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Prologue from Ochrid - January 7 [January 20]

St John the Baptist.

John's greatest role during his life was enacted on the day of the Theophany, and because of this the Church has, from the earliest times, dedicated the day following that feast to his memory. This day is also connected with an event involving the hand of the Forerunner. The Evangelist Luke desired to take John's body from Sebaste, where the great prophet had been beheaded by Herod, to Antioch, his own birthplace. He succeeded, though, in acquiring and taking only one hand, which was kept in Antioch till the tenth century. It was then moved to Constantinople, whence it disappeared during the Turkish occupation.

St John is commemorated several times during the year, but his greatest feast is on this day, January 7th. Among the Gospel-figures surrounding the Saviour,the person of John the Baptist holds a very special place, by the manner of his birth in this world and of his earthly life, by his role of baptiser of men to repentance and his baptism of the Messiah, and, lastly, by the tragic manner of his departure from this world. He was of such moral purity that he indeed deserved the name 'angel'*, as he was named in the Scriptures, rather than being thought of as just a mortal man. John differs from all the other prophets in that he had the joy of showing forth to the world the One Whom he had foretold.

About the hand of St John: it is related that each year, on his feast-day, the archbishop would bring it out before the people. Sometimes the hand appeared open, and sometimes clenched. In the first case it indicated that it would be a fertile year, and in the second that it would be a year of famine.

(*The word 'messenger' is, in Greek, 'angelos'. See Malachi 3:1, Matt. 11-10-Tr.)

2. The Holy Martyr Athanasius.

This martyr of Christ was a poor and simple man, but was rich in faith and in wisdom through the Spirit of God. On one occasion he was inadvertently involved in a quarrel with a Turk. The Turk was educated and adroit with words, but Athanasius strove with all his might to present and uphold the truth of the Christian faith and its superiority over Islam. They then parted. On the following day, Athanasius was summoned to trial, and found the Turk standing there as his accuser. When the judge called on Athanasius to repudiate his faith and embrace Islam, as he had given the impression of declaring to his companion of the previous day, Athanasius cried out: 'I would die a thousand deaths before I would deny the Faith of Christ!' He was therefore condemned to death and beheaded in the year 1700. His body was buried in the Church of St Paraskeva in Smyrna, the city of his execution.

Reflection

St. Basil the Great said, "Man is not something visible." Just as a house resembles a house, so the outward man resembles the outward appearance of a man. To the house is given honor according to the one who dwells in the house; so it is to man according to the spirit that dwells in him. In the physical sense it is obvious that the house is not the master but just a house in which the master dwells, but in the spiritual sense it is obvious that the body is not the man but only the house in which the man dwells.

Contemplation

To contemplate the departure of the Lord to the Mount of Temptation:

  1. How, after His baptism, He immediately directs Himself to fasting and to prayer;
  2. How to a baptized man, the devil creates intrigue, especially during the time of fasting and of prayer;
  3. How He, meek as a lamb, yet decisively as the master rejects all the temptations of the devil.

Homily

About submission to the Will of God

"Your will be done, on earth as in heaven" (St. 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" (St. 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" (St. 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 Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

From The Prologue From Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
© 1985 Lazarica Press, Birmingham UK