Icon of the Theophany of the Lord as the centerpiece in the Holy Trinity Monastery cathedral

A Man Sent From God

Sermon on the Synaxis of St John the Forerunner and Baptist 

Delivered by Monk-Subdeacon Theodore
at Holy Trinity Cathedral
Jordanville, NY
Jan. 7/20, 2020

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!

“No rhetoric of the earth­ly-born can suf­fice worthi­ly to praise thee, John the Divine­ly-praised; for the lips of Christ praised thee, call­ing thee high­er than the prophets and the great­est of all born of women.” — Kon­takion from the Akathist to the Holy Fore­run­ner and Bap­tist John

Dear Broth­ers and Sisters,

Today, we, the earth-born, come to offer praise to Saint John the Bap­tist and it is indeed true that noth­ing we say can worthi­ly mag­ni­fy him. The holy The­olo­gian John speaks of his name­sake in his Gospel when he writes that there was a man sent from God; not sim­ply a man, but as the Lord Jesus Him­self says, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Bap­tist.1  He, the last of the prophets and the first of the apos­tles, had the call­ing to be the crown of the prophet­ic wit­ness of the Old Tes­ta­ment and the herald­ing of the New. 

...God calls for Truth, and Saint John unhesitatingly stood for the Truth and so should we.

The prophets of old preached the com­ing Mes­si­ah using fig­ures and shad­ows, while the holy Fore­run­ner had the hon­or of point­ing to Him in the flesh and bold­ly declar­ing: Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.2 Not only did the holy Fore­run­ner show the sons of Israel their promised Mes­si­ah, but, in ful­fill­ment of his father Zachariah’s prophe­cy that he would give light to those in dark­ness and the shad­ow of death, the holy Fore­run­ner pre­ced­ed Christ’s descent into Hades and preached the Gospel of the com­ing Sav­iour to those that lay lament­ing in the dark empti­ness of She­ol: “Behold! The Mes­si­ah walks the earth and soon comes to deliv­er us!”3

Saint John had a fur­ther mes­sage, an eter­nal mes­sage that still speaks to all of us. His mes­sage is sim­ply to Repent, repent and turn away from our lives of van­i­ty, hypocrisy, lazi­ness, and con­tent­ed­ness.4 Saint John calls us to a rad­i­cal change of life – to take the Gospel seri­ous­ly and strive to fol­low the path to sal­va­tion laid out by Christ the Lord. 

...the authentic Orthodox Christian life is built on the repentance that Saint John preaches.

The path shown to us by the holy Fore­run­ner is an authen­tic life, a life which has that authen­tic­i­ty that many seek in our times but few find. The authen­tic Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian life is built on the repen­tance that Saint John preach­es. Good repen­tance leads to good fruit, fruit which is wor­thy of repen­tance as the Fore­run­ner says. To quote Saint Niko­lai Velimirovich: “fruit, fruit, and only fruit does the Lord seek from every liv­ing tree which is called a man. Good fruit is a God-lov­ing heart, and evil fruit is a self-lov­ing heart. Every­thing else that a man pos­sess­es and enjoys – posi­tion, hon­our, health, mon­ey and knowl­edge – are but leaves on the tree.”5 Saint John the Bap­tist bore much fruit – and good fruit it was – because in him dwelt the Spir­it of God, Who grant­ed him such grace and pow­er to ful­fill his prophet­ic and mar­tyric life. He was fruit­ful because he was a branch of Christ, the true Vine. As the Lord says, I am the Vine, ye are the branch­es, and we branch­es can do noth­ing with­out our beloved Vine.6 What use is a branch with­out a vine? Does it bear fruit? Of course not! They are use­ful for noth­ing but fire­wood, as Saint John preach­es: Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire; and, now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees.7 This axe is wield­ed by Christ Him­self, Who judges our fruits on that dread­ful day when He comes again to call all of mankind before His throne of judgement.

The holy The­olo­gian also says of his name­sake that the Fore­run­ner came into the world to bear wit­ness to the Light, to be a mar­tyr for the light, and in every sense the life of Saint John the Bap­tist was mar­tyric.8 Orphaned as a youth, he spent his entire life striv­ing in asceti­cism in the desert. Tru­ly, he is the first of that legion of monks who pro­vide us with the great­est exam­ples of strug­gle and piety. In the desert, Saint John grew in virtue and man­li­ness: he was no shrink­ing vio­let. The Lord asks us about the Fore­run­ner, What did you go out into the wilder­ness to see? A reed shak­en by the wind?9 Cer­tain­ly not; the holy Fore­run­ner was a man of strength, of courage, unshake­able in his con­vic­tion that God calls us to account for our wretched lives and that we must repent before him. 

...to bear witness to the Light means to suffer for that Light: therefore those who follow the Light should expect to suffer for it.

Saint John did not shrink or cringe before cor­rupt reli­gious author­i­ty; he called those hyp­ocrites a brood of vipers!10 Saint John did not back down before cor­rupt polit­i­cal author­i­ty, pre­fer­ring to suf­fer in prison for the sake of Truth than to give even an inch to sin. To bear wit­ness to the Light means to suf­fer for that Light: the Light comes into the world and is not received by the world; there­fore those who fol­low the Light should expect to suf­fer for it. Saint John the Baptist’s mar­tyric life calls us to live an uncom­pro­mised Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian life, a life that does not set­tle for expe­di­en­cy, but is will­ing to under­go hard­ship for the Truth. Being uncom­pro­mis­ing does not mean aggres­sive­ly forc­ing our point of view on oth­er peo­ple, or even, God for­bid, our own opin­ions, as tempt­ing as that might be. The world demands tol­er­ance; God calls for Truth, and Saint John unhesi­tat­ing­ly stood for the Truth and so should we. No, being uncom­pro­mis­ing is sim­ply to humbly and con­sci­en­tious­ly strive to main­tain that which has been passed down to us by our elders in the faith — the Apos­tles and the Holy Fathers — and, when the occa­sion calls for it, to choose suf­fer­ing over betray­al of our holy faith. Saint John stood his ground and was not shak­en in the wind, pre­fer­ring to be unjust­ly exe­cut­ed by a cor­rupt and deviant poten­tate than to tol­er­ate his unnat­ur­al sins.11

...the world demands tolerance; God calls for Truth.

The great­est born of women was mur­dered at the behest of a danc­ing girl; why should we, sin­ners all, even expect to have an easy life? Hard­ships may come and go but the word of God is eter­nal and we are told by the Lord Him­self that he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.12

For­tu­nate­ly, in our times of gen­er­al weak­ness, our hard­ships do not come from vio­lent per­se­cu­tion by the pow­ers that be, but they still nonethe­less come: most­ly from our own neg­li­gence in the spir­i­tu­al life, where we leave our­selves open to the tricks and decep­tion of our com­mon ene­my, the dev­il; as well as our own pas­sions, which over­whelm us time and time again. Yet again, we can look to the holy Fore­run­ner and find in his words the way to the spir­i­tu­al sus­te­nance that will aid us in our strug­gles against the world and the passions. 

...let us therefore let the chaff of our sins be burnt away by the fire of the Holy Eucharist.

He declares, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.13 The Holy Church today also declares to you, “Behold! Before us, on the holy altar is the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world! This is the Beloved Son, in Whom the Father is well pleased, receive ye Him!” The Lord has giv­en us, and will give us until He returns in glo­ry, the Mys­tery of His Body and Blood so that we might par­take in His vic­to­ry over the ene­my. Saint John bap­tized with water, but the Lord Jesus bap­tizes with fire and the Spir­it; let us there­fore let the chaff of our sins be burnt away by the fire of the Holy Eucharist!

The holy sea­son of Christ­mas­tide is at an end and the holy forty days of Great Lent draw near. As our Lord went direct­ly from His bap­tism in the Jor­dan to His forty days of strug­gle in the desert, let us too pre­pare our­selves for our own jour­ney into the spir­i­tu­al desert, renewed and for­ti­fied by the Holy Mys­tery of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, cleansed by the holy waters of Theo­phany, and assured of the prayers of Saint John, the Prophet, Fore­run­ner, and Bap­tist of the Lord, who con­tin­u­al­ly inter­cedes for us before the throne of glo­ry, where­upon is seat­ed the Lamb of God, slain from the foun­da­tion of the world, Who promis­es us a place in the eter­nal king­dom where He is glo­ri­fied unto the ages of ages.