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St John the Baptist forerunner, By Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou,

St John the Baptist forerunner

By Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou

Official publication of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain “Orthodox Herald”,

No.: 256-257, January – February 2010

"Of all those born of woman, none have been greater than John the Baptist" (Luke 7:28). What is most remarkable about this statement is that it comes from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Lord also describes him as "the greatest of all the prophets" and as "more than a prophet". Why does the Lord describe him so? St John Chrysostom, in dealing with this question, says, "It befits a prophet to receive a gift from God, but does it befit a prophet to give God the gift of baptism? It befits a prophet to prophesy about God, but is it for God to prophesy about the prophet? All the prophets prophesied about Christ, but no one prophesied about them. Yet not only did John prophesy about Christ, but other prophets prophesied about John". Through the prophets, God foretells John's coming: "Behold, I send my messenger before you... the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'make straight the way of the Lord'." (Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 40:3, Mark 1:2-3). It is for this reason that St John is called

the forerunner, for he proclaimed to the people of Israel that their king was coming, preparing them to receive Him through the repentance of their sins.

There is a particular quality in St John, as Baptist and Forerunner, that should draw our attention, and that is the virtue of humility. When Christ went to be baptised by John, he refused and said, "I need to be baptised by you". Christ effectively declared that John was the greatest man who ever lived, and yet before the Lord he felt utterly unworthy. This is the most classic characteristic of saintliness. The nearer we come to God, the more unworthy we feel in His presence. This is because the more we know and love God, the less we compare ourselves to others, and the more we compare ourselves to Him. And so, the holier we become, the more sinful we feel.

The task of forerunner is also one that requires humility, for the forerunner prepares the way, but when the king comes, he gets out of the way so that all may honour the king, and the king alone. This is why John said of Christ, "He must increase, as I must decrease" (John 3:30).

He must increase, as I must decrease. This is an approach that we should all make our own, which we should all apply to ourselves in relation to Christ and His Church, especially those of us who serve in the leadership and ministry of the Church: clergy, chairpersons, committee members, cantors, teachers, church wardens. How often do we allow our own ego to hinder the growth of the Church, for fear that another will take our place! Do we wish others to look back and say how great we were? Or do we want to hand on our roles, gifts, knowledge and responsibilities to the next generation that they may

be better than we are, that the Church may increase? This is an approach that the older generations must take with the younger members of the Church. The old must decrease as the young must increase, that they may be fit and ready to take on the responsibilities of leadership and continue the work of the Church in the years to come.

For the Church to increase as a body, we must decrease as individuals. This means that we must cease putting our own personal interests first, and make the interests of the Church our priority. It means that we must not consider our own position in the Church to be of paramount importance. The Church existed long before we did, and will continue to exist long after we have gone. The Tradition of the Church must not be held prisoner by one generation. Tradition that is not passed on is not Tradition. Are we trying to preserve Tradition for ourselves, or are we trying to pass it on to the next generation?

How many of our clergy have taken on young candidates for the priesthood to train them for service, acting as mentors to give them spiritual direction and to help them delve deeper into the Christian life and faith? How many of our cantors have taken on pupils to train them in the art of sacred music, that one day they too may become protopsaltes in our churches? How many of our pious women have taught their children and grandchildren the traditions that were passed on to them: the art and meaning of making prosphora and kolliva and bringing them to the church as an offering? How many of our churches have entrusted to the younger generations the administration of our churches as chairpersons, committee members or secretaries? Are we refusing to decrease that Christ may increase?

St John the Baptist had an enormous following, so much so that after he died, some claimed that Jesus was John the Baptist alive again. Yet, for all his popularity, the only thing that concerned him was that people should follow Christ. Is this our main concern, or are we more concerned about ourselves?

Let us therefore consider and take as our example this great man: St John the Forerunner - Baptiser of the Saviour, Herald of the King, Messenger of God, Friend of the Bridegroom, Beacon of Humility. May we too learn to decrease that Christ may increase. May that voice crying in the wilderness, "make straight the way of the Lord", become the voice of our conscience. And, as the forerunner prepared the way for Christ among the people of Israel, calling them to repentance, so too may he prepare the way for Christ in our hearts, engendering there the tears of repentance and humility, that we may receive in our hearts the love of Christ our God. Amen.

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