"Having suffered for the truth, thou hast gone rejoicing to declare
to those in hell the good tidings of God having appeared in the flesh" (Trofarion of the Feast, Aug. 29).
life of St.
the Forerunner, from its first days, was entirely dedicated to the One Who came
after him. In the days of infant massacres in Bethlehem, he was also sought by Herod, and his
mother Elizabeth fled with him into the desert, where she
died on the fortieth day. About the same time, his father Zacharias was killed
by the servants of Herod, in the Temple. The desert raised John, and he remained
there in silence, for thirty years, until the word of God came unto him,
commanding him to preach repentance and call on men to prepare the way of the
Lord (Luke 3:2).
About half a year after the
beginning of his ministry, having prepared the Jews to expect the speedy coming
of the Messiah, and surrounding himself with disciples, most of whom became the
first disciples of Christ, John the Baptist, baptized Christ. The mystery of
the Holy Trinity was then revealed to him. Having informed those with him, that
the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world was present, John
gradually faded into the shadows and everyone began follow the new Teacher.
However, John rather than
grieving over this, rejoiced. When his especially devoted disciples asked him
about his lack of concern over his decreasing fame, he replied with words that
clearly expressed his personality. "I am not the Christ, but I am sent
before Him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the
bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the
bridegroom's voice: therefore this my joy is fulfilled. He must increase, but I
must decrease" (John -50).
Soon after this, his word
thundered forth, accusing Herod, so he was cast into a prison, where his
earthly life ended. He was beheaded during Herod's banquet. The beheading of St. John the Baptist, which cut off his earthly
life, at the same time, started his new and glorious ministry as Forerunner.
The soul of St. John the Baptist, departing his ascetic body,
went to hell, the place where the souls of all who died before the Savior's
death on the Cross. The souls of everyone beginning from Adam were here.
However, the holy and righteous
soul of St.
the Baptist did not go there in order to experience a dark condition of
alienation and distance from God. The "friend of the Bridegroom," who
had baptized Him, suffered for his righteousness, bore the hope of the coming
Kingdom of God, preached to all preparing the way for Him, was inseparably
bound to Him through his devotion, testifying everywhere for Christ, as His
messenger, sent before Him..
Having descended to hell, John
continued the ministry that he had performed on earthóthe preaching about the Kingdom of God drawing near. The souls of the righteous
ones, from the Old Testament were languishing in hell, awaiting the fulfillment
of the coming of the One Who would conquer the serpent, as had been told to
Adam by God. The prophets, who had seen beforehand in spirit, the coming of the
Messiah awaited the fulfillment of the revelations that had been made to them.
These souls, deprived of the light of God's glory, tormented with waiting for
the fulfillment of their hope, John came, having descended to hell, bringing
the Joyful tidings that soon the kingdom of hell would be destroyed. Those who
awaited the Redeemer would soon behold Him and be liberated by Him. John
testified that the Son of God had already come to earth and that after
baptizing Him, he had witnessed the Holy Spirit descending and remaining on Him
The preaching of John concerning
the coming of the Messiah was addressed not only to the souls of the righteous,
but to all who were in hell. He appeared in hell to prepare the way of the
Lord, just as he had prepared it on earth. John the Baptistís descent to hell
and his preaching of the Gospel was the proclamation of joy to those who were
The souls of all the dead, save
for the most inveterate sinners, heeded the preaching of the Baptist.
Therefore, when Christ descended to hell after His death on the Cross, He was
greeted not only by the Old Testament righteous ones, but also by the souls of
those who once were disobedient and opposed the long suffering of God in the
days of Noah and during the rest of the time that sin reigned among men (1
Hell was destroyed by the
Christís soul descent into it; the dark confinement shone with light; the souls
of the reposed were led into the Kingdom of Heaven. The entryway to this ruin of hell was
the descent of the Baptist. Having fulfilled his ministry as Forerunner on
earth, he appeared as the Forerunner of Christ, in hell. His beheading is not
only the culmination of his earthly exploit, but also the beginning of a new
and glorious ministry.
Among them, that are born of
women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist (Matt. ; Luke ), Christ said of him. This is he, of whom
it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare
Thy way before Thee (Luke ).
These words of the Lord Himself,
testify of the spiritual greatness of John and his high purpose in the work of
the salvation of the human race. He appeared as the servant and preacher of God
as no other single man in the world, having begun to preach and praise Christ
before his birth, and finishing it even after his death, ascending with Christ
into the Kingdom of Heaven after the destruction of hell. As the greatest of
the righteous, a worthy place was prepared for him in the Kingdom of his
Friend, where he remains now, awaiting its revelation in all glory and the
triumphant feast of the Lamb of God in the Second Coming, when He will gather
His wheat into the garner, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire
(Matt. 3.12; Luke 3.17).
His beheading was his final
exploit on earth, and the last step for the receiving of the greatest reward in
the Kingdom of Heaven; while for all those in hell it was the
rising of the morning star, before the appearance of the Son of Righteousness.
Just as the nativity of St. John the Forerunner and Baptist is the
beginning of the Gospel for the living, so is his beheading the beginning of
the Gospel for the dead. "The glorious beheading of the Forerunner is part
of a certain Divine dispensation, for he preached to those in hell the coming
of the Savior" (Kontakion of the Feast). "Be glad, Baptist, and let
thy spirit dance: for thou dost accuse the godless Herod, and dost preach to
those in hell, saying: Our salvation hath drawn near" (Canticle 4 of the
"He who came before Thy
Birth and Thy Divine Passion is, through a sword, in the nethermost parts of
the earth. John, the prophet and messenger of Thy descent there, cries as the
voice of the Word: Do ye dead, as Giver of life, do ye blind, as Giver of
light, do ye prisoners, as Deliverer, exalt Christ above all forever"
(Canticle 8 of the Canon).