On the 24th of the month, we celebrate the NATIVITY of the Venerable and Glorious Prophet and Forerunner JOHN the BAPTIST
As soon as the Archangel Gabriel had left the most holy Mother of God, after having announced the Good News of her virginal childbearing and having referred to her cousin
Elizabeth’s pregnancy as a confirmation of his words, Mary went with haste to the village in Judaea where Zachariah and Elizabeth lived. She greeted her cousin, and immediately the six-month babe in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy, making himself the Saviour’s Forerunner even before his birth. Elizabeth lent her own voice to the Prophet and cried aloud: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb! And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? Lk. 1:39-44). Mary replied with her wondrous canticle of thanksgiving: My soul doth magnify the Lord. She remained with Elizabeth for three months, giving her practical help and talking with her about God’s wonderful acts; then she returned home.
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to give birth, she brought a son into the world, who was welcomed with joy and gladness by his family and all the neighbours. On the eighth day, when they circumcised the child, they wished to name him after Zachariah,
his father, as was the custom. But Elizabeth spoke up and said quite categorically: Not so; he shall be called John. (Lk. 1:59). Those who were present objected that no one in their family had ever been called John; and, turning to Zachariah, they asked for
his opinion, addressing him by signs, for he had remained deaf and dumb since the time that the Archangel Gabriel had visited him (23 Sept.). Zachariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote: “His name is John”. At that very moment, he was delivered from his
dumbness and filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to prophesy and to address this hymn to God: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up a mighty Saviour for us in the house of His servant David, as He promised by the mouths of His holy Prophets, who have been since the world began … And thou, child, thou shalt be called the prophet of the Most High, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of
salvation to His people by the forgiveness of their sins… “(Lk. 1:68-79)
He who was born, contrary to all expectation, from a barren womb, brought forth a spiritual springtime by his birth, proclaiming that the Messiah, whose way he was preparing, would come to renew the laws of human nature and open to humankind the path to deification. He who was called by God to become the Voice of the Word freed his father’s tongue, which had been made captive by his lack of faith, and put an end to the figures and shadows of the Old Covenant. The last of the prophets, John, according to the words of the Lord, is the greatest of all those born of woman (cf Matt. 11: 11), and is also the first of the Apostles. Being born on that day, he began to shine in the world as the flaming Torch of the true Light, as the Star proclaiming the Sun of Righteousness and as the Herald announcing the appearing of the Word. Fear and wonder took hold of all who were present, and the Jews spread throughout the whole of Judaea. The child grew and his spirit became strong, for the hand of the Lord was upon him. As soon as he was weaned and able to walk, he left the family home and went to liye in the desert, where, dressed in camel skin, and wearing a leather belt around his loins, he fed on wild shoots and wild honey. This man, of whom the world was unworthy, lived there a life without anxiety or sadness, delivered from the passions and assaults of desire, contemplating God in his heart and making Him his delight and consolation.
Other prophets before him had certainly lived in the desert-for example, Moses and
Elias-but John, living in the desert as if in heaven, was superior to these, and manifested by his retreat the renewal of human nature, of which he had been made the Forerunner, and inaugurated for humankind the possibility of living like angels while in the flesh, through virginity, ascesis and contemplation.
He led this angelic life in the desert until the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Lk. 3:1), when the word of God came to him, ordering him to return to the inhabited parts of the region in order to proclaim the coming of the Lord and to ‘prepare
His ways’ by exhorting the people to repent and be baptised in the Jordan for the remission of their sins. As all were asking themselves if John might be the Messiah for whom Israel was waiting, he answered them, saying: I indeed baptise you with water, but One mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose sandals I am not wothy to unloose. He shall baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire … (Lk. 3: 15-18). With many other such exhortations, he proclaimed to the people the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Although all the prophecies of Saint John the Baptist have found their fulfilment, his message remains of permanent value for the Church. He will not cease to be the Forerunner until the end of time, proclaiming to all who wish to welcome the Saviour that it is by repentance, the cutting off of worldly pleasures, retreat and prayer that they may ‘prepare’ in themselves the way by which Christ will make His entry, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
THE SYNAXARION The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church
By HIEROMONK MAKARIOS OF SIMONOS PETRA
Translated from the French by Mother Maria (Rule)
and MotherJoanna (Burton)
VOLUME FIVE May, June
Holy Convent of The Annunciation of Our Lady
Ormylia (Chalkidike) 2005