Synaxis of the Holy Glorious Prophet, Forerunner…
Synaxis of the Holy Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John
John comes from the Hebrew name Yohanan (יוֹחָנָן). It is composed of (1) יה (yah), the shortened name of the Lord, and (2) the verb חנן (hanan), to be gracious.
The Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist
On January 7, the Orthodox Church honors the Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John, just as it honored the Most Holy Mother of God on the day following the glorious Nativity. It is customary, on the day following the Great Feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God, to remember those saints who participated directly in the event.
Saint John the Baptist was born of two pious and elderly parents, the priest Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, who was barren. His birth was miraculous (cf. Luke chapter 1).
Liturgically, the Orthodox Church addresses him in her prayers every Tuesday (The Octoechos), in addition to other feasts. He is a great saint in the Church, for his life and role as a prophet who immediately preceded and indicated Christ.
- There is six Feast of Saint John the Baptist across the year:
- June 24, his Nativity;
- August 29, his Beheading;
- September 23, his Conception;
- January 7, the Synaxis of the Honorable, Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John;
- February 24, the First and Second Finding of his head;
- May 25, the Third Finding of his head;
Saint John the Baptist is more than a prophet:
The Lord Jesus Christ spoke of him and his clothes
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? Otherwise, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? Look, those who wear fine clothing are found in kings’ palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I will send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You. Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11: 7-11)
Saint John Chrysostom explains about the Saint and Prophet John the Baptist: “The other prophets spoke about the coming of Jesus, while John pointed out his finger towards Him, saying: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29). Saint John was not just a prophet. He also baptized Christ. Thus, he fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi about an angel who would walk in the face of the Lord. John belongs to the hosts of angels, not by nature, but by his life and mission.
This is what the Troparion says:
The memory of the righteous is celebrated with hymns of praise, / but the Lord’s testimony is sufficient for you, O Forerunner. / You were shown in truth to be the most honorable of the prophets, / for you were deemed worthy to baptize in the streams of the Jordan Him whom they foretold. / Therefore, having suffered for the truth with joy, / you proclaimed to those in hell God who appeared in the flesh, / who takes away the sin of the world, and grants us great mercy.
The liturgical services describe Saint John as:
-The mediator between the Old and New Testaments and the last among the Prophets who told about the coming of Christ (Matins- Ode 6).
- He is established by the law and grace at the same time, concluding the first and opening the second (Matins- Ode 9).
- He concludes the law and is the premise of the new grace (Matins- Ode 7).
- He is equal to the angels with his extraordinary angelic life on the earth and inhabited the wilderness even “in swaddling clothes” (Matins- Doxa of the Ainos or Lauds).
- He is a model for ascetics, for virginity, for the life of repentance purity from passions.
- He is a leader of monks and desert dwellers.
- He does not stop preparing for the coming of Christ in us.
- The testimony of Saint John of Christ is in every generation and for every generation. "Prepare the way of the Lord. Make His paths straights."
Saint John the Baptist has several names or titles related to his message.
1- The Angel of the Desert
This designation is the result of a prophecy in the book of Malachi in the 5th century B.C.
Malachi is a Hebrew word meaning "angel" or "apostle". Here it means that the angel of the Lord sent by Him, whose salvation is declared.
The book of Malachi
This book came amid a very large phase of corruption among the Jewish people. The men of Judah divorced their Jewish wives and married pagan women. They lived in fornication, fraud, and injustice to the miserable, neglecting the service of the Temple and paying tithes. They profaned the Sabbath, and the fear of God was almost non-existent. Some of them gave the sayings of the prophets as a temporal interpretation, that is, limiting them to the period of earthly royal rule, and therefore not entering into the purposes and plans of God.
On the other hand, the logic of power and evil strongly prevailed. Invaded by famines, the people started to doubt in God’s love. They said that there is no benefit from doing good and obeying the Commandments. One should rather depend on oneself. Therefore, the book exposes their sins and hypocrisy, which led them to those black days.
The Prophet called them mainly for repentance and to abandon their sins so that blessings return to them.
It is noteworthy that the prophet Malachi went beyond repentance, to announce the coming of Christ, who will bring salvation and the fullness of blessings. Therefore, Malachi clearly prophesied about the coming of Christ.
This is the last prophecy in the Old Testament. It inflames the hearts that await Christ, the Sun of righteousness. This prophecy ends the time of the prophets. No prophets shall come after Malachi. Only Saint John the Baptist comes, the angel who paves the way for Christ.
This is supposed to be the role of the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the priests, who should have interpreted the prophecies in a spirit of chastity and purity.
The verse of Malachi is repeated twice:
In verse 3 of his book, we read: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:1). This is the verse used by Saint Mark the Evangelist to speak pf John the Baptist (2:1).
The word angel in Malachi’s verse is mentioned twice:
* The first time it was the messenger, the angel, that the Lord would send to prepare His way. Here, the Lord of hosts, that is, God himself is the speaker.
* The second time means Christ, who is the Angel of the Covenant. He shall be preceded the one who will pave his way, as an angel too. This is the link between the name of the Prophet and the subject of his prophecy.
This verse is a preparation for the coming of the Messiah and an answer to a verse that precedes it directly, which shows the wicked disdain regarding the coming of the Lord and his salvation: "Where is the God of justice?" (Malachi 2:17)
God has prepared mankind for his coming since the fall of Adam and Eve when He made the promise to them: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). The first three Forefathers (the patriarchs) came, then the prophets, with symbols and prophecies about the coming of Christ. Finally, God sent John the Baptist as an angel who prepared the path for the promised Messiah and Savior. He was thus the final prophet of the Old Testament, the Forerunner, and Baptist of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This verse is in concordance with two things:
-The words of Archangel Gabriel to the Father of St John, Zacharias the priest:
- “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1: 16-17)
- “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways” (Luke 1:76)
The message of St John the Baptist is a divine messianic prophecy. It is a message from heaven for the people in heaven. It is a message he received from Heaven for the people of Heaven, that is, humankind who has lost its true identity in the majority.
The books of the Old Testament ended on this promise, in the expectation that the Author of the Old Testament himself would open a New Testament and fulfill it with his incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection.
There is a paradox here: Salvation is not through the physical, physical affiliation of Abraham, the Forefather, but rather through the coming of the One Whom Abraham expected, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ. “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)
The prophet Malachi asserts that the Lord Messiah comes suddenly to His temple, which the pious seek, those who fear the Lord, since the days of Adam and Eve. They are waiting for him with great joy.
“They were waiting for the Consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25); everyone was waiting for it (Luke 38:2), so He is “the desire of all nations” (Haggai 2:7). All the people should find in Him their heartfelt joy and satisfaction.
“He comes suddenly”: this is an eschatological meaning.
The priests confirmed His historical birth in Bethlehem of Ephrata. However, he came to them suddenly, as they were not prepared to receive Him, despite their knowledge.
Concerning his eschatological advent, that is to say, the Last (or Second Coming at the end of times), Jesus is the One who opens the closed books, and He is the Just Judge.
- "To His temple": The temple here is much further than the stone building; it is rather the human being. “Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Luke 22: 7)
Indeed, Christ did not break the law or the law, but on the other hand, He reminded the Jews and the Pharisees that God made the Sabbath at the service of mankind and not the other way around. It is true that he taught us to respect the Temple and forbade it, but he affirmed that he wanted to live in our hearts. This is the New Testament.
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
2-Last Prophet of the Old Testament:
He is the last prophet to have told about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is a mediator between the Old and the New Testament.
The four gospels mention him:
- In the beginning of the Gospel by Mark: “As it is written in the Prophets:
“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.’” (Mark 1: 2-3)
- In the Gospel of Matthew: “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.” (Matthew 3:1-2)
-In the Gospel of Luke: “And he (John) went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ” (Luke 3: 3-6)
- In the Gospel of John: “Now this is the testimony of John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?”
And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may answer those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said.”(John 1: 19-23)
3- The Forerunner Πρόδρομος
The word Forerunner means the one who comes before the Lord. John preached that Jesus is the Savior, that He is much greater than him. His holiness lies in the fact that he considered himself nothing before his God. He said: “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7)
“I am not the Christ,’ but, I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore, this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3: 28-30).
Since he is the Forerunner, we always see him on the iconostasis. His icon is to the Left of the Lord Jesus’ icon.
4- The Baptist
The word Baptist is from to baptize, to immerse in water completely, to delete what was old and put on a new garment. This action has a very great theological meaning in Christianity, as it refers to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus' response to the Sons of Zebedee regarding their request to sit on His right and left is the best answer to the word “baptism” and gives the full and real meaning of the word.
“But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
They said to Him, “We are able”(Matthew 20:22).
The verb is to Baptize βαπτίζω Baptízō in Greek. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3: 11).
Fire burns sins but it is also energy. The baptism of the Lord is unequaled by any other baptism. This is expressed by the prophet Isaiah: “When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning” (Isaiah 4:4)
Common characteristics in the icons of Saint John the Baptist:
-His ethereal stature: an indication of the life of asceticism and fasting. His food was locust and wild honey.
-The ascetic character on his face: he endured a life of drought and poverty in the desert, and he struggled for God, always ready to announce His word.
- His clothes: earthen green and camel hair. This is mentioned in the Bible, and it after the model of Elijah.
- Note: In most icons we see his head cut off because he was martyred for the truth that is Christ. John did not compromise concerning and proclaimed the truth: he denounced sinful Herod publicly.
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