June 24, 2017

The Birth of John the Baptist and the Summer Solstice

By John Sanidopoulos

The summer solstice occurs some time between June 20 and June 22. As seen from a geographic pole, the sun reaches its highest altitude of the year on the summer solstice. Therefore the summer solstice is the longest day of the year, and in turn the shortest night.

On the day after the summer solstice daylight begins to slowly decrease, while nighttime slowly increases. This happens until the fall equinox which occurs some time between September 21 and September 24, when the sun directly shines on the equator and the length of day and night is nearly equal.

Some time between December 21 and December 23 the winter solstice occurs. This astronomical phenomenon marks the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year.

When the winter solstice is completed, daylight begins to slowly increase, while nighttime slowly decreases. This happens until the spring equinox which can occur as early as March 19 and as late as March 21, when like the fall equinox the sun directly shines on the equator and the length of day and night is nearly equal.

The Orthodox Church celebrates the Birth of John the Baptist on June 24th, which falls around the time of the summer solstice. The Conception of John the Baptist is celebrated on September 23rd, which falls around the time of the fall equinox. On December 25th we celebrate the Birth of Christ, which falls around the time of the winter solstice. And on March 25th, around the time of the spring equinox, the Church celebrates the Annunciation, which marks the day of the conception of Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

These dates on which the Church celebrates the above-mentioned feasts, are gathered from a close reading of the Gospels. Luke 1:21 indicates that the conception of John the Baptist took place around the Day of Atonement, which falls around late September. Luke 1:26 informs us that the Annunciation took place six months after the conception of John the Baptist, placing it around late March. Since pregnancy normally lasts nine months, we come to the birth of John the Baptist taking place around late June, and the birth of Christ taking place around late December.

Therefore, by Divine Providence, these four great feasts fall on the four days of great astronomical significance in regards the movement of the earth around the sun, which affects the lumination and darkness of the earth.

From one perspective it can be observed that by doing this, God was attempting to diminish the influence of the zodiac on the pagan and superstitious people of the time, so that when people observed the movement of the sun in the sky (which in reality is the movement of the earth around the sun), they would attach its association with these four great feasts that were established by the Church to call to our remembrance the work of our salvation.

But it also helps us to recall something we read about in John 3:30, where John the Baptist says to his disciples concerning Christ: "He must increase; I must decrease." Isn't this exactly what the observation of the sun confirms for us?

Because the Church has established December 25th as the day of Christ's birth, it falls during the time of the winter solstice when daylight begins to increase. Christ therefore is increasing with the light of the earth, while darkness is decreasing, namely the ministry of John. And at this time it can be said that since Christ has come into the world, He must increase while His forerunner must decrease. Therefore when John is born on June 24th right after the summer solstice and the darkness begins to increase, we are reminded that John is not the one who accomplishes our salvation, but he came to prepare the way for the One who will indeed bring about our salvation.