August 29--Beheading of Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner (Part II)

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My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.

ON AUGUST 29th OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH COMMEMORATES THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST AND FORERUNNER

[Strict Fast)

SAINT JOHN BORN AND NAMED (Saint Luke 57-66)

"Now Elizabeth's full time came to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbor and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, 'No; he shall be called John.' But they said to her, 'There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.' So they made signs to his father--what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, 'His name is John.' So they marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. Then fear came on all who dwelt around them, and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, 'What kind of child will this be?' And the hand of the Lord was with him."

Saint John's Messengers Inquire of Jesus (St. Matthew 11:2-19)

"When the messengers of John had departed, He began to speak 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 garment? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in king's courts. But what did you go out to see? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is He of whom it is written: 'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.' But I say to you, among those born of a woman there is not a great prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he" (St. Luke 2:24-28).

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The solemn admonitions of Saint John the Baptist, added to his sanctity and the marks of his divine commission, gained for him veneration and authority among the Jews, and some began to look upon him as the Messiah himself. But he declared that he only baptized sinners with water to confirm them in repentance and a new life: that there was One ready to appear among them who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit, and who so far exceeds him in power and excellence that he was not worthy to untie His shoes. Nevertheless, so strong was the impression which the preaching and behavior of Saint John made upon the minds of the Jews that they sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to inquire of him if he were not the Christ. And Saint John "confessed, and not deny; and he confessed, I am not the Christ", neither Elias, nor a prophet. He was indeed Elias in spirit, being the herald of the Son of God, and excelled in dignity the ancient Elias, who was a type of John. He was likewise a prophet, and more than a prophet, it being his office, not to foretell Christ at a distance, but to point Him out present among men. So, because he was not Elias in person, nor a prophet in the strict sense of the word, he answers "No" to these questions and calls himself "the voice of one crying in the wilderness"; he will not have men have the least regard for him, but turns their attention to the summons which God has sent them by his mouth. Saint John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah at His baptism; and, the day after the Jews consulted him from Jerusalem, seeing Him come towards him, he called Him, "the Lamb of God". Like an angel of the Lord ", He was neither moved by blessing nor cursing", having only God and His will in view. He preached not himself, but Christ; and Christ declared Saint John to be greater than all the saints of the law, the greatest that had been born of woman.

Saint John's disciples as soon as they heard of his death came and took his holy body and laid it in a tomb, and came and told Jesus. "Which when Jesus had heard, He retired... into a desert place apart". Josephus, in his Jewish Antiquities, gives remarkable testimony to the sanctity of Saint John, and says, "He was indeed a man endued with all virtue, who exhorted the Jews to the practice of justice towards men and piety towards God; and also to baptism, preaching that they would become acceptable to God if they renounced their sins and to the cleanness of their bodies added purity of soul." He adds that the Jews ascribed to the murder of Saint John the misfortunes into which Herod fell.

The misfortune which befell Herod after the death of Saint John the Baptist, the Jews said were a punishment from God for the murder of his servant, as their historian, Joseph Flavins, records. Aretas, the king of Arabia, and the father of Herod's first wife struck a deadly blow at the army of the Galilean ruler. Soon after this, the Roman emperor banished Herod into exile. The holy relics of Saint John did not remain for all time in their tomb at Sebastia. When in 956 A.D. the Mohammedans took possession of Antioch, a deacon by the name of Job carried the holy relic to Halcedon, from which place it was brought, on the eve of the Epiphany, to Constantinople. The Turkish sultan, Bajazet, desiring to please the Latin Crusaders, presented the Knights of Malta with the arm of the great Baptist. In 1799 A.D., this order of knights sent the holy relic of Saint John to the Emperor Paul I of Russia, and the great prophet's arm may be seen to this day in the royal palace in the "Chapel of the Savior's Uncreated Image."

As we said 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 hand of the holy Prophet John, the very hand with which he had baptized the Savior. The Evangelist Luke took it with him to his native city of Antioch. From Antioch he was taken to Constantinople. When Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, sacred objects were gathered up at the conqueror's orders and kept under lock in the imperial treasury.

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of Saint John The Baptist. Tone Four

O Prophet and Forerunner of the coming of Christ, in spite of our eagerness to render you due honor, we fall short when singing our praise. Your glorious birth saved your mother from the shame of barrenness, returned to your father the power of speech, and proclaimed to the world the Incarnation of the Son of God.

Kontakion Hymn of Saint John the Baptist. Tone Three

The woman who had been barren becomes fertile and gives birth today to the Forerunner of Christ. He is the greatest and last of the prophets, for standing in the waters of the Jordan River, he placed his hands on Christ whom all the prophets had announced, and in so doing he became a prophet himself, a preacher and a forerunner of the Logos/Word of God.

A PRAYER TO SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

O Baptist of Christ, Holy Forerunner, last of the prophets, first of the martyrs, instructor of fasters and desert-dwellers, teacher of purity and close friend of Christ! I pray thee; I run to the thee. Do not reject me from thy protection, but lift me up who am fallen in many sins; renew my soul by repentance, as by a second Baptism. Purify me, corrupted by sins, and compel me to enter therein where no corruption can enter: into the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos

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

+Father George