September 5, 2019

The High Priesthood of Zechariah is Vital to the Liturgical Calendar of the Church

By St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite

That Zechariah was a High Priest is confirmed for us by Chrysostom, Augustine, Ambrose, Theophylact and Theodoret. Holy Scripture also testifies to this, where it says that no one else was to be in the Tabernacle when the High Priest was making atonement: "No one is to be in the Tabernacle from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Holy of Holies until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel" (Lev. 16:17). This is in agreement with what the Evangelist Luke writes about Zechariah: "And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the time of incense" (Lk. 1:10). The divine Chrysostom uses this verse from Scripture to show that Zechariah was a High Priest, and that when he entered into the Holy of Holies, it was the Day of Atonement which took place in the seventh month, namely September. Theodoret also testifies to this: "The altar of incense was located outside the curtain. If it had been inside, he would not have been ordered to take the coals in a censor and toss the incense once inside the curtain" (Quest. 22 on Leviticus). This was taught to us also by the blessed Luke, in his narration on Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. At that time (namely the Day of Atonement which was in the seventh month, or September), he entered the Holy of Holies, and had a vision of an angel.

The entire Church of Christ also has this same mindset, that Zechariah was a High Priest, and in September, on the Day of Atonement, he received the annunciation. For this reason on the 23rd of September we celebrate the Conception of his son the Forerunner. From this follows the celebration of the Birth of the same Forerunner on the 24th of June, that is, after the completion of nine whole months. The Conception of the Forerunner is followed by the celebration of the conception of God the Word on the 25th of March, which took place six months after the conception of the Forerunner, when the Theotokos received the Annunciation. From the conception of God the Word follows the celebration of His Birth on the 25th of December. From the Birth of God the Word follows the celebration of the Reception forty days later [2nd of February]. Therefore if we concede that Zechariah was not a High Priest, and he did not receive the annunciation in the seventh month, we derail the above order of the Despotic Feasts, and the entire cycle is muddled. For all of the above feasts have a basis and foundation on the fact that the conception of the Forerunner took place in the seventh month.

Some bring forward the question, why does the Evangelist Luke call Zechariah a Priest and not a High Priest? We reply that the word Priest has a wide meaning that includes High Priest. The High Priest Aaron was called a Levite Priest: "Then he [the leper] shall be brought unto Aaron the Priest" (Lev. 13:2). And when David prophesied about the High Priest Christ, he calls Him a Priest: "You are a Priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek" (Ps. 109/110:4). Paul also calls Christ a Priest, saying: "And what we have said is even more clear if another Priest like Melchizedek appears" (Heb. 7:15). And in Numbers, one can see that the High Priest Aaron is called Priest in many places. Moreover, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, in their writings on the Priesthood, while writing on the Priesthood, refer in actuality to the Archpriesthood [Bishops].

Some have also wondered, if Gabriel appeared to the right of the altar of incense where he made the announcement to Zechariah, and this altar was outside the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, then Zechariah did not enter the Holy of Holies. To this we respond, that it is not impossible to reconcile the two. Zechariah as a High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to offer incense in a golden censor. Either while he was entering, or after he came out, Gabriel appeared to him outside to the right of the altar of incense.

As for those who say that no High Priest named Zechariah appears in the Jewish lists of High Priests, there is no strength to this argument. For the Jews were very much oppressed, and during the reign of Titus, the lists of their High Priests and the genealogies of their race were destroyed.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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