St. John the Baptist is revered in Christian churches as the last great prophet who foretold the coming of the Messiah. A Jewish contemporary of Jesus Christ, he was known for his evangelizing and for baptizing Jesus in the River Jordan. This week’s clergy discuss the beloved martyr, whose nativity is celebrated on June 24.
The Rev. Randolph Jon Geminder
Saint Mary’s Anglican Church, Amityville
We often hear a person being honored as, “A person for the ages.” St. John the Baptist is a great exemplar of this phrase on numerous fronts, for he stands as a timeless witness to strength, perseverance and, most of all, humility. Some early followers and hearers thought he was the Messiah, the expected messenger of God. To them he proclaimed, “He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30) His holy life reminds Christians of their own Jewish lineage, for he was the last prophet of the Old Covenant, and the first of the new. The Eastern churches refer to him as “The Forerunner,” i.e., the holy individual paving the way for Jesus. When the Blessed Virgin visited St. John’s mother, her elder cousin Elizabeth (already well along in her own pregnancy), he “leapt in her womb” and she was filled with the Holy Spirit, three decades before the first Pentecost. (Luke 1:41)
When St. John the Baptist was drawing multitudes by his thunderous preaching, he was not impressed by society’s elites and luminaries showing up to hear him — he knew they were up to no good and called them “a brood of vipers!” (Luke 3:7) St. John the Baptist gave up everything to serve God, eventually being beheaded by King Herod, whose immorality he had condemned. He loved God and the people of God — so much that he could not lie to them, though his candor brought suffering his way.
Our parish will commemorate his nativity on Sunday. In our liturgy, his birth is considered “A Feast of Our Lord,” and it will add a lovely sense of joy and gladness to what would otherwise be a quiet, summer Sunday.
Retired pastor, Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bellerose
The Lutheran tradition has, in general, put less emphasis on the celebration of saints’ days. Nevertheless, in recent years we have seen more and more Lutheran congregations find the celebration of the lives of saints a valuable part of their liturgical life. The celebration of the feast days for St. Luke and St. Francis has found a regular place in Lutheran congregations. The reason may lie in how these days touch our daily lives. In the case of St. Luke, it is often seen in a healing service and with St. Francis in the blessing of the animals.
Lutheran history shows that we have always set apart the 24th of June as a time to remember the birth of John the Baptist. In remembering his birth, Lutherans are reminded that John was the forerunner who declared that Jesus Christ was the messianic hope. We are reminded of God, who in Jesus Christ brought salvation to the whole world and who touched the lives of an elderly couple who prayed daily for the miracle of a child. This day reminds us that our God touches us not just in the universal act of salvation but in our daily needs and desires.
Although the celebration is not universal in Lutheran congregations, it is an option to observe the birth of John the Baptist on Sunday.
The Rev. Father Andrew Cadieux
St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Blue Point
The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is a vital feast day in the Orthodox Church. His birth heralds the forthcoming birth of our Savior Jesus. His nativity is third in importance after Christ and the Virgin Mary.
St. John not only heralds the birth of Jesus, but Christ’s life mirrored John’s. The Archangel Gabriel announced the conception of John to his father, Zacharias, the high priest at the temple in Jerusalem, in the same way that the Virgin Mary received word from God via Gabriel. A major difference was that Zacharias and his wife were elderly and childless when John was conceived, while the Mother of God was approximately 14 to 15 years old when Jesus was conceived. St. John’s mother, St. Elizabeth, and the Virgin Mother were kin. King Herod attempted to have both Jesus and John killed as infants. John lived in the wilderness while Christ stayed in the wilderness for 40 days before he began his earthly ministry. Peter and Andrew, two of John’s Apostles, became Christ’s apostles.
The sacredness of the Nativity of John the Baptist is due to the simple yet profound fact that his birth is a reminder of the continuous rebirth of Christ.