SYNAXIS OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST
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HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE FORERUNNER – Jan. 7, 2018
Brethren, today is the Feast Day of St John the Baptist. Why? Because yesterday was the celebration of the Baptism of Christ by St John in the Jordan. In the Orthodox Church it is traditional, on the day following the Great Feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God, to remember those saints who participated directly in the sacred event. So, on the day following the Theophany of the Lord, the Church honors the one who participated directly in the Baptism of Christ, placing his own hand upon the head of the Saviour. This is the same one who, in greatest humility, and at the height of his own popularity with the people, pointed to Jesus and said to his own disciples: “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).  And what did Jesus Himself have to say about His cousin the Forerunner? He said: “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!”  (Matthew 11:11).
St Augustine of Hippo said that “John was the Voice, while the Lord is the Word.” St Nikolai Velimirovich said that by that Voice, by that call to “repentance, John prepared the way; and by baptism in water, (he) made the path straight...By repentance, the souls of men were prepared to receive the seed of Christ, and by baptism in water, to bury that seed deep in the earth of their heart.”
St John embodied in every way the content of his preaching. He could exhort the evil king and queen with the fiercest boldness, yet at the same time could yield in every way to Christ because his words were not his own words, his authority was not his own authority. He had no glory of his own. He was the moon to the Saviour’s sun. He considered himself unworthy even to be a slave who would remove the sandals of his younger cousin.
Saint John the Theologian writes of the Holy Forerunner using these words: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light” (John 1:6-8).
That’s right. John bore witness to the Light that is Christ, the first and unique witness of that Light. He was followed by countless other witnesses, who witnessed for Christ by their words and deeds, many giving their lives for Christ’s sake (the word “martyr” or “martys” in Greek means witness).
We, all of us, are called upon to be witnesses to the Light. That is why we are Christians. To call oneself a Christian but to fail to witnesses to the Light of Christ in our lives is an exercise in futility, a waste of time. We are called to be Christ’s disciples in order to be what? A candle set on a candlestick. Are we called to be a candlestick? No! We are called to be candles; and more than candles, lit candles! (see Luke 11:33ff). “Our faith is light” says St Nikolai Velimirovich, and if our faith is fervent and warm, then our light shines brghtly. But “if the light that is in us is darkness, how great is that darkness!” says the Lord (see Matthew 6:23).
Dear ones, today let us glorify the herald of the Epiphany of Christ, the first apostle, the first martyr, and the forerunner of all true Christians – St John the Baptist. As St Justin Popovich once said: “Brothers and sisters, whenever you are in great sorrow, turn to that first Apostle of Christ, and he will help you with all of your burdens. And should some kind of misfortune happen, turn to that first Evangelist. No matter what bitterness might fill your soul, he will sweeten it with Christ’s grace, which he will mystically send down to your tortured soul from the World on High. And when you find yourself in temptations and horrors of this earthly life, run to him, to the Holy Confessor; tell him what is in your heart, pour out your sorrows and spiritual needs and rest assured that in a mystical, divine manner, he will come down into your soul and will save you, and will deliver you from all temptations and woes. But should you need to suffer for the Lord Jesus Christ in this world: should others attack you on all sides, should atheists and those who oppose Christ want to swallow you up, to destroy you for belonging to Christ, should they want to silence your voice, to stop it from speaking of Christ, then remember that first Martyr, and call out to him: O Holy Martyr, first Martyr of Christ in the Gospels, hurry to my aid! Grant that may I die for the Lord Jesus Christ, leave my body like temporary clothing, and by the path of the Holy Martyrs move to Christ’s Kingdom! He will entreat the Lord that you might also join the host of Luminaries...Оh! May his holy prayers be raised up today and tomorrow, and always, and may they be raised up for us Christians...and for all the people on this earth, that the Lord lead all to repentance, that He have mercy upon all, that He save all, that all people brought [to Him] by the glorious Forerunner, might forever glorify the One True God in Heaven and on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all honor and glory, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

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