Pointing to the Lamb

August 29th
The Beheading of the Holy and Glorious Prophet and Forerunner and Baptist John

Beheading of JohnThe Church sets forth for every day of the year so many saints, so that we can be inspired by their lives, rejoice in their virtues, and take comfort in their intercession.   There are countless martyrs and many holy ascetics.  There are numerous hierarchs and worthy priests and deacons.  There are choirs of virgins, wonderworkers, holy fools, un-mercenary healers and passion-bearers.  But there is only one baptist and forerunner, and he, among all those born of woman knows no superior.

Today we celebrate the day of his beheading, or rather the surrender of his life to God's plan.  We come to the date of August 29th because this is the day of dedication of the Church built by Saint Helen for his relics in Sebaste, the site of his burial.  In that place his holy relics were honoured until they were disturbed by the apostate emperor Julian.   But, imprisoned in that dark palace, John actually gave his life into God's hands shortly before the Jewish Passover.

And that is entirely fitting and suitable.  For even at his holy death, John did not abandon his ministry of going before the Lord, preparing his way (Luke 1:76).  He had leapt for joy in the womb of his mother Elizabeth at the visitation of the Saviour and the Mother of God.  He entered the desert before the Lord, and told the demons to prepare to address the Only-begotten in the flesh.  He preached to the people of Israel to prepare the way of the Lord, and to make his paths straight (Luke 3:4).  He pointed to the Lamb of God, and made his own disciples to be apostles of the Lord.   Though innocent, he was arrested and accused unjustly, a forerunner of the chosen path that the blameless Christ would follow.  Now, he gave his life over to death, but this did not mark the end of his ministry!  He entered into the realm of the dead, into Hades where the righteous of all ages, the patriarchs, prophets and just ones from the creation of the world were waiting to be loosed from their bondage.  He walked among the dead, in the kingdom of death, crying out for all those weeping there to prepare themselves to receive the Lord God!  The time of their captivity was coming to an end, soon Christ the true God would by means of the Cross enter into their condition, and lead them forth into freedom, opening the gates of paradise and carrying them to the glory of the holy Resurrection.  The voice of God the Word would be heard in their midst, and the darkness of death would be illumined with the eternal Light.  The psalmist words prophetically described that day:  The just shall rejoice at the presence of God, they shall exult and dance for joy. Make a highway for him who rides on the clouds, rejoice in the Lord, exult in his presence.  God will go forth, at the head of his people, and the heavens will melt at the presence of God.  This God of ours is a God who saves, the Lord our God holds the keys of death. (from Psalm 67).

We hear the story of the beheading of the forerunner John, and shudder with shame and disbelief.  How could the Saviour God allow such a terrible end to his kinsman and faithful servant?  With treachery and lust, the death is plotted of one so pure and righteous?  But John himself was not disturbed, nor did he question God's ways.  He gave himself over to the will of God, whose plan is ever for the good to those who love him.

We fast today, as if to honour the Forerunner who fasted always.  We fast today, to separate ourselves from the passions that were so cruelly executed on the day of his death.  Trumpets precede the entrance of the King into the banquet hall.  Lightning precedes the thunderclap.  A candle precedes the procession of the Holy Gospel.  And we fast today to remind ourselves that humility precedes the gifts of God.   How shall we boast?  Even hours of patient vigil, even endless good deeds, even mountains of philanthropy are a pittance, amounting to nothing more than some camel hair and a leather girdle before God.  It is a humbled spirit and contrite heart that is acceptable before the throne of grace.  So on this feast we fast, becoming less, that God can become all.  Lord, grant us the grace to humble ourselves, help us to persevere, even to the end.

Holy kinsman of the Lord, prophet, forerunner and baptist John, pray to God for us!


Written by a monk of the Byzantine Catholic Church.

Copyright © 1998, www.byzcath.org.


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Teachings of Christ

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:16-18 ESV)

Scripture

December 10, 2017
Twenty-Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
- Matins: Luke 24:12-35 (Gospel 5)
- Liturgy: Ephesians 6:10-17, Luke 17:12-19 (Slavs), Luke 13:10-17 (Greeks)

Twenty-Eighth Week After Pentecost
- Monday: 2 Timothy 2:20-26, Mark 8:11-21
- Tuesday: 2 Timothy 3:16-4:4, Mark 8:22-26
- Wednesday: 2 Timothy 4:9-22, Mark 8:30-34
- Thursday: Titus 1:5-2:1, Mark 9:10-16
- Friday: Titus 1:15-2:10, Mark 9:33-41
- Saturday: Ephesians 1:16-23, Luke 14:1-14

December 17, 2017
Sunday of the Forefathers
Second Sunday Before Christmas
- Matins: Luke 24:36-53 (Gospel 6)
- Liturgy: Colosians 3:4-11, Luke 14:16-24

Twenty-Ninth Week After Pentecost
- Monday: Hebrews 3:5-11, 17-19, Mark 9:42-10
- Tuesday: Hebrews 4:1-13, Mark 10:2-12
- Wednesday: Hebrews 5:11-6:8, Mark 10:11-16
- Thursday: Hebrews 7:1-6, Mark 10:17-27
- Friday: Hebrews 7:18-25, Mark 10:23-32

December 23, 2017
Saturday Before Christmas
- Galatians 3:8-12, Luke 13:18-29

December 24, 2017
Sunday Before Christmas
Sunday of the Holy Fathers
- Matins: John 20:1-10 (Gospel 7)
- Liturgy: Galatians 3:8-12
- Matthew 1:1-25

Christmas Eve
- First Royal Hour: Micah 5:2-4, Hebrews 1:1-12, Matthew 1:18-25
- Third Royal Hour: Baruch 3:36-4:4, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 2:1-20
- Sixth Royal Hour: Isaiah 7:10-16; 8:14; 8:8-10, Hebrews 1:10-2:3, Matthew 2:1-12
- Ninth Royal Hour: Isaiah 9:6,7, Hebrews 2:11-18, Matthew 2:13-23
- Vespers: 1) Genesis 1:1-13, 2) Numbers 24:2, 3 ; 5-9, 17, 18, 3) Micah 4:6, 7; 5:2-4, 4) Isaiah 11:1-10, 5) Baruch 3:36-4:4, 6) Daniel 2:31-36, 44, 45, 7) Isaiah 9:6, 7, 8) Isaiah 7:10-16; 8:1-4, 8-10
- Liturgy: Hebrews 1:1-12, Luke 2:1-20

December 25, 2017
Christmas
- Matins: 1:18-25
- Liturgy: Galatians 4:4-7, Matthew 2:1-12

December 26,2017
Synaxis of the Most Holy Mother of God
- Hebrews 2:11-18, Matthew 2:13-23

December 27, 2017
First-Martyr and Archdeacon Stephen
- Acts 6;8-15, 7:1-7, 47-60, Matthew 21:33-42, Hebrews 10:1-18, Mark 11:23-26

December 28, 2017
Twenty Thousand Martyrs of Nicomeida
- Hebrews 10:35-11:7, Mark 11:27-33

December 29. 2017
Holy Innocents
- Hebrews 11:8,11-16, Mark 12:1-12

Saturday After Christmas
- 1 Timothy 6:11-16, Matthew 12:15-21

December 31, 2017
Sunday after Christmas: Commemoration of the Holy Righteous David the King, Joseph the Betrothed, and James the Brother of the Lord
- Matins: John 20:11-18 (Gospel 8)
- Liturgy: Galatians 1:11-19, Matthew 2:13-23

Feasts & Fasts

December
6 - St Nicholas the Wonderworker and Archbishop of Myra in Lycia
9 (8) - The Conception of the Most Holy Mother of God by the Righteous Anna
12 - Our Lady of Guadalupe
17 - Second Sunday Before Christmas (Holy Forefathers)
24 - Sunday Before Christmas (Holy Fathers) / Christmas Eve
25 - The Nativity of our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ
26 - Synaxis of the Most Holy Mother of God, Boxing Day (Canada)
27 - First-Martyr and Archdeacon Stephen
28 - 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia
29 - 14,000 Infants (the Holy Innocents) Slain by Herod at Bethlehem
31 - Sunday after Christmas: Commemoration of the Holy Righteous David the King, Joseph the Betrothed, and James the Brother of the Lord

Please pray!

"They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword...." (Hebrews 11:37a)

Please lift up in prayer all those who are persecuted and deprived of liberty, everywhere in the world. Please especially remember the peoples of Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Niger - the whole Middle East and Africa - who are literal martyrs for Christ. Also the peoples of Ukraine. They are our brothers, for all are one in Christ.

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Saint Nicholas of Myra

The truth of your deeds has revealed you to your flock, * as a rule of faith, an image of meekness, and a teacher of abstinence. * Therefore, you attained the heights through humility, * and riches through poverty. * O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, * pray to Christ God that our souls may be saved. (Troparion, Tone 4)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

In Myra, You were shown to be a servant of the sacred things, O Holy Nicholas, * for, fulfilling the Gospel of Christ, you, O Venerable, laid down your life for your people, * and saved the innocent from death. * Therefore, you were sanctified as a great initiate of the grace of God. (Kontakion, Tone 3)

Random Proverb

"One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want." (Proverbs 11:24 ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

No one has to be embarrassed over his sinful state. ‘There is no man who, while living, does not sin,’ and the more sinful the man, the stronger will be God’s help in leading him out of his sinful mire. But the help of God comes only when the sinner repents with heartfelt contrition and has the will to reform. Not seeing in himself enough strength of soul to break away from sinful deeds, he asks for God’s help. This is where the mercy of God, Who does not wish the death of the sinner but wants him to be converted and live, is often evident.… If the voice of conscience awakens in us a feeling of remorse or repentance, then we must pray fervently to the Guardian Angel of our human existence that he may keep us from corrupt downfalls and help us ‘serve God with fear and trembling.’

Elder Macarius of Optina