Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE SYNAXIS OF THE HOLY AND GLORIOUS PROPHET, FORERUNNER AND BAPTIST JOHN
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Forerunner. Second Tone
The memory of the just is celebrated with hymns of praise, but the Lord's testimony is sufficient for thee, O Forerunner; for thou hast proved to be truly even more venerable than the Prophets, since thou was granted to baptize in the running waters Him Whom they proclaimed. Wherefore having contested for the truth, thou didst rejoice to announce the good tidings even to those in Hades: that God hath appeared in the flesh, taking away the sin of the world and granting us great mercy.
Kontakion of the Forerunner
Terrified at Thy bodily presence, the Jordan turned back in fear; and having fulfilled his prophetic ministry, John drew back in trembling. The orders of Angels were amazed to see Thee in the streams baptized in the flesh, and all those in darkness were illumined and praised Thee, Who hadst appeared and hadst enlightened all things.
Saint John's greatest role during his life was enacted on the day of the Theophania, and because of this the Holy Orthodox Church has, from the earliest times, dedicated the day following that feast to his memory. This day is also connected with an event involving the hand of the Forerunner. The Evangelist Luke desired to take Saint John's body from Sevaste, where the great prophet had been beheaded by Herod, to Antioch, his own birthplace. He succeeded, though, in acquiring and taking only one hand, which was kept in Antioch till the tenth century. It was then moved to Constantinople, whence it disappeared during the Turkish enslavement.
Saint John is commemorated several times during the year, but his greatest feast is on this day, January 7th. Among the Gospel-figures surrounding the Savior, the person of Saint John the Baptist holds a very special place, by the manner of his birth in this world and of his earthly life, by his role of Baptizer of men to repentance and his baptism of the Messiah, and, lastly, by the tragic manner of his departure from this world. He was of such moral purity that he indeed deserved the name 'Angel', as he was named in the Holy Scripture, rather than being thought of as just a mortal man. Saint John differs from all the other Prophets in that he had the joy of showing forth to the world the One Whom he had foretold.
About the hand of Saint John: it is related that each year, on his feast-day, the archbishop would bring it out before the people. Sometimes unclenched. Sometimes clenched. In the first case it indicated that it would be a fertile year, and in the second that it would be a year of famine.
(The word 'messenger' is, in Greek 'Anggelos'. See Malachi 3:1; St. Matthew 11:10)
The person who played a major role in Christ's Baptism is the Worthy Forerunner, John the Baptist. He is a great Prophet a great character placed between the Old and New Testaments. He is the last of the Prophets of the Old and the first of the Prophets of the New Testament.
The way in which he was conceived was miraculous, through God's intervention, through the sperm of his father Zacharias and not from the Holy Spirit. His birth is connected with miraculous events. His life from the age of three years sojourn in the desert indicates his Angelic way of life. His preaching of repentance was to prepare the people for receiving the Messiah. His humility was awe-inspiring. But also his approach to perfection shows that he attained a great height of grace.
The Worthy Forerunner was related to Christ, as His Mother, the Panagia, was related to Elizabeth, the mother of the Forerunner. At the time when the Worthy Forerunner was embryo of six months in his mother's womb, the Annunciation came to the Theotokos, so we understand that Saint John the Baptist was six months older than Christ.
Saint John the Forerunner received the Holy Spirit, Which showed him to be a Prophet, while he was a six months' embryo in his mother's womb. For when the Panagia (All-Holy Mother of God), who had just conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, greeted his mother Elizabeth, then "the babe leapt in her womb" (St. Luke 1:41). Thus he became a Prophet and passed the prophetic gift on to his mother, for in this way she too recognized the mother of the Lord (Saint Gregory Palamas).
Many characterizations have been given of Saint John the Forerunner. The word John means gift of God. The forerunner is the one who goes ahead on the way, that is to say the precursor of the Messiah. He is called the Baptizer (Baptist) because he baptized Christ. In the canon of the Holy Theophania, Saint Cosmas the poet, bishop of Maiouma, characterizes him with three expressions: the voice of the Logos (Word), candlestick of the Light, Forerunner of the Sun (Christ). Because the Son and Logos (Word) of God is the enhypostatic Logos (Word) of the Father, Saint John is the voice of the Logos (Word). Because Christ as God is the Eternal and Uncreated Light, the Forerunner is the lantern. And because Christ is the Sun of Righteousness, The Bright Sun of Divinity, Saint John is the bringer of dawn, that is to say, the morning star which foretells the coming of the sun. Thus all the names, epithets and phrases are connected with his essential work, which is to announce the coming of the Messiah.
The Worthy Forerunner had great vision. In the lives of the Saints we find experiences of vision of the Glory of the Holy Trinity in the Person of Jesus Christ. Saint John the Baptist was granted by God to hear the voice of the Father, to see the Logos (Word) of God, and the Spirit of God. But this vision of God was not a sensory vision. To be sure, man sees also with the eyes of his body, but they have been transformed beforehand in order to be able to bear the sight of God. The supranatural revelations and manifestation of the Holy Trinity is shown by the phrases used by the Holy Evangelists in presenting this event. The Holy Evangelist Matthew says: "and behold, the heavens were opened to him" (St. Matt. 1:10) and the Holy Evangelist Mark "he saw the heavens parting" (St. Mark 1:10). Thus the heavens opened and parted.
These two verbs are not used casually, but to express two different realities, which are related to the Incarnation of the Son of God and the benevolence of the Holy Trinity towards mankind, as we see in the interpretation by Saint Gregory Palamas.
That the heavens "were opened" means that through Adam's disobedience the heavens were closed and man lost his communion with God. Now with the complete obedience of Christ, Who is the new Adam, the Heavens are open again and man can attain communion with God. Thus Christ is the new founder of the human race. In the flesh we are descended from Adam, but spiritually we are descended from the new Adam, Christ.
That phrase "he saw the heavens parting" points to another mystery. Christ received in the flesh the immeasurable and infinite power and energy of the Holy Spirit. And we are well aware that the energy of the Holy Spirit, being uncreated, cannot be contained by all creation. That the heavens parted demonstrated in a real way that they could not bear the moment when it seemed that the power of the Holy Spirit was going over to that divinely hypostasized flesh, or rather the deification of the assumed human nature was being manifested.
It is impossible for the created to contain the uncreated, and if this becomes possible it is because it is given strength by the Holy Spirit. Therefore we sing in the Church: "in Thy Light shall we see Light". The Saints, given strength by the Uncreated Light of God, see God as light. And the fact that someone is granted to partake of the Precious Body and Blood of Christ is due to the fact that he is a member of the Church and has share in the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God. (Personal Comment: This is one of many reasons why we do not permit Christians of another confession to receive Holy Communion in our Church. They are not members of the Church and therefore "cannot share in the purifying, illuminating, and deifying energy of God." If someone does not share in this energy of God, then he sees the heavens of his inner life parting, since he cannot bear God. (Source: The Feasts of the Lord, by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos).
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God