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September 5, 2015

Holy Prophet Zechariah, Father of John the Forerunner, as a Model for our Lives

Prophet Zechariah (Feast Day - September 5)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Prophet Zechariah was a Priest of God in the period of the Old Testament. One time, while he was performing his priestly duties, and he entered the Temple in Jerusalem to offer incense, he was visited by the Archangel Gabriel who announced to him that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son, and he was to be called John. Zechariah was in disbelief, for Elizabeth was barren and old and he himself was at an advanced age, therefore the Archangel Gabriel told him that he would be speechless until the child was born, since he did not believe in his words which would come true in the proper time.

After the birth of the Honorable Forerunner, the tongue of the Prophet Zechariah was loosened and he blessed God. He also prophesied that the child would be called a Prophet of the Highest and would lead the way to prepare a path for the Lord.

The Prophet Zechariah had a martyric end. He was murdered between the Temple and the Sanctuary.

In the first chapter of the Gospel According to Luke there is described the vision of the Prophet Zechariah, his dialogue with the Archangel Gabriel, the circumstances of the birth of Saint John the Baptist, etc. One can refer to them and study them. Here we will confine ourselves to what we said above and move on to emphasize two points that are related to the life and conduct of the Prophet Zechariah.

First, the Prophet Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were a blessed couple. They loved God very much and prayed to Him daily to make them worthy to have a child, because childlessness at that time was considered a disgrace. God responded to their prayers, but only after many years, after they had grown old and it was humanly impossible to have children. The Prophet Zechariah disbelieved the words of the Archangel Gabriel, because it seemed odd and he sought for an explanation of how this was to take place, since he was an old man and his wife was old and barren. In other words, he asked to understand through reasonable processes a mystery which can only be accepted by faith.

The temptation of reason sometimes puts the faith of the virtuous and pious to the test. Due to the great faith of the Prophet Zechariah, as well as his inner purity, he was made worthy to see the Archangel Gabriel and converse with him. Nevertheless he disbelieved and therefore, as Saint John Chrysostom stresses, the Archangel became angry and punished him. Chrysostom explains why:

"What did Zechariah do? For this is the subject under investigation, namely, that it is an unpardonable thing to be so curious as to question God's revelations can be true. Rather it is our duty to accept on faith whatever God says. Zechariah looked at his age, his gray hair, his body which had lost its strength. He looked at his wife's sterility, and he refused to accept on faith what the angel revealed would come to pass.

He questioned how this could be true and said: 'How am I to know this?' How, he said, will this be? Look! I have grown old and I have turned gray. My wife is sterile and advanced in years. My time of life lacks the freshness of youth; my nature is no longer useful for begetting children. How can what you have promised be reasonable? I lack the strength to beget; my wife's womb is no longer fruitful. Some of you may think he should be pardoned for probing into the predicted sequence of events. Should he not be excused for thinking his question was reasonable?

But God did not think he deserved pardon. And this was very reasonable. For whenever God makes a revelation, there is no need to stir up the workings of one's reason not to propose to oneself either a sequence of events, or a necessity rooted in nature, or any other such thing. The power of God's revealed word is above all these things, and no hindrance has ever checked its course. So what are you, a mere human, doing? When God makes you a promise, do you reject it and seek refuge in your old age? Do you argue that God cannot do what He promises because you are too old? Old age is not stronger than God's promise, is it? Nature is not more powerful than the Creator of nature, is it?

Do you not know, Zechariah, that the works that come from His words are strong and mighty? His word set up the heavens; His word produced creation; His word made the angels. Do you doubt that His word can produce a child? This is why the angel was angry and why he did not pardon Zechariah, for all the fact that he was a priest. Because of his priesthood Zechariah was subjected to greater punishment. For the man who has a higher title of honor should surpass others in accepting God's revelations on faith." (On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily 2)

It is said that God punishes in the sense that He allows punishment, because God does not punish anyone. People punish themselves and damn themselves, because their words and deeds drive away the Grace of God. God loves people and respects their freedom and allows trials for educational reasons.

Second, after the birth of Saint John, who is called the Forerunner and the Voice of the Word of God, namely Christ, the Prophet Zechariah regained his voice and spoke a good word. He blessed God, thanked Him for the great gift, and prophesied the future and development of the child. Though he disbelieved according to human weakness, he apparently repented which is why he received the forgiveness of his sins and did not lose the gift of prophecy. As he stated in his prophecy, God visits His people out of love, and grants them forgiveness of their sins, that they may continue to worship Him "in holiness and righteousness."

The case of the Prophet Zechariah should trouble us and make us more cautious. If he fell into the sin of disbelief and doubt, how much danger are we in to do the same? For we do not have the faith of the Prophet Zechariah, nor the virtue and the inner purity necessary.

We attend church, study Holy Scripture, the lives and writings of the Saints, we listen to sermons, we say we believe in God, yet in critical moments we doubt there is eternal life, heaven, hell, angels, demons, a Second Coming, etc. Death frightens us because we don't have a personal experience of divine eternal life.

We need to get serious about our spiritual healing, and not play around with our salvation, because God is a lover of mankind, but He is not mocked.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Προφήτης Ζαχαρίας ὁ πατέρας τοῦ Τιμίου Προδρόμου", September 2003. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.