The next feast day coming up is the Nativity of John the Baptist. John the Baptist, or John the Forerunner, is highly venerated in the Byzantine Churches. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, he baptized Christ. And he is the last prophet, the one to prepare the way for Jesus (see Malachi 3:1). He had the power of Elijah (see Matthew 17:9-13). And Jesus himself said that there was no greater man than John (Luke 7:22-30). That makes John a very special guy!
John the Baptist is particularly special in the East. This is because his life of prayer and fasting in the wilderness made him a model to the Desert Fathers. The Desert Fathers in turn promoted veneration of John the Forerunner. This also meant that his relics were searched out early on. Many were found and are today located in places such as Rome, and Syria.
The Nativity of the Honourable and Glorious Prophet John, Forerunner and Baptist of Christ
The birth of St. John the forerunner is recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel. There are many parallels between the birth of John and that of Jesus. First of all, both the births are heralded by an angel. The angel tells Zechariah, the father of John the forerunner, to “be not afraid,” just as the angel Gabriel tells the Theotokos. While the Theotokos is a young virgin, John’s mother Elizabeth is an old barren woman. This makes both births rather surprising events. Elizabeth and the Theotokos are also pregnant around the same time, with three months overlapping.
The details of the nativity of John the Baptist can be found in Luke 1:5-25, 36, 57-80. Although really all of Luke 1 is relevant to the birth of John the Forerunner.
Special Facts about this Feast Day
In Quebec, Canada, the Nativity of John the Baptist is a provincial holiday (Saint Jean-Baptiste Day).
John the Forerunner is born in the summer, just as the days begin to get shorter. This reflects his mission of calling people to repentance. Also it is significant in his mission as a herald of Christ’s mission. John the Baptist prepares a world living in darkness for the coming light of Christ. John’s summer birth also parallels how Jesus is born in winter, a time when light is coming back into the world.
In Matthew 3:16, John the Baptist is described as wearing camel’s hair. This is significant because camel’s hair is the traditional clothing of prophets, of whom John the forerunner is the last.
John’s nativity is celebrated on the 24th instead of the 25th because Romans counted 8 days backwards from the end of the month when calculating dates. So Jesus was 8 days before the 1st of January, and John 8 days before the 1st of July. June has 30 days instead of 31 like December, placing his birthday one day of the month earlier than Jesus’.
Byzantine Churches celebrate John the Baptist every Tuesday. To celebrate this feast we can pray Tuesday’s propers in addition to the feast’s propers during our prayer/icon corner time.
Tuesday Troparion (Tone 2): The just man is remembered with praises, but for you the Lord’s testimony suffices, O Forerunner, for you truly became more honorable than the prophets and were deemed worthy to baptize the One foretold. Then you suffered for the truth and joyfully announced to those in Hades that God appeared in the flesh, taking away the sin of the world, and offering us great mercy.
Tuesday Kontakion and Kontakion of the Feast of The Nativity of the Honourable and Glorious Prophet John, Forerunner and Baptist of Christ (Tone 3): She who once was barren gives birth today to the Forerunner of Christ, who will fulfill every prophecy. In the Jordan he placed his hand upon the One Whom the prophets foretold and thus was shown to be the prophet, the herald, and the Forerunner of the Word of God.
The Nativity of the Honourable and Glorious Prophet John, Forerunner and Baptist of Christ:
Troparion (Tone 4): O Prophet and Forerunner of the coming Christ, we, who lovingly honour you are at a loss to praise you worthily, for your mother’s barrenness and your father’s silence were both ended by your honoured and glorious birth, and the incarnation of the Son of God is preached to the whole world.
Irmos — done in the place of “It is truly right” (Tone 4): O my soul, magnify the precious birth of Christ’s Baptist and Forerunner, John. Words cannot express the hidden, divine, ineffable mystery that is clearly fulfilled in you, Virgin immaculate, for because of His loving mercy God became flesh of you. And therefore as Mother of God, we magnify you.
Another way to honour John the Baptist is to not eat lettuce and cabbage. This tradition comes from these vegetables being referred to as heads. Since John the Baptist died by losing his head, we abstain from eating heads of vegetables.
The Byzantine Life
If you enjoyed this week’s article, you might also be interested in reading about the upcoming Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul,
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