Thursday, January 7, 2010

Synaxis of St. John the Forerunner

Today, January 7, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates the bridge between the Old and New Covenants, St. John the Forerunner, also called the Baptizer of Christ. After every major feast of the Lord or Theotokos, the next day is set aside as a special day of honour, a synaxis (which means gathering) for someone that has connection with the feast. For instance, after Nativity, the 26th is dedicated to the Synaxis of the Theotokos. After Pentecost, the day after is the Synaxis of the Holy Spirit. Today, the Orthodox Church commemorates St. John who of course baptized our Lord in the Jordan River. No other saint, besides the Theotokos, has more days honoring him. Those other days are his conception, his birth (June 25), his death (August 29) and various other feasts regarding the recovery of his relics, including his head! Edit: It should also be noted that every Tuesday, at Great Vespers the previous night and at Orthros, many of the hymns are dedicated to him as He prepares the way for our Lord whose betrayal we commemorate on Wednesdays and Crucifixion on Fridays.

St. John began his ministry in the desert with one word: Repent! This is the same word which our Lord Jesus Christ began his ministry as well. St. John practiced a baptism that was for repentance. This is important because baptism existed long before St. John. But in the Jewish tradition, baptism was not for remission from sins and for repentance, but for cleansing from impurities associated with the old Jewish Ritual Law. So, for instance, a man who perhaps walked a mile longer than was permitted on the Sabbath (thus making him impure) could be cleansed of that, but any sin that this man committed such as against his neighbor and against God, could not be healed by baptism. Many people struck with leprosy would also seek to be baptized believing that such would cleanse them from the impurities on their skin, which they believed were the result of violating the Jewish Ritual Law. The baptism that John provided was different. It was a baptism of water for repentance.

Of course when our Lord comes to be baptized, baptism changes. Christ says that baptism is no longer only with water but also with the spirit for the remission of sins. But he does not say that repentance is no longer needed. In fact it is because of this baptism with the spirit that we can repent. Baptism is a gift from God so that we may be not only called sons of God (since we are baptized the whole Trinity is there and God the Father calls to us that we are his beloved children in whom He is well pleased) but so that we may put on Christ, as St. Paul tells us (Gal. 3:27) and become like Christ.

St. John prepared the way as he was appointed to do. He appointed the way for Christ's ministry not only in this life but also in Hades to those who had already fallen asleep. Look at any icon of the Resurrection and you will see St. John pointing to Christ as he does in other icons as the Way and the Truth and the Life. In fact, on the iconostasis, the icon of St. John is always to the right of Christ and he points at Christ signalling him to be the Saviour.

Apolytikion to St. John (Tone 2): 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 even more venerable than the Prophets since thou didst baptize in the running water Him whom they proclaimed. Wherefore, having contested and suffered for the truth, thou didst rejoice to announce the glad tidings even to those in Hades that God hath appeared in the flesh, taking away the sin of the world and granting us the Great Mercy.

Through his intercessions, may our Lord teach us repentance and save us.

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