On this day, the church celebrates the nativity of St. John the Baptist. He whom none born of women was greater. He who kneeled to the Lord Christ while he was still in his mother's womb, and was worthy to lay his hand upon the head of the Son of God during Baptism. The Holy Bible said about him: "Now Elizabeth's full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. Now 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. And 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.' And they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. He prophesied about his son, saying. '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 1:57-76)
When he was two years old, the wise men (Magi) came, Herod killed the children, some divulged about this child and the soldiers searched for him to kill him. Zechariah took the child and brought him to the sanctuary, laid him on the altar and told the soldiers, "I have received him from this place". The angel of the Lord caught up the child and brought him to the desert of Ziphana, so the soldiers became enraged and they killed his father Zechariah. For this reason the Lord had said to the Jews: "That on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar." (Matthew 23:35) So the child John grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts more than twenty years living an angelic life, till the day of his manifestation to Israel. (Luke 1:80)
And John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4) He lived in the wilderness persevering in prayers and asceticism, until the Lord ordered him, to fulfill the prophesies, to preach to the people about the coming of the Savior of the World. For he was sent from God, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. (John 1:6-8)
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being high priests, the Word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he 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; and the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' " (Luke 3:1-6)
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:1-2)
Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:5-6)
While the people were waiting, and thinking in their hearts about John if he was the Christ, John answered, saying to them all, "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire." (Luke 3:16-17)
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him. Then Jesus, when He had been baptized, came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17) (Luke 3:20-22)
Then John's disciples came to him and said, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified; behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!" John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, '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. He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:26-36)
But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:7-10) (Luke 3:7-9)
When Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, against all the Laws, St. John the Baptist came to him. He admonished him for his transgression and all the evil things that he was doing. So Herod ordered, according to the instigation of Herodias the adulterer, to seize John, chain him and imprison him in the fortress called Macronda.
John remained in this jail for a year, without Herod being able to slay him. His disciples visited their teacher, frequently and courageously, in prison. As he did not neglect his duties toward them, proving to them that Jesus was the expected Christ. When the news of the wonders that our Savior did noised everywhere, John wanted his disciples to be eye witnesses to the wonders of Christ, to be confirmed in their faith in him.
While he was in prison, John sent two of his disciples to Christ, who said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." (Matthew 11:2-6)
As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes 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 garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: 'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.' Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: 'We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; we mourned to you, And you did not lament.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' But wisdom is justified by her children." (Matthew 11:7-19)
The Lord Christ, to Whom is the Glory, also said about John the Baptist: "He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light." (John 5:35)
Herodias desired to get rid of John the Baptist, so she executed her scheme during the celebration of Herod's birthday.
When Herod's birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, "Give me John the Baptist's head here on a platter." And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him at the table, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus. When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart. (Matthew 14:2-13) The joy of the people celebrating Herod's birthday turned into sorrow. As of the head, it flew up from their hands and was crying out saying: "It is not right for you to take your brother's wife." The martyrdom of St. John took place at the end of the thirty-first or at the beginning of the thirty-second year of the Christ. The life of this Saint was like that of the angels in purity. He was filled with the Holy Spirit while he was in his mother's womb, and was martyred for his witnessing to the truth.
May his prayers be with us and Glory be to God forever. Amen.