The Beheading of Saint John, the Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord – 2

30 August 2023
iustin popovici IN L

Saint Justin Popovich

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Today (29th of August), we also specifically glorify the first Evangelist and Christian Confessor, the first to confess God in the New Testament world.  Consider how fearlessly, openly and directly he confessed God’s Truth: ‘King, it’s not right for you to have your brother’s wife, your living brother’s wife. You’ve taken your brother’s wife away from him. All of the laws of heaven and earth are against you, and I quote these laws of heaven and earth to you, because this is what I was sent to do. King, you can’t have your brother’s wife’. Bold and undaunted, like an immortal lion, like one of the Cherubim in the flesh, he was the first Confessor of Christ’s Faith, and has been followed by multitudes of others who have borne witness and confessed before the entire world, before east and west, before north and south, that the Lord Christ is the sole, true God in heaven and on earth.  And these countless multitudes of fearless and undaunted conquerors, from the Holy Forerunner to those of the present day, do so despite all the persecution, despite all the lies of those who strive to rebel against Christ in this world, despite all the heresies, all of God’s enemies, and all of the persecutors of Christ. They bear witness to, and announce this truth to the whole world: Christ is before all and above all.  He is the sole, true God. You false gods, vile and repulsive masks of false gods, be gone. The true God is essential to the human soul in this earthly realm. Who are you self-proclaimed ones? Who? In the graves, in the thousands of nets you yourselves have cast, and you want to supplant the Lord Christ? How lowly, how impoverished you are. All Hell laughs at nothing so much as it laughs at you. The demons laugh out loud at you, and you don’t hear them; yet we, Christians, we hear them.

Yes, the Holy Baptist was the first Christian confessor, and many thousands of glorious confessors of Christ in this world streamed after him, following as after a lodestar.

Ioan B si Iisus, manuscris bizantin s12, Athos IN

Christ blessing Saint John, byzantine manuscript, 12th Century, Holy Mountain

My brothers and sisters, a great mystery takes place through this feast, a mystery like the warp and woof that make a piece of cloth. In today’s Gospel reading, you heard the disciples announce to the Saviour that the Forerunner had been beheaded. ‘The mouth that declared  You to the world has fallen silent, Lord! What now? Who are we in comparison to Your great Baptist?’ The Saviour is silent. Then something unusual happens. He calls His disciples together, and with them, He goes out to a place in the desert. What does this mean? Can it be that the Lord’s running away, that he’s fleeing from Herod? Think of this: He, the All-merciful miracle-worker, has looked on the unfortunate widowed mother, and resurrected her son, someone known only to the mother and Himself.  Yet here, Lord, Your Forerunner lies dead, slain.  Why don’t You resurrect him?  You raised the daughter of Jairus, head of the synagogue. Yet here is the one whom You called the greatest among those born of women, beheaded by the malefactor-king. Lord, guard Your Truth, defend Your first apostle, Your first martyr, Your first evangelist, Your first angel in the flesh, Your first prophet, Your first confessor.  Resurrect him!  Yet the Saviour remains silent, and  retreats to a desert place to pray to God.  Why, Lord?

Because the Holy Forerunner must also become the first apostle to Hades, to the kingdom of death, to which the souls of all people from Adam to the time of the Saviour’s advent had departed. In that kingdom of death called Hades, i.e. the impenetrable place, where no one could see anything, in that kingdom there were the righteous and the sinners, all the people of the Old Testament, up to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sin had brought death into the earthly realm, into the world of us people, and the kingdom of death became the sole abode for human souls. The Forerunner had to become the Forerunner in Hades as well, in death’s kingdom, so that he might preach to the souls of all human beings there, too: ‘Behold, the One whom you’ve been awaiting for, Whom all you righteous people- Moses, Abraham, David, all the Holy Prophets and the Just- have been thirsting to see, has come to earth. Behold, He has come to earth as a human being, as the Saviour, and he is working such signs and wonders as you, all of you taken together, have never seen.  His look heals people of all diseases, His word resurrects the dead, His voice drives demons out of those possessed. Truly the Saviour of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ has come to earth.  And behold, I go before Him to preach to you also this best of news: He’ll come down here to us as well. In a little while, He’ll come down, and you’ll see Him. You’ll be able to see what kind of human soul He has, one filled with God and shining with infinite light.

The Holy Forerunner appeared death’s kingdom as the first evangelist, in order to preach the Good News of Christ to all the souls in the kingdom of death.  He also appeared to all of them as the first martyr, in order to show that people will joyously go to their deaths for the True God, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, until death is defeated and destroyed.  They won’t fear death, since they’ll be more powerful than death.  Through his bodily Resurrection, the Lord grants the body victory over death.  The glorious Forerunner also entered into the kingdom of death as the Forerunner of all the true Confessors of Christ in the world, all the true Prophets in the world, to announce to all the souls in the kingdom of death: ‘Behold, death is defeated, the demons destroyed, the kingdom of death will be laid waste when, in a little while, the Lord appears here, and you’ll be led out of this horror and into heavenly joy, into the Kingdom on high’.

This was why the Lord remained silent, why he did not raise the greatest man among those born of women, for that man was to complete his spiritual struggle as apostle, evangelist, martyr and confessor in Hades, in the kingdom of death.

And so, today for us Christians is like Great Friday. Just as, for the Saviour, the Resurrection approaches after Great Friday, so the Forerunner joyously dies and enters into death, since he sees the victory over death and knows that the Lord has prepared eternal life and resurrection from the dead on the day of the Great Judgment for him, too.

When the Lord was crucified, He descended into the nether regions,  into Hades, into the kingdom of death, with His human soul. His body lay in the tomb, but His soul, the fullness of his divinity, descended into the kingdom of death. And how astonished all the human souls in Hades must have been, on seeing God in a human soul, shining with ineffable light, light impossible for a human being to imagine. Who wouldn’t come to believe in Him,  when He appeared, so filled with Eternal Truth, Eternal Life, Eternal Justice, in the kingdom of death,.  He appeared as the conqueror over death. And as death’s kingdom could not hold God, Who was in  Jesus’ soul, could not hold God in its hands, it disintegrated because of Christ’s divinity, because of His most holy soul, in which was the fullness of God. And the Lord led out of death’s kingdom all those who had earlier come to believe the Forerunner, and those who had come to believe in Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, to believe that in truth, He was True God in heaven and on earth.