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September 5, 2016

Holy Prophet Zechariah, Father of John the Forerunner

Holy Prophet and Priest Zechariah (Feast Day - September 5)


Zechariah was slaughtered just like a lamb,
Within the Temple for the Lamb of God.
On the fifth Zechariah was slaughtered on the ground of the Temple.

Zechariah the levite and his wife Elizabeth were of the lineage of Aaron, and according to Luke the Evangelist: "Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old" (Lk. 1:8).

When Zechariah was serving as high priest on the day of Atonement, he went to the Temple in Jerusalem to burn incense before the Holy of Holies. It was at that time that the Archangel Gabriel appeared before him standing at the right side of the altar of incense, and shining with a brilliant light the Angel told him that his prayers and that of his wife Elizabeth had been heard, and in their old age they were to give birth to a son, who was to be called John. "He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb," the Angel announced, "and will go before the Lord to prepare the people for Him" (Lk. 1:15,17). However, Zechariah doubted the words of the Angel, and for this he was struck silent until the birth of the Forerunner, in order to teach him to not doubt the divine promises that surpass the order of nature.

On the day of the child's birth, Zechariah regained his speech after writing the name "John" on a tablet, to indicate the child's name. He then intoned a prophetic canticle:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us — to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

After the conception of Christ, Zechariah declared the ever-virginity of Mary, for he appointed her a place in the part of the Temple reserved for virgins while pregnant, and this brought upon him the hatred of the Jewish priests.*

When King Herod issued a decree that all the children under the age of two were to be slaughtered, after hearing of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem from the Wise Men who called Him the King of the Jews, Zechariah hid John and his mother in a cave beyond the Jordan. At this time the Jewish priests took the opportunity to denounce Zechariah to Herod, who had him slaughtered in the Temple between the altar and the sanctuary (Lk. 11:51). His body was then taken up by certain priests and buried with his fathers.**


* Basil the Great attests to this in his Homily on the Nativity of the Lord: "It is also clear from the story about Zechariah that Mary was always a virgin. For there is an account, and it has been handed down to us from tradition, that Zechariah entrusted Mary to the place for the virgins after conceiving the Lord. Then he was slaughtered by the Jews between the temple and the altar. Charges had been brought against him by the people, on the grounds that by his actions he established that incredible and famous sign: a virgin gave birth and her virginity was not destroyed."

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Wrapped in priestly vestments, wise Zechariah, you offered in a manner fitting a priest acceptable whole burnt offerings according to the Law of God; and you became a beacon and one who contemplated mysteries, manifestly bearing in yourself, O all-wise, the symbols of grace. Slain by the sword in God’s temple, Prophet of Christ, with the Forerunner intercede that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Today the Prophet and Priest of the Most High, Zechariah, the parent of the Forerunner, sets out a table for his memory, nourishing believers and mixing for them a drink of righteousness. And so we praise him as a godly initiate of God’s grace.

The Hierarch received the silence of the Law, through the voice of a Messenger receiving the Messenger, Prophet and initiate of the coming of Christ, with the barren and sober Elizabeth. When he was born grace, redemption and our universal reconciliation were renewed; for he proclaims the Lamb and Fashioner, the One who makes nature new, who gives fruit from the barren, who appeared as Son of the Virgin. He is a godly initiate of God’s grace.

You served blamelessly as priest to God almighty in the order of the Law, O Prophet Zechariah; and so, as you offered incense, an Angel appeared to you saying: You will beget the Forerunner of Christ, mediator between the Law and inspired Grace.