Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner

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


Lord, Lord, as You save us from every arrow that flies by day, protect us from everything that lurks in darkness. Accept the lifting up our hands as an evening sacrifice. And enable us to pass the course of the night blamelessly, untempted by evil, and rid us of all disturbance and fear induced by the evil one. Grant contrition to our soul, and to our thoughts due concern for our trial on the day of Your awesome and just judgment.

Transfix our bodies with awe of You, and deaden our earthly members, so that in the quiet of sleep we may be cheered by the contemplation of Your judgments. Distance from us every improper imagining and harmful desire. Instead raise us up at the hour of prayer strengthened in faith and growing in Your Commandments. Amen.

(Saint Basil the Great)

The Troparion of the Feast

Blessed are You, O Christ our God, Who made fishermen all-wise, sending upon them the Holy Spirit and, through them, drawing the world. O Loving One, Glory to You.

The Great Prokeimenon

What god is great as our God? You are God, Who alone works wonders.


Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner, whom the Lord called the greatest of the prophets, concludes the history of the Old Testament and opens the era of the New Testament. He was an ascetic and most likely the founder of Orthodox Monasticism. Saint John is a cousin of Christ through his mother Elizabeth who was the daughter of Zoia. Zoia is the sister of Christ's grandmother. The holy Prophet John bore witness to the Only-Begotten Son of God, Incarnate in the flesh. Saint John was accounted worthy to baptize Him in the waters of the River Jordan, and he was a witness of the Theophany of the Most Holy Trinity on the day of the Savior's Baptism.

Isaiah 40:3-5 is commonly read as a prophecy of Saint John. His father Zacharias, was a priest of the course of Abia (1 Chr. 24:10), and his mother, Elizabeth, was of the daughters of Aaron (St. Luke 1:5). Saint John held the priesthood of Aaron, giving him the authority to perform baptisms of God.

Saint John was a Nazarite from his birth (St. Luke 1:15; Num. 6:1-12). He spent his early years in the mountainous tract of Judea lying between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea (St. Matthew 3:1-12). He led a simple life, wearing rope (gamia) fiber clothing and eating "locust and wild honey" (St. Matthew 3:4).

According to the Old Testament, Saint John the Baptist was ordained by God to be a forerunner or precursor to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. All Four Canonical Gospels also address his role. The need for forerunner to the Messiah was not exceptional.

The fame of Saint John reached the ears of Jesus in Nazareth (St. Matthew 3:5) and He came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized by John, on the special ground that it became him to "fulfill all righteousness" (St. Matthew 3:15). Saint John's special office with the baptism of Jesus, who must now "increase" as the King come to His Kingdom. He continued, however, for a while to bear testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus. He pointed Him out to his disciples, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God."

The holy prophet John was related to the Lord on His mother's side, the son of the Priest Zachariah and Righteous Elizabeth. The holy Forerunner, John, was born six months before Christ. The Archangel Gabriel announced his birth in the Temple at Jerusalem, revealing to Zachariah that a son was to be born to him.

Through the prayer offered beforehand, the child was with the Holy Spirit. Saint John prepared himself in the wilds of the desert for his great service by a strict life, by fasting, prayer and sympathy for the fate of God's people.

At the age of thirty, he came forth preaching repentance. He appeared on the banks of the River Jordan, to prepare the people by his preaching to accept the Savior of the world. In Church hymnology, Saint John is called a "bright morning star," whose gleaming outshone the brilliance of all the other stars, announcing the coming dawn of the day of grace, illumined with the Light of the Spiritual Sun, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Having baptized the sinless Lamb of God, Saint John soon died a martyr's death, beheaded by the sword on orders of King Herod at the request of Salome. (On Saint John the Baptist, see St. Matthew 3:1-16, 11:1-19, 14:1-12; St. Mark 1:2-8, 6:14-29; St. Luke 1:5-25, 39-80, 3:1-20; Saint John 1:19-34, 3:22-26). The Transfer of the Right Hand of the holy Forerunner from Antioch to Constantinople (956 A.D.) and the Miracle of Saint John the Forerunner against the Hagarenes (Moslems) at the island of Chios, Greece.

Holy Scripture tells us that after Saint John the Baptist was beheaded, the impious Herodias forbade the prophet's head to be buried together with his body. Instead, she desecrated the honorable head and buried it near her palace. The Saint's disciples had secretly taken their teacher's body and buried it. The wife of King Herod's steward knew where Herodias had buried Saint John's head, and she decided to rebury it on the Mount of Olives, on one of Herod's estates.

When word reached the royal palace about Jesus' preaching and miracles, Herod went with his wife Herodias to see if Saint John the Baptist's head was still in the place they had left it. When they did not find it there, they began to think that Jesus Christ was John the Baptist resurrected. The Gospels witness to this error of theirs (cf. St. Matthew 14:2).

The holy body of Saint John the Baptist was buried in the Samaritan city of Sevaste. The holy Evangelist Luke, who went preaching Christ in various cities and towns, came to Sevaste, where they gave him the right hand of the holy Prophet John (his holy relics), the very hand with which he had baptized the Savior. The holy Evangelist Luke took it with him to his native city of Antioch.

When the Moslems seized Antioch centuries later, a deacon named Job brought the holy hand (holy relic) of the Forerunner from Antioch to Chalcedon. From there, on the eve of the Theophany of the Lord, it was transferred to Constantinople (956 A.D.) and kept thereafter. The right hand continued to be kept in Constantinople. At the end of the 14th century to the beginning fifteen centuries, the holy relic was seen at Constantinople in the Perivleptos Monastery.

The Orthodox Church remembers Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner on six separate feast days, listed here in order of the Church year which begins September 1st:

September 23-Conception of Saint John the Forerunner

October 12-The Russian Orthodox Church observes the Transfer of the Right Hand of the Forerunner from Malta to Gatchina (1799).

January 7-The Commemoration of Saint John the Forerunner (main feast day, immediately after Epiphany on January 6th)

February 24-First and Second Finding of the Head of Saint John

May 25-Third Finding of the Head of Saint John

June 24-Birth of Saint John the Forerunner

August 29-The Beheading of Saint John the Forerunner

Also, Saint John's parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, are commemorated on September 5th

Holy Relics

The First Uncovering of the Head of Saint John the Baptist took place in the 4th century at the time when Saint Constantine the Great and his mother, Saint Helen, began restoring the holy places of Jerusalem.

The Second Finding of the Precious Head of Saint John the Baptist took place on February 18, 452, at Emesa.

After the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787), which reestablished the veneration of holy icons, the head of Saint John the Baptist was returned to the Byzantine Capital Constantinople around the year 850. The Church commemorates this event on May 25/June 7 as the Third Finding of the Precious head of Saint John the Baptist.

The holy icon of Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner can be seen on the Icon Screen of every Orthodox church next to Christ, a place of honor for this great Saint and Martyr of the Church.

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

+Father George