January 7, 2014

Saint John the Forerunner as a Model for our Lives

The Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist (Feast Day - January 7)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Honorable Forerunner is the person who was praised by Christ more than anybody else: "Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist" (Lk. 7:28a). He is the greatest of the Prophets, not in age since he only lived thirty years, but in terms of grace and glory, because he was made worthy not only to see, but to baptize "the proclaimed" Messiah. But then Christ went on to stress that the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than Saint John the Forerunner ((Lk. 7:28b). He said this, according to the interpretation of the Divine Chrysostom, to avoid the crowds being dragged away in their exaggerations with this praise and consider John higher than the God-man Christ. But according to another interpretation, by the fourth century ecclesiastical writer Didymus the Blind, the youngest of the Holy Apostles, Saint John the Theologian, is greater than the Forerunner, since the Apostles are greater than the Prophets.

He was born of an infertile woman and was the fruit of prayer. As a fetus of six months in the womb of Elizabeth he received the grace of the Holy Spirit and leaped when the Panagia met his mother who with her mouth had prophesied and named Mary the Mother of God. The name John, which he received, was a gift from God, just as he was.

His ascetic life scandalized many of his contemporaries who could not understand his angelic way of life, and they criticized him as being possessed by demons. This fact, of course, where people criticize another person because they do not live the way they do, but in a different way, occurred in other periods as well, just as it occurs today, since today also there are many who criticize that which they cannot understand by their own reasoning; they can only understand that which exists and what they feel. In other words, beyond logic there also exists the heart, which when it gets drunk with the strong wine of the uncreated grace of the Holy Spirit, renounces all false graces of this fleeting life. The Holy Fathers call this drunkenness "sobriety". When someone tastes of the love of God, then they despise all other loves, towards material things that is, because they find them false.

The Honorable Forerunner prepared the people to receive Christ. His preaching was a preaching of repentance. His words were filled with bravery and power. He did not flinch nor hesitate to take on the establishment of his time. He rebuked the lawlessness of King Herod. Even the Pharisees, who oppressed the people by burdening them with heavy and unbearable loads, he called serpents and a brood of vipers. He was a forerunner to Christ even in Hades and with joy, as we chant in his Apolytikion, he preached to those deceased from ages past that "God has appeared in the flesh".

We will proceed to emphasize three points, taking occasion by the events of his life, as well as his experience and deeds.

First, that he was accused of being demon possessed because his life, which he dedicated to God, was different from most others. He did not live in the city, but he fled into the desert, where he lived as an ascetic. He did not eat food, but fed on akrides, which are the tips or edges of plants, and wild honey. And today, unfortunately, there is confrontation from many when someone decides, especially if they are young and educated, to dedicate their life to Christ and His Church as a Priest or as a Monk. And if they do not call him demon possessed, surely they say that something happened to his mind. In most cases people who are opposed and inflict a large number of obstacles and difficulties are not atheists and those outside the Church, but rather those who go to church and honor the Saints who followed the same path. If this isn't an absurdity then what is?

Second, if he rebuked the lawlessness of Herod and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, he did it out of love and not hatred, since he was passionless and "full of the Holy Spirit". His purpose was not to humiliate them, but to correct and heal them.

Today there is the mentality to justify our mistakes and our passions by citing Holy Scripture and the Lives of Saints for support. In this way many curse, slander and taint reputations supposedly for the glory of God. The Saints, when they are forced to rebuke, they did it with pain, love and much prayer for the persons concerned and after having exhausted all other means.

Third, the events of the life of the Honorable Forerunner, both the pleasant and the painful, he considered as coming straight from God, since apart from His will nothing can take place. Indeed, not only his birth but the other circumstances of his life took place because it was the will of God, and his death took place by divine economy, so that he may preach "to those in Hades".

The same happens with every one of us. God knows us even before we were born, since He is the cause of our creation. He loves us more than we think and cares for each of us individually. Nothing happens in our life by accident. Failures, setbacks and even the most painful diseases are allowed by the God of love, because when dealt with properly they can prove to be the greatest blessings. How many did not repent and become authentic people after a hard adventure or a severe illness?

Trust in the love and providence of God is the most stable support even when confronting the greatest setbacks. It removes insecurities and stress and puts us in the right perspective for a calm and proper treatment of the most difficult problems.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΙΩΑΝΝΗΣ Ο ΠΡΟΔΡΟΜΟΣ", January 2001. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.