Saint John the Forerunner and Baptist

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


"As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitude concerning John: 'What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written:

'Behold I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.'

Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John." (St. Matthew 11:7-13)

[In terms of the Old Testament Law, John is the greatest prophet.]


On January 7th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates the Synaxis of the Holy Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John. This Synaxis(assembly) is the gathering of God's people to listen to Saint John preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was the last of the Old Testament Prophets and the only one able to point to Jesus of Whom some had prophesied saying, "Behold the Lamb of God." Saint John's diakonia (ministry) began about two years before Jesus began His. The holy icon portraying him is always next to the holy icon of Jesus on the icon screen in Orthodox churches. His finger is unusually long in Byzantine icons to express that his main purpose was to point to Jesus as the Messiah. The highest moment of his diakonia was Theophany (The Baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan and the Manifestation of God the Holy Trinity). After he was beheaded in the dungeons of Machaerus, his head was buried deep in a dishonorable place, and then quickly reburied respectfully by a pious woman as the Mount of Olives. His body was buried where he had died in Sevaste. Saint Luke the Evangelist succeeded in taking Saint John's hand to Antioch, where a small chapel was built and crowds came to venerate and experience miraculous cures as well. It remained there for eight hundred years until the Emperor had it moved to Constantinople. It was said that on every anniversary of Saint John's feast day, the hand would either be open, which meant it would be a fertile year, or closed, which meant a year of famine.

"In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, 'Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!' For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord Make His paths straight.'

Now John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, 'Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, We have Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He Who is coming after me is mightier than I, Whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?' But Jesus answered and said to him, 'Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' The he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the Heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from Heaven, saying, 'This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well please.'" (St. Matthew 3:1-17).

According to Saint Luke, "the Glorious Physician," Saint John the Baptist was a native of the city of Judah, the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth, both of whom were of deeply religious lineage. Saint John the Baptist plays a crucial role in the history of salvation. Chosen before his birth to be the herald and forerunner of the Messiah (St. Luke 1:13-17), he knew his Lord from the beginning. Saint Luke the Evangelist writes of the miraculous conception of Saint John (St. Luke 1:24). He then records that when the Ever-Virgin Mary visited Saint Elizabeth, who was then six months pregnant with Saint John the Baptist, the baby in Elizabeth's womb leaped at the sound of Mary's voice (St. Luke 1:41).

Our Savior Jesus Christ taught that Saint John fulfilled the prophecy of the return of Elijah (St. Matthew 11:14), who was to proceed the Messiah as "the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord'" (St. Matt. 3:3; St. Luke 3:4; St. John 1:23).

Shortly before Our Lord began His public ministry, Saint John went out to the wilderness of Jordan to prepare the way for the Messiah. He carried out his prophetic role with a brotherhood of disciples characterized by: (1) repentance in expectation of the Kingdom, (2) baptism for forgiveness of sins, (3) bearing the fruit of righteousness, and (4) spiritual discipline. Saint John himself lived by an ascetic rule of poverty and fasting; in fact, he may have been a lifelong Nazirite (see St. Luke 1:15; Num. 6). His eyes were set not upon the body and its desires but upon Christ the Lord, and this influence was widespread (see St. Mark 11:32; St. Luke 7:29; Acts 18:25; 19:1-7).

Saint John prophesied that the Messiah was coming, One immeasurably greater than himself, "whose sandal strap I am no worthy to stoop down and loose" (St. Mark 1:7). This One would baptize not only with water but with the Holy Spirit (St. Mark 1:8).

Saint John's was crucial to Jesus' ministry. Jesus considered St. John's testimony important--not because Jesus, the Son of God, needed to be validated by any human witness but because the people's acceptance of St. John as a godly man prepared them to accept Jesus as well (St. John 5:33-35). Jesus' first disciples came from St. John's brotherhood (St. John 1:35-39), and the vacancy in the Apostolic college was filled by one who had been Saint John's follower (Acts 1:21, 22). Jesus and St. John were related through their mothers (St. Luke 1:36).

Saint John the Baptist died a martyr for Christ (St. Mark 6:24-29). The Holy Orthodox Church commemorates him in special hymns every Tuesday, as well as on designated feast days throughout the year.

The generation of Saint John, the first generation to know the grace and truth of Jesus Christ, comprised as humanity that ranged from wild paganism to holy asceticism. It was the aim of the Baptist to bring all classes to know the nearness of the Kingdom and the need for repentance as a preparation for admission.

Saint John is referred to in the Holy Scripture, and there is no Christian that does not know of his service and that he ultimately was imprisoned in the dungeons of Machaerus and brutally murdered (beheaded) at the order of Herod Antipas. After his death there ensued a veneration that commenced with the recovery of part of his holy relics in the early Byzantine era and endures in Orthodoxy.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George