us through divine baptism in Jesus Christ. For this also all of the bishops most worthy of God, and all others, and especially Basil the Great, great in his own time, brought to life the high priesthood of the church: not passing bodily through the heavens, but in contemplation and in spirit, imitating that first and most divine high priest, Jesus Christ, who also himself entered into the innermost shrine (cf. Matt 27:51), who was there the law of the spirit, and the great thundering voice of the doctrines, and who annulled and halted the law of the letter and the circumcision in the flesh by the lofty expression of the gospels.
St. Amphilochios of Iconium