Selected Sermons of Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco (Part III)
The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Among the Church's feasts, there are three in honor of God's
saint which in their significance stand out from the others devoted to the
saints and are numbered among the great feasts of the Church
of Christ. These feasts glorify the economy of God for our
These three feasts are the Nativity of St. John
the Forerunner, his Beheading, and the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and
The apparition of the holy Archangel Gabriel to
the priest Zacharias in the Temple, with
the announcement of the birth to him and the righteous Elizabeth, of a son who
would prepare the way for the Lord, the Savior of the world, and the subsequent
fulfillment of this premise, are the first of the events related by the
The announcement of the holy Archangel Gabriel to
Zacharias in the Temple begins the New Testament Gospel. The announcement of the
same Archangel Gabriel six months later in Nazareth to the Virgin Mary concerning the birth from Her of the
Son of God, Who was to become incarnate, is a continuation of the revelation of
the Pre-eternal Counsel concerning the salvation of the human race.
Three months after, the Annunciation, St. John the
Forerunner was born "in a city of Judah," and six months after him Christ Himself was born in
These events are closely bound together. "The
glorious conception of the Forerunner proclaimeth beforehand the King Who is to
be born of a Virgin" (Exapostilarion, Sept. 23, Feast of the Conception of
John the Baptist). The announcement of the Archangel Gabriel in the Temple,
announced later to all living nearby by Zacharias, in the magnificent hymn,
which he sang after the birth of the child, John and the restoration to him of
the gift of speech (Luke 1:67-79), is the forerunner of the angelic hymn:
"Glory to God in the highest;" which was sung in Bethlehem by the
angels when they announced to the shepherds the Nativity of Christ.
The Nativity of John the Baptist is the first joy
sent down by God to the human race, the beginning of its deliverance from the
power of the devil, sin and eternal death.
It is true that even before the Forerunner, the
Most Holy Virgin Mary was born, and angels announced Her birth to Her parents.
However, at that time, only Her parents knew of the exalted lot that was prepared
for the Virgin Who was born, and they themselves were not fully aware of what
had been announced to them beforehand. Therefore, it was only they, who
celebrated at the birth of their Daughter, while the rest of the world only
later understood the joy that had been announced (to it), by this birth.
For this reason, the feasts of the Nativity of the
Most Holy Theotokos and Her Entrance into the Temple were established in the Church and began to be solemnly
celebrated significantly later than the other great feasts, whereas the
Nativity of John the Forerunner is one of the most ancient and most venerated
of Christian feasts. Sermons on this feast have been preserved from the first
From the day of the Nativity of John the
Forerunner, the preparation of the human race begins for meeting the Son of God
on earth. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people . . . And
thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: for thou shalt go
before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways (Luke 1:68, 76). These
God-inspired words of the priest Zacharias, after he had regained the gift of
speech, were made known in all the land of Judea, causing disturbance to all living there, who asked each
other in astonishment: What manner of child shall this be? (Luke 1:66).
Involuntarily the thought arose: Is this not the
Messiah Himself? Judea was in an especially tense state of expectation of the
Savior. Thus, the child John prepared the way for the Lord by his very birth;
and even while he was still in the womb of His mother, by his leaping (Luke ) he announced the coming birth of the Child Jesus, as if
crying out: "Christ is born, give ye glory. Christ comes from heaven, meet
ye Him" (Irmos, Canticle One of the Canon, Feast of the Nativity of
Being born exactly half a year before Christ, John
the Forerunner by the exact time of his birth depicted his mission of preparing
the way for the Lord. He was born at the time of the year (June 24) when the
day begins to grow shorter after the summer solstice, whereas the Nativity of
Christ occurs (December 25) when the day begins to grow longer after the winter
solstice. These facts are an embodiment of the words spoken later, by the
Forerunner, after the beginning of Christ's preaching: He must increase, but I
must decrease (John ).
"The herald of the Sun, the Forerunner"
was John the Baptist, who was like the morning star that announces the rising
of the Sun of Righteousness in the East.
Just as the very event of the Nativity of John the
Baptist was the antechamber of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, so also
the feast of the Nativity of John the Forerunner is also the antechamber of the
feast of the Nativity of Christ. "The star of stars, the Forerunner, is born
on earth today, from a barren womb, John the beloved of God, and manifests the
dawning of Christ, the Orient from on high" (Glory at Lauds, of the Feast,
June 24). "The whole creation rejoiceth at thy divine nativity: for thou
wast shown forth as an earthly angel, O Forerunner and a heavenly man,
proclaiming to us, the God of heaven incarnate" (Cantile Five of the
Canon). "O Prophet and Forerunner of the coming of Christ, we who venerate
thee with love, are in perplexity how worthily to praise thee; for the barrenness
of her who bore thee and the dumbness of thy father are loosed by thy glorious
and precious nativity, and the incarnation of the Son of God is preached to the
world" (Troparion of the Feast).