“Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28)
July 5, 2022
He whom none born of women was greater; He who kneeled to the Lord Christ while he was still in his mother’s womb, and was worthy to lay his hand upon the head of the Son of God during Baptism Saint John the Baptist was born on July 7.
“In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:5-25)
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:26-45)
When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. (Luke 1:57-67, 1:80)
John was great, and to his greatness even the Savior bears testimony when He says, “There has not appeared on earth a man born of woman greater than John the Baptist,” (Matthew 11:11) and “Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28) He surpassed and excelled everyone; he excelled the prophets, he surpassed the patriarchs. Anyone who is born of a woman is inferior to John. Perhaps someone may say: If John is greater than all the sons of women, he is greater than the Savior. Far be it from that. John indeed was born of a woman, but Christ was born of a virgin. The former was brought forth from within a corruptible womb, while the latter was born through the flowering of an undefiled womb. Yet the birth of our Lord is considered along with that of John, so that our Lord may not seem to be outside of the reality of human nature. If John is compared with men, that man surpasses all men; none but the God-man excels him.
John was sent ahead, before God. So great was the excellence in him, so great his grace, that he was considered as the Christ. What, then, did he say concerning Christ? “Of his fullness we have all had a share” (John 1:16). What does this mean, “we all”? The prophets, the patriarchs, the apostles, as many holy people as were sent ahead before the Incarnation or were sent after it, we all have shared in His fullness. We are the vessels, He is the fountain.
The Holy Bible said about him: “Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. Now so it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, ‘No; he shall be called John.’ But they said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.’ So they made signs to his father; what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, ‘His name is John.’ And they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. He prophesied about his son, saying. ‘You, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.” (Luke 1:57-76)
When he was two years old, the wise men (Magi) came, Herod killed the children, some divulged about this child and the soldiers searched for him to kill him. Zechariah took the child and brought him to the sanctuary, laid him on the altar and told the soldiers, “I have received him from this place.” The angel of the Lord caught up the child and brought him to the desert of Ziphana, so the soldiers became enraged and they killed his father Zechariah. For this reason the Lord had said to the Jews: “That on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” (Matthew 23:35) So the child John grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts more than twenty years living an angelic life, till the day of his manifestation to Israel. (Luke 1:80)
John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4) He lived in the wilderness persevering in prayers and asceticism, until the Lord ordered him, to fulfill the prophesies, to preach to the people about the coming of the Savior of the World. For he was sent from God, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. (John 1:6-8)
May the blessing of the great saint, John the Baptist, the shining angel, and the heedful servant be with us, Amen!
Source: Holy Bible King James Version and the Coptic Synaxarium