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John the Baptist

St. John, the greatest among the Holy Prophets, Holy Forerunner and Baptist of Our Lord, brought to a close the history of the Old Testament Church and opened the era of the New Testament. The Holy Prophet John bore witness to the arrival on earth of the Only-begotten Son of God, who had taken on human flesh. St. John was made worthy to baptize the Savior in the waters of the Jordan, and to bear witness to the mystical appearance of the Most Holy Trinity on the day of His Baptism. The Forerunner of the Lord, born six months prior to the Nativity of Jesus Christ, was the son of the priest Zacharias and the righteous Elizabeth, who was a relative of the mother of our Lord. In the Temple of the Lord, the Archangel Gabriel revealed to Zacharias that he would have a son. An answer to his parents' prayers, and praised exceedingly from above, the child was filled with the All-holy Spirit. With concern and compassion for the fate of the people of God, St. John prepared himself for his great service by leading a strict life of asceticism, fasting, and prayer in the wilderness. At the age of about 30, St. John set out to preach the message of repentance. He came to the banks of the Jordan to preach to the people and prepare them to welcome the Savior of the world. In the words of the church hymn, he was the "bright morning star," a star brighter than all of the others, one which heralded the morning of a grace-filled day, a day illuminated by Christ, the spiritual Sun. Soon after baptizing the sinless Lamb of God, St. John was beheaded at the command of King Herod, and died a martyr's death.

Scriptural references related to St. John: Matthew 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 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 St 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 St 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.

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates St. John's memory on the following days: 23 September - His Conception (2 years before the Birth of Christ); 24 June - His Nativity (1 year before the Birth of Christ); 29 August - His Beheading (ca. 32 AD); 24 February - the First (4th Century) the Second(452 AD) Finding of His Head; 25 May - the Third (ca. 850AD) Finding of His Head; 12 October - the Translation of His Right Hand from Malta to Gatchina (1799). On 7 January, the day after the celebration of Theophany, the Church celebrates the Synaxis of St. John, the Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist of Our Lord. A relic of the Precious Head of St. John the Baptist lies in our church.