The month of January begins with the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. The feast is also known as the Feast of the Holy Circumcision. Falling eight days after Christmas, this would have been the day for Jesus to be circumcised under Jewish Law, but is a day used to commemorate that our Lord’s Name is holy. The name Jesus means “the Lord saves” in Hebrew, and in an ancient calculus a name connotes power; a name effects what it says, and for this we give thanks.
The Feast of the Epiphany is 6 January (this year a Saturday), when we celebrate the manifestation of Jesus to all the world. The lessons make it clear that God’s saving word is for all people, not just Israel, and so we as Gentiles may keep this feast with an especial thanksgiving. Epiphany is not a moveable feast. We will celebrate the feast on Saturday, with a 10 a.m. solemn Mass which will include a baptism.
On the 18th and 25th, respectively, we commemorate the Confession of St. Peter (the first recognition by a disciple that Jesus is the Christ) and the Conversion of St. Paul (his conversion from persecutor of Christians to the apostle to the Gentiles). The week between these two dates is considered the Week of Christian Unity, in which we reaffirm that there is far more that connects us with other worshiping communities and traditions than separates us.
Other January feasts include that of St. Aelred of Rievaulx (patron saint of friendship, 12 January), and that of the early and notable martyr, Pope St. Fabian (d. 250, feast 20 January). Fabian was named a bishop by acclamation after a dove landed on his head during an episcopal election. Fabian reigned for fourteen years, enjoying amicable relations with the imperial government until Decius became emperor. Fabian had not accommodated to imperial policy—he remained faithful throughout—but with Decius a “live and let live” attitude departed from the imperial throne, and when Fabian refused to burn incense to the emperor he and the believers in Rome were imprisoned and martyred. Fabian’s story serves to remind us that the world can always change in how the Church is treated, but that the faith remains the same.
St. Paul of Thebes (d. 345, feast 15 January) and St. Antony of Egypt (d. 356, feast 17 January) are remembered as examples of the eremitical (hermit) life, of those who separate themselves from society for the sake of the Lord, but in Timothy and Titus (feast 26 January) we see the active life, of those who take God’s word to others. This active life was also exemplified in the martyr Vincent of Saragossa (d. 304, feast 22 January), patron saint of deacons.
Finally, we wrap up the month with two of the leading theologians in the history of the Church, both East and West, St. John Chrysostom (27 January) and St. Thomas Aquinas (28 January, feast superseded this year by a Sunday). Chrysostom (which means “golden mouthed”) was a great orator and writer who defended Orthodoxy, and Aquinas was the leading exponent of the system of Scholastic theology which dominated western thinking for more than six centuries, and remains the fundamental training in Roman Catholic seminaries. The inclusion of Chrysostom and Aquinas on the calendar of The Book of Common Prayer is testament to the broad heritage of Anglicanism.