The Beheading of the For-runner
“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths for our God.”
Saint John, the holy Fore-runner, Prophet, and Baptist is martyred. He is no ordinary man, for the Lord declared:
Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Matt. 11:11
Saint John is the pinnacle of the Prophets for he beheld what they desired and could only perceive through the veil of the shadow of the Law. He was the height of the Martyrs, for he bore witness to the revelation that the Kingdom of heaven was at hand. He was the Fore-runner for he led us to the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.
What more can we utter in praise of Saint John? He was the son of Zacharias and was a Prophet born of a Prophet. He was an angel-in-the-flesh and the archetype for ascetics. He was a fiery orator, like unto Elias, boldly condemning the sins of Herod.
Saint John was no ordinary man, he was born of the Spirit, for it filled his very being from the womb:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:6
And again, he perceived his Lord while still in the womb of the righteous Elizabeth. At his very birth, we are moved beyond words as we encounter the thrice-blessed prayer of his father, the priest and prophet, martyr and righteous Zacharias:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Such prophetic beauty and grace are shared in this words! Our words cannot compare. Though the following Dismissal hymn is set forth for the nativity of the Forerunner, we non-the-less chant it with great joy, for we are truly at a loss to honor Saint John worthily!
“O Prophet and Forerunner of Christ God’s coming to us, all we who with longing now extol thee are at a loss to honor thee worthily. For thy mother’s barrenness and thy father’s long silence, by thine all-renowned and hallowed birth were ended, and the Incarnation of the Son of God is preached unto all the world.”
Herod sound to silence the Prophet. He tried to escape the just censures of Saint John and unjustly delivered his head to a transgressing woman. This wretch did not realize that this offering of evil would bare witness of his crime and openly rebuke his actions.
The righteous man, if he happen to die early, shall at rest, and the dying righteous man shall tying judgment unto the wicked living, for they will see the end of the righteous one and will not understand what is destined for him…Then the righteous man will stand up in great boldness before those who offended him and despised his works. At the sight of him they will be agitated with great fear and will feel astonished at his glorious salvation; for, repenting and sighing from the oppression of the spirit, they shall speak within themselves, saying: This is he whom we laughed at and held in scorn; we were so foolish as to account his life as madness and his end dishonourable; how, then, is he now numbered unto the sons Of God and his lot is cast among the holy?
The Church instructs us to transform this day on which the Prophet was slain into a day of rejoicing as a most auspicious day, so that we may entreat him to pray for us.
“The memory of the just is celebrated with hymns of praise, but the Lord’s testimony is sufficient for thee, O Forerunner. For thou didst prove to be truly even more venerable than the Prophets, since thou wast granted to baptize Him Whom they proclaimed. Wherefore, having contested for the faith, thou didst rejoice to announce the glad tidings even to those in Hades, that God hath appeared in the flesh, taking away the sins of the world and granting us great mercy.”