August 30, 2015

Saint John the Baptist as a Liturgical Forerunner

1. Yesterday, my Christian brethren, the 29th of August, our holy Church celebrated the beheading of the honorable head of the holy Forerunner and Baptist John. But his feast is also "pulled into" today, Sunday, which is why during the entrance of the Sacred Gospel, following the Resurrection hymn, we chanted the Dismissal hymn of the Honorable Forerunner. Thus, those who were unable to attend church yesterday, could listen today to his Dismissal hymn and honor him.

2. But why does the Church celebrate now, towards the end of August, the martyric death of the Honorable Forerunner and Baptist of our Christ? It is not because his beheading actually took place on August 29th, but it is for a secret liturgical reason. Saint John the Baptist of our Lord is also called "Forerunner" because, as we know, he prepared the way for the coming of Christ. But the Church also has him as a "forerunner" of the feasts of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, because we will celebrate next month, on the 14th of September, the crucifixion death of our Christ with the great feast of the Cross, our Church has placed as a forefeast the death of the Forerunner. I have told you before, my Christians, that we prepare for this feast long before, and we then begin speaking of the death of Christ. This is why on the feast of the Transfiguration (Aug. 6) the Katavasies chanted are "When Moses inscribed a cross", thus speaking of the death of Christ. And the first Gospel reading for this feast (Matt. 17:14-23) ends with the crucifixion death of Christ (verse 23). Therefore I say again, the martyric death of the Forerunner and Baptist John is an ecclesiastical forefeast of the martyric death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

3. We, my beloved Christians, honor the Forerunner especially in the Divine Liturgy, viewing him as a forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, before Christ appears during the Small Entrance, the chanter chants the Antiphons. The Antiphons are the Forerunner. With the Antiphons we are beseeching Christ to quickly come among us. And He comes during the Small Entrance. When we see the Priest with the Holy Gospel we are seeing Christ, which is why we chant: "Come let us venerate and fall down before Christ." And before the Priest comes out with the Holy Gospel he is preceded by the altar server, who serves in the Sanctuary, holding a torch. This torch, my Christians, symbolizes the Forerunner John. The Gospel is Light, it is the Sun. But the light of Christ was preceded by the torch of the Forerunner. And during the Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy, you have probably seen and heard the Priest, before bringing out the Holy Gifts, censing and reciting: "Have mercy on me O God," then he makes obeisance asking forgiveness from you the laity in front of the Beautiful Gate. Do you know what this means, my Christians? This is the preaching of John the Forerunner. His sermon was "Repent!" This is why the Priest, before Christ comes with the Holy Gifts, precedes with the message of the Forerunner by saying "Have mercy on me O God", which is the Psalm of Repentance, and by bowing to all the people.

4. Finally, my Christians, John the Forerunner said to his listeners that Christ will come and baptize them with Fire (Matt. 3:11). What is this Fire? It is He who came in the form of fire. It is the Holy Spirit, who came in the form of fiery tongues. In the Divine Liturgy, during the sacred and awesome moment of the Sanctification of the Honorable Gifts, the Priest prays that the Holy Spirit would come throughout the congregation of the faithful. This is why at the end we say: "We have seen the true light, having received the heavenly Spirit." In the Divine Liturgy, my Christians, we are baptized into two baptisms: first, the baptism of water, which is the baptism of the Forerunner, with the sacred readings, and afterwards the baptism of Christ, which is the baptism of fire, as the Holy Forerunner and Baptist John said, whose beheading we celebrated yesterday.

With many blessings,

† Metropolitan Jeremiah of Gortynos and Megalopolis

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.