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The Holy and Glorious Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light (Jesus Christ,) that all through him might believe.”
The divine Baptist, the Prophet born of a Prophet, the seal of all the Prophets and beginning of the Apostles, the mediator between the Old and New Covenants, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, the God-sent Messenger of the incarnate Messiah, the forerunner of Christ’s coming into the world (Esaias 40:3; Mal. 3:1); who by many miracles was both conceived and born; who was filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb; who came forth like another Elias the Zealot, whose life in the wilderness and divine zeal for God’s Law he imitated: this diving Prophet, after he had preached the baptism of repentance according to God’s command; had taught men of low rank and high how they must order their lives; had admonished those whom he baptized and had filled them with the fear of God, teaching them that no one is able to escape the wrath to come if he does not perform works worthy of repentance:
had, through such preaching, prepared their hearts to receive the evangelical teachings of the Saviour; and finally, after he had pointed out to the people the very Saviour, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sin of the world” (Luke 3:2-18; John 1:29-36), after all this, John sealed with his own blood the truth of his words and was made a sacred victim for the divine Law at the hands of a transgressor.
This was Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee, the son of Herod the Great. This man had a lawful wife, the daughter of Arethas (or Aretas), the King of Arabia (that is, Arabia Petraea, which had the famous Nabatean stone city of Petra as its capital. This is the Aretas mentioned by Saint Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:32.) Without any cause, and against every commandment of the Law, he put her away and took to himself Herodias, the wife of his deceased brother Philip, to whom Herodias had borne a daughter, Salome. He would not desist from this unlawful union even when John, the preacher of repentance, the bold and austere accuser of the lawless, censured him and told him, “It is not lawful for thee to have they brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18.) Thus Herod, besides his other unholy acts, added yet this, that he apprehended John and shut him in prison; and perhaps he would have killed him straightway, had he not feared the people, who had extreme reverence for John. Certainly, in the beginning, he himself had great reverence for this just and holy man. But finally, being pierced with sting of a mad lust for the women Herodias, he laid his defined hands on the teacher of purity on the very day he was celebrating his birthday. When Salome, Herodias’ daughter, had danced in order to please him and those who were supping with him, he promised her—with an oath more foolish than any foolishness—that he would give her anything she asked, even unto half of his kingdom. And she, consulting with her mother, straightway asked for the head of John the Baptist in a charger. Hence this transgressor of the Law, preferring his lawless oath above the precepts of the Law, fulfilled this godless promise and filled his loathsome banquet with the blood of the Prophet. So it was that the all-venerable head, revered by the Angels, was given as a prize for an abominable dance, and became the plaything of the dissolute daughter of a debauched mother. As for the body of the divine Baptist, it was taken up by his disciples and placed in a tomb (Mark 6:21-19.)
St. John the Baptist being the greatest of all the Old Testament prophets announced with zeal the coming of the Lord. As the Preparatory Prayer for St. John says, “He even preached the Good News to those in Hades.” For his desire to call all people to repentance and for his unending love for God, the Orthodox Church places his icon next to the icon of Christ. In this icon, we see St. John wearing a cloak which Scripture tells us was made from the hairs of camels (Matthew 3:4.) This course garment signifies that he was a prophet and ascetic of great degree. St. John Chrysostom says, “For this reason his outer garment was of hair, in order that by his form he might instruct the people to leave human things, and to have nothing in common with the earth, but to hasten back to their earlier nobility, wherein Adam was before he wanted garments and coverings. Thus that dress bore the tokens of a kingdom and repentance.”
St. Bede the Venerable says, “His garments, figuratively speaking, mean repentance and continence, which he carried out himself and also instructed others in, are represented by camel’s hair, out of which sackcloth is made, and a leather girdle, which is taken from a living thing that had died, expressing the fact that he [ St. John] had put to death his earthly members.”
In the hand of St. John the Baptist is a scroll which reads, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of the heavens hath drawn near” (Matthew 3:2.) Repentance and recognizing God in our life was his main message. As we gaze upon this icon, we also hear the saint calling us to repentance in order for us to greet the Saviour with humble hearts.
“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance… therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” — St. John the Baptist and Forerunner.