St. John the Forerunner: His Life and Martyrdom
Here beginneth the tale of the greatest Saint to ever live after the Theotokos. In the Old Testament God had His prophets prophesy that their would appear a Forerunner who would be a great prophet himself who would proclaim the coming of the Christ and prepare the people for His arrival. God chose the relatives of the Theotokos, the priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth to be the parents of the Forerunner, since they were old and the childbirth would be miraculous and since they had prayed to God to give them a child for many years. Once while serving in the Temple Zacharias was greeted by the Archangel Gabriel who told him that his wife Elizabeth would have a son whose name would be John and that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even while in his Mother’s womb, and through John many Israelites would turn their heart (repent) to God. Zacharias questioned how this could be so he was made mute. Elizabeth later found out that she was pregnant and was filled with great joy.
Six months after John’s conception the Theotokos conceived Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit while remaining Ever-Virgin, and went to go visit Elizabeth. While visiting Elizabeth realized that the Virgin Mary was honored to be the Mother of God and said “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” The Theotokos then responded in the now famous Magnificat. Elizabeth then said that John leapt with joy in her womb at the sound of the Virgin Mary’s response.
Soon after the visitation John was born to the righteous Zacharias and Elizabeth. On the eighth day a name had to be given to the child, and the friends and relatives wanted the child to be named Zacharias, but Elizabeth replied that his name should be John. The guests then confused wondered in their hearts why John, but Zacharias asked for something to write with and wrote “his name is John”, after this was written Zacharias had his voice returned to him. Zacharias then prophesied about John and his role ass Forerunner, and the very soon coming of the Christ. John grew strong and went to the desert till the day of his showing in Israel.
While in the wilderness John spent much time in fasting and prayer. He wore only Camel’s hair and around his loins a leather girdle, and for food he ate locusts (either an insect or plant) and wild honey. When he reached the age of 30 he was directed to the River Jordan where he prepared people for Christ with repentance and baptism. In his preachings of repentance he denounced the hypocritical and false teachings and practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees. John also emphasized in his teachings that he wasn’t the Christ himself, but that he wasn’t even worthy of unlatching the Messiah’s shoes, and that while John baptized with water the Messiah would baptize others in Fire and Holy Spirit.
When Christ reached the age of 30 he went to the Jordan river to be baptized by St. John the Forerunner. When Christ arrived John told him how he did not feel worthy of baptizing Him, but he should be baptized by Him! But Christ told John that this needed to be done to fulfill righteousness, so John complied and baptized Christ. Immediately following the Baptism the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended down like a dove over Jesus Christ all while God said “This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”
Soon after the Baptism of the Christ, John was arrested and imprisoned by King Herod Antipas (the son of Herod the Great who is the one who slayed 14,000 Bethlehem infants). The reason for John’s imprisonment had to do with the fact that he rebuked Herod Antipas for marrying his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, even though Phillip was still alive. Herodias wanted John killed, but Herod would not do this since he thought John was a great prophet and he had many followers. So during one of Herod’s parties Herodias had her daughter Salome “dance” for Herod, Herod was so pleased with this “dancing” that he offered her up to half his kingdom. But as a part of her mother’s wicked plan, Herodias asked for the head of John on a platter. Herod was extremely sorry because of this request but he kept his promise to her a sent a soldier to behead John. Later when John’s disciples heard the news of what happened they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
In his life John was a forerunner of the Christ and preached His coming. But the position of Forerunner didn’t end with his beheading, but instead it continued when he died. The Forerunner preached the soon arrival of the Christ to all the souls in Hades including the righteous of the Old Testament.
There are 7 feasts which are connected with St. John the Forerunner and one for his parents. These are as follows: Sept 23 = The conception of St. John, Oct 12 = the transfer of his right hand to Gatchina from Malta, Jan 7 = the commemoration of St. John, Feb 24 = the 1st and 2nd finding of St. John’s head, May 25 = the 3rd finding of St. John’s head, June 24 = St. John’s birth, Aug 29 = the beheading of St. John, and Sep 5 = the commemoration of Sts. Zacharias and Elizabeth.