Afterfeast of the Theophany
Synaxis of the Holy Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John.
SYNAXIS OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST
In the Orthodox Church it is customary, on the day following the Great Feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God, to remember those saints who participated directly in the sacred event. So, on the day following the Theophany of the Lord, the Church honors the one who participated directly in the Baptism of Christ, placing his own hand upon the head of the Savior.
Saint John, the holy Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord, whom the Lord called the greatest of the prophets, concludes the history of the Old Testament and opens the era of the New Testament. The holy Prophet John bore witness to the Only-Begotten Son of God, incarnate in the flesh. Saint John was accounted worthy to baptize Him in the waters of the Jordan, and he was a witness of the Theophany of the Most Holy Trinity on the day of the Savior’s Baptism.
The holy Prophet John was related to the Lord on His mother’s side, the son of the Priest Zachariah and Righteous Elizabeth. The holy Forerunner, John, was born six months before Christ. The Archangel Gabriel announced his birth in the Temple at Jerusalem, revealing to Zachariah that a son was to be born to him.
Through the prayers offered beforehand, the child was filled with the Holy Spirit. Saint John prepared himself in the wilds of the desert for his great service by a strict life, by fasting, prayer and sympathy for the fate of God’s people.
At the age of thirty, he came forth preaching repentance. He appeared on the banks of the Jordan, to prepare the people by his preaching to accept the Savior of the world. In church hymnology, Saint John is called a “bright morning star,” whose gleaming outshone the brilliance of all the other stars, announcing the coming dawn of the day of grace, illumined with the light of the spiritual Sun, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Having baptized the sinless Lamb of God, Saint John soon died a martyr’s death, beheaded by the sword on orders of King Herod at the request of his daughter Salome. (On Saint John the Baptist, see Mt.3:1-16, 11:1-19, 14:1-12; Mark 1:2-8, 6:14-29; Luke 1:5-25, 39-80, 3:1-20, 7:18-35, 9:7-9; John 1:19-34, 3:22-26). The Transfer of the Right Hand of the holy Forerunner from Antioch to Constantinople (956) and the Miracle of Saint John the Forerunner against the Hagarenes (Moslems) at Chios:
The body of Saint John the Baptist was buried in the Samaritan city of Sebaste. The holy Evangelist Luke, who went preaching Christ in various cities and towns, came to Sebaste, where they gave him the right hand of the holy Prophet John, the very hand with which he had baptized the Savior. The Evangelist Luke took it with him to his native city of Antioch.
When the Moslems seized Antioch centuries later, a deacon named Job brought the holy hand of the Forerunner from Antioch to Chalcedon. From there, on the eve of the Theophany of the Lord, it was transferred to Constantinople (956) and kept thereafter.
In the year 1200, the Russian pilgrim Dobrynya, who later became Saint Anthony, Archbishop of Novgorod (February 10), saw the right hand of the Forerunner in the imperial palace. From the Lives of the Saints we learn that in the year 1263, during the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders, the emperor Baldwin gave one bone from the wrist of Saint John the Baptist to Ottonus de Cichon, who then gave it to a Cistercian abbey in France.
The right hand continued to be kept in Constantinople. And at the end of the fourteenth to the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, the holy relic was seen at Constantinople in the Peribleptos monastery by the Russian pilgrims Stephen of Novgorod, the deacon Ignatius, the cantor Alexander and the deacon Zosimus. When Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, sacred objects were gathered up at the the conqueror’s orders and kept under lock in the imperial treasury.
In the Lives of the Saints is clear testimony that in the year 1484 the right hand of the holy Forerunner was given away by the son of the Moslem sultan Bayazet to the knights of Rhodes to gain their good will, since a dangerous rival for Bayazet, his own brother, had allied himself with them. A contemporary participant, the vice-chancellor of Rhodes, Wilhelm Gaorsan Gallo, also speaks of this event. The knights of Rhodes, having established their base on the island of Malta (in the Mediterranean Sea), then transferred the sacred relic they had received to Malta.
When the Russian Tsar Paul I (1796-1801) became Grand Master of the Maltese Order in honor of the holy Prophet John, the right hand of the Baptist, part of the Life-Creating Cross and the Philermos Icon (October 12) of the Mother of God (from Mt Philermos on the island of Rhodes) were transferred in 1799 from the island of Malta to Russia [because of the Napoleonic threat], to the chapel at Gatchina (October 12). In the same year these sacred items were transferred into the church dedicated to the Icon of the Savior Not Made by Hands at the Winter Palace. A special service was composed for this Feast.
Besides the Synaxis of the honorable, glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates his memory on the following days: September 23, his Conception; June 24, his Nativity; August 29, his Beheading; February 24, the First and Second Finding of his Head; May 25, the Third Finding of his Head; October 12, the Transfer of his Right Hand from Malta to Gatchina (1799).
TROPARIA AND KONTAKIA
Troparion of the Theophany, tone 1
When You, O Lord were baptized in the Jordan The worship of the Trinity was made manifest For the voice of the Father bore witness to You And called You His beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, Confirmed the truthfulness of His word. O Christ, our God, You have revealed Yourself And have enlightened the world, glory to You!
Troparion of the saint, tone 2
The memory of the righteous is celebrated with hymns of praise, but the Lord’s testimony is sufficient for you, O Forerunner. You were shown in truth to be the most honorable of the prophets, for you were deemed worthy to baptize in the streams of the Jordan Him whom they foretold. Therefore, having suffered for the truth with joy, you proclaimed to those in hell God who appeared in the flesh, who takes away the sin of the world, and grants us great mercy.
Kontakion of the saint, tone 6
The river Jordan trembled and was driven back filled with fear at Your coming in the flesh, while John drew back in awe as he fulfilled the ministry of a prophet. The ranks of angels stood amazed, when they beheld You in the flesh being baptized in the streams. And we, who were in darkness, are filled with light as we praise You, who have appeared to enlighten all.
Kontakion of the Theophany, tone 4
Today You have shown forth to the world, O Lord, and the light of Your countenance has been marked on us. Knowing You, we sing Your praises. You have come and revealed Yourself, O unapproachable Light.
Acts 19:1-8 (Epistle, Forerunner)
- And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples
- he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”
- And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”
- Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
- When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
- And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
- Now the men were about twelve in all.
- And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.
John 1:29-34 (Gospel, Forerunner)
- The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
- This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’
- I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
- And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.
- I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
- And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”