June 25, 2023

Homily Four on the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist (St. Luke of Simferopol)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered in 1957)
Today we celebrate the Nativity of the great John, the Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord Jesus Christ. This great event 700 years before was foretold by the glorious Prophet Isaiah: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Is. 40:3).

With these words, the Prophet Isaiah predetermined the main goal of the life of the Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord, John.

300 years after Isaiah, another prophet, Malachi, called John the Forerunner of the Lord an Angel, whom the Lord sends before Himself to prepare the way for Him.

Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself confirmed the words of the Prophets before the people, when John the Forerunner, already imprisoned, sent to Him two of His disciples to ask Him: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?” (Matt. 11:3).

Addressing the people, the Lord said: “What did you go to see? a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. For he is the one of whom it is written: 'Behold, I am sending My angel before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You. Truly, I say to you, of those born of women, no greater than John the Baptist has arisen; but the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:9-11).

With great shame, we stop before these last words of the Savior. How can we understand that “the least in the Kingdom of Heaven” is greater than John the Baptist, the greatest of all those born of women?

These words could not be understood by the human mind, and only other words of the Lord Jesus, spoken by Him on completely different occasions, give us an answer to His word that confused us that the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than the great Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord.

Let us recall the story written by the Evangelist Luke (Chapter 20) about how the Sadducees, Jewish sectarians who rejected the belief in the resurrection of the dead, tempted the Lord Jesus Christ.

They told Him about a barren woman who had seven brothers as her husbands according to the law of Moses, which obliged her to be the wife of a brother, who died childless, and was to restore his seed. There were seven such brothers, and all died childless. The Sadducees hoped to confuse the Lord Jesus Christ with the question: “…in the resurrection which of them will she be a wife, for seven had her as his wife?" Jesus answered and said to them: "The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Lk. 20:33-36).

Let us recall other great words of the Lord Jesus Christ, recorded by John the Theologian in the fifth chapter of his Gospel: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

In these great words of the Lord Jesus and in the above answer to His Sadducees, the mystery of the afterlife of the righteous who have been honored to reach the Kingdom of Heaven is revealed to us. They are no longer subject to the temptations of the flesh. They are the children of God, they are equal to the Angels, they already live eternal life and cannot die. This is the least of them.

And can we say all this about John the Forerunner of the Lord? No we can not. He was less than the immortal sons of God, for not only could he die, but he bowed his holy head under the executioner's sword.

He was not born incorporeal, but wore human flesh with all its shortcomings and temptations.

He did not appear to the world in the same way as the Archangel Gabriel did, or the Angels who appeared to the myrrhbearing women at the tomb of the Resurrected Savior of the world.

If the Prophets and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself called Him an Angel, then this must be understood in the sense that he was also in the human body the bearer of the angelic spirit, purity and perfection.

For his indescribable ascetic deeds in the desert, for the immeasurable depth of prayer and fasting, for the greatest work of preaching, with which he prepared the way for the Lord, for the Baptism in the Jordan of the Son of God, for his martyrdom, of course, already now the great Forerunner is the first in the Kingdom of God after Holy Mother of God. But while he lived in the body, the least in the Kingdom of Heaven was greater than him.

To Him be glory forever and ever! Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.


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