Synaxis of St. John The Baptist

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

On Tuesday of last week, the day after Theophany, the church celebrated the synaxis of St. John the Baptist. In the Orthodox Church it is customary, 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 Savior. We were not able to have a service for Saint John and so I would like to honor him by speaking about him in my sermon this morning.

We know that John at the age of thirty, came forth preaching repentance. He appeared on the banks of the Jordan, to prepare the people by his preaching to accept the Savior of the world. In church hymnology, St John is called a "bright morning star," whose gleaming outshone the brilliance of all the other stars, announcing the coming dawn of the day of grace, illumined with the light of the spiritual Sun, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saint John was a man of great humility and obedience. A quality of the saints, as we see especially in the life of St. John the Baptist, is a combination of both boldness and extreme humility. We lack boldness, the Holy Fathers tell us, because of our lack of humility, because of our sinfulness, but St. John the Baptist was able to speak boldly, yet at the same time yield to Christ, and Christ was the reason that John existed in the first place. John knew this and he was not interested in his own position. He was first and foremost interested in the position of Christ. What humility! And, is this not reality? A hieromonk once told me that humility is reality. This is so true. If we know in truth that something is the way it is, it is only our sinfulness and our pride that allows us to pretend that it is some other way. St. John realized his place and his calling, and in all humility he acknowledged it. He simply acknowledged the reality of his own position. And St. John was able to do this because he himself was living a life of repentance. To the extent that we live a life of repentance, is the extent that we will exude humility in our own lives. The two virtues go hand-in-hand. One cannot be truly humble if one if not repenting. And so, this is where we always come back to. Repentance, as the first calling we have received as Orthodox Christians. For the person who is seeking God, the realization of the absolute difference between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the Gospel is because of a repentant spirit. It is significant that the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, means, literally, a "change of mind." So it is not surprising that St. John the Baptist began his public ministry with the injunction, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Likewise, as we heard in todays Gospel reading, Christ began His ministry with the same message, "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

St. John of Damascus writes this of our Holy Father John the Baptist: “Let us honor also the prophet John as forerunner and Baptist, as apostle and martyr, for among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist, says the Lord, and he became the first to proclaim the Kingdom. In the law every one who touches a dead body was considered impure, but the saints are not dead. For how could a dead body work miracles? How, therefore, are demons driven off by the saints, diseases dispelled, sick persons made well, the blind restored to sight, lepers purified, temptations and troubles overcome, and how does every good gift from the Father of lights come down through them to those who pray with sure faith? How much labor would you not undergo to find a patron to introduce you to a mortal king and speak to him on your behalf? Are not those, then, worthy of honor who are the patrons of the whole race, and make intercession to God for us? Yea, verily, we ought to give honor to them by raising temples to God in their name, bringing them fruit-offerings, honoring their memories and taking spiritual delight in them, in order that the joy of those who call on us may be ours, that in our attempts at worship we may not on the contrary cause them offense. For those who worship God will take pleasure in those things whereby God is worshipped. In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, in contrition and in pity for the needy, let us believers implore the saints, as God also is most worshipped in such a way. Let us raise monuments to them and visible images, and let us ourselves become, through imitation of their virtues, living monuments and images of them.

Let us revere the life of St. John the Baptist, and let us emulate his faith, love, humility, and obedience. And just as St. John was first and foremost interested in the position of Christ, Let us also remember that all things point to Christ. It is not about us but about Christ. Let us remember as Metropolitan Vlakos reminds us that “The greatest gift of grace which we have is that we belong to Christ and His church. The greatest gift that we have is that we are in this great family, a family that includes all of us, The Theotokos, St. John the Baptist, the angels, the prophets, the holy fathers, the great martyrs, and all of the saints. We are not alone. We should value this gift, we should feel very deeply moved, and struggle to remain in the church, experencing its sanctifying grace and showing by our lives that we are in its place of redemption and sanctification.

May we all beg the intercessions of saint John who obtained favor with God even from his mother’s womb, proclaimed the Kingdom of God to those on earth and to those under the earth, and guided, and continues to guide, all towards it by his words, deeds and prayers to God, in Christ Himself Our Lord, to whom alone belongs eternal glory. Amen.