By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
Because John’s main role in his life was played out on the day of the Epiphany (Theophany), the Church from earliest times dedicated the day following Epiphany to his memory. To this feast is also linked the incident with the hand of the Forerunner. The Evangelist Luke desired to remove the body of John from Sebaste, where the great prophet was beheaded by Herod, to Antioch his place of birth. He succeeded though, in acquiring and translating only one hand which was preserved in Antioch until the tenth century after which it was transferred to Constantinople from where it disappeared during the time of the Turks.
Feasts of St. John are celebrated several times throughout the year, but this day, January 7, has the most Svecara. [That is, those Orthodox Serbs who honor St. John the Baptist as their Krsna Slava – Patron Saint. The Krsna Slava is the day that the Orthodox Serbs commemorate the baptism of their ancestors into Christianity]. Among the Gospel personalities who surround the Savior, John the Baptist occupies a totally unique place by the manner of his entry into the world as well as by the manner of his life in this world, by his role in baptizing people for repentance and for his baptizing the Messiah and, finally, by his tragic departure from this life. He was of such moral purity that, in truth, he could be called an angel [messenger] as Holy Scripture calls him rather than a mortal man. St. John differs from all other prophets especially in that he had that privilege of being able, with his hand, to show the world Him about Whom he prophesied.
It is said that every year on the feast of the saint, the bishop brought the hand of St. John before the people. Sometimes the hand appeared open and other times the hand appeared clenched. In the first case it signified a fruitful and bountiful year and, in the second case, it meant a year of unfruitfulness and famine.
HYMN OF PRAISE: SAINT JOHN THE FORERUNNER AND BAPTIST
Thirty years of fasting and silence!
This, not even the mountain beasts can endure.
The lion alleviates his hunger with the music of roaring,
And the tree rustles when the wind approaches
And, you do not rustle neither roar nor moan,
Neither your lament nor your song through the wilderness echoed!
Tell me, are you a man? What is your name?
Will you ever want to speak with someone?
Voice, voice, voice, I am the voice; but the Word of God, He is,
To the children of Israel, I was sent to cry out:
Repent, O people, behold, He comes,
Bring forth good fruit, each according to your strength.
Behold, behold He comes; O Wonder of Wonders,
In the midst of the water, from heaven, a hidden fire!
Behold, the Lamb of God, among the wolves, walks;
Wolves, your lupine temper, in the water, cleanse!
Thirty years of silence and fasting,
Of your body, what remains; except your voice?
Your withered body is but a shadow of your voice,
Which proclaims the news: Behold, God comes to us!
Your withered body, a reed; that Herod broke
But the voice continues, continues; no one to silence it.
Whose voice is that? From whom even the centuries tremble?
A hungry lion! No, No – a man of faith.
Homily: St. John’s Submission To the Will of God
“Your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Blessed be John the Baptist, for he fulfilled the Good News before the arrival of the Good News! Going into the wilderness, he gave himself up completely to the will of God, both body and soul. The will of God was carried out in his body on earth as well as in the heaven of his soul. Neither hunger nor wild beasts did harm his body throughout the many years that he spent in the wilderness. Neither was his soul harmed by despair because of loneliness, nor pride because of heavenly visions. He did not seek from man either bread or knowledge. God granted him everything that was necessary for him because he gave himself up completely to the will of God.
Neither did he direct his footsteps in the wilderness nor away from the wilderness. An invisible rudder from on high steered his life. For when it was necessary for him to depart the wilderness and go out to meet the Lord, it is said: “The Word of God came to John” (Luke 3:2). As an innocent youth, in this manner John spoke simply about his communication with the powers of heaven: “And I did not know Him [Christ] but the One Who sent me to baptize with water told me, `On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, He is the One Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God” (John 1: 33-34).
How tenderly and simply he speaks about heavenly things! How he is as awesome as a lion when he speaks out against the injustice of men, against Herod and Herodias! The lamb and the lion dwell in him together. Heaven is as close to him as a mother is to her child. The will of God is as accessible and clear to him as the angels in heaven.
O Lord, Most-wise, direct the lives of us sinners in the wilderness of this life according to Your will as You directed the life of St. John the Baptist. To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
Apolytikion in the 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 in the Plagal of the Second Tone
The Jordan accepted Your presence in the flesh and reversed its course in fear. John, fulfilling the spiritual ministry, fell back in awe. The ranks of Angels, seeing You in the flesh, baptized in the river, were amazed, and all who were in darkness were filled with light, praising You who appeared and enlightened all.
Prayer on the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist
Thou who didst baptize Christ, preacher of repentance, despise not us that repent: but, together with the host of Heaven, pray to the Master for us unworthy ones, in our despondency, weakness and sorrow: for we have fallen into many troubles, weighed down by the stormy thoughts of our minds. For we are become a den of evil works, having no end to our sinful habits: our mind is nailed to worldly things.
What we shall do, we know not, and nor to whom we shall flee, that our souls might be saved, save unto thee, holy John, who art named for Grace, whom we know to be greater than any, but the Theotokos, that are born before the Lord: for thou was found worthy to touch the head of Christ the King, Who taketh away the sins of the world, the Lamb of God: to Whom pray thou for our sinful souls, that at least from henceforth in the eleventh hour, we may bear the good burden and receive our reward among the last.
Yea, O thou who didst baptize Christ, thou revered Forerunner and last of the Prophets, first of the Martyrs according to Grace, mentor of fasters and those who fled to the desert, teacher of purity and close friend of Christ, we pray thee, we flee to thee for refuge: cast us not away from thy protection, but rather raise us up who are fallen in many sins: renew our spirit through repentance, as it were by a second baptism, washing away sin, and preaching penitence unto the cleansing of the ill deeds of each: wash us, indeed, who are stained with sins, and cause us to enter that place where nothing impure hath entry, into the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.
Source: Book of Canons, Kiev, 1762. Reprinted in “Polny Sbornik Molitv”, p. 72