11. june 2018
St John the Baptist has a very exceptional position among the saints because besides the Holy Mother of God he is the only one whose day of birth as well as day of death, that is, the day of birth for Heaven is celebrated. In the case of other saints, we celebrate merely the day of death, because of its meaning, but also because it is usually known, on contrary to the day of their birth.
In the Greek-Catholic and Orthodox Churches, 6 feasts of St John the Baptist are celebrated. Besides the above mentioned two feasts, it is the day of his conception, the choir and the finding of his venerable head.
Through symbols our icon depicts the life and mission of John the Baptist, the Forerunner of God, and St John the Baptist is portrayed here as the Angel of the desert. John the Baptist is the true messenger of salvation, the one who pointed to the Messiah. The iconographer indicated this truth using the symbol of the wings.
The space in which he wandered was an inhospitable desert, where "the wind caresses the rocks and moves the sand". His ruffled hair and the garment made of camel´s hair, which is typical for John the Baptist, depict the hostility of the desert. Compared to a well-built, stout figure, his thin hands symbolize a life in moderation and fasting. The head on the plate points to the end of his life.
In the Eastern Church, St John the Baptist is more often called the Forerunner (Prodromos in Greek, Predtetcha in Russian), as he was born about 6 months before the Lord Jesus and his birth is commemorated on June 24.
John the Baptist was the son of the Jewish priest Zachariah of Abijah's priesthood, and his wife Elizabeth, who descended from Aaron's daughters. According to the earliest narratives, the husband and wife lived in the village of Ain Karim, about 7 km west of Jerusalem. The Gospel highlights that the two were righteous before God and kept all the commandments of the Lord without failing. But they did not have children because Elizabeth was infertile, and both were of advanced age.
And here God intervened in an extraordinary way. When Zachariah was serving in the Jerusalem's temple, an angel appeared to him and announced that God had heard his prayer and would give him a son. However, it will not be an ordinary child, but God's prophet and Messiah's predecessor. Zachariah did not want to believe this unexpected and unusual message, so God punished him with temporary anepia (dumbness, an inability to speak).
Elizabeth really conceived, and when a boy was born, they gave him the name John (in Hebrew Jochanan, meaning ‘God is merciful’), just as Zachariah was told by the angel. People were curious and asked what was going to happen to the child. The answer lay in the words of praise of his father Zacharias: “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... “(Luke, 1:76ff.).
The end of Elizabeth's infertility is presented in the worship texts as an archetype of the Church's fertility. Elizabeth gave birth to the Baptist; the Church gives birth to sons in baptism. Liturgical texts attribute the role of the interceder with Christ to John; the role of a voice that announces Christ; the role of an angel that precedes Christ and prepares his way. Because of these attributes, the iconography very often portrays the Baptist with the wings of an angel.
The one who is "the prophet of God and the forerunner of grace," who announces and precedes the gift of Christ, is celebrated today in the mystery of the birth from a couple of advanced age who becomes fruitful due to the merciful intervention of the Spirit, who – from old age and infertility – gives birth to true joy.