The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness
St. John the baptist was the son of Zechariah the priest, whom Gabriel the Archangel proclaimed his birth to his father in the Holy of Holies. When the angel proclaimed the birth of the forerunner, Zacharias expressed doubt replying to the angel "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years” (Luke 1:18). Because of his disbelief, the angel told Zacharias that he will be mute till the birth of St. John the baptist. On the day of St. John the Baptis's circumcision, they asked his father about the child's name. He asked for a tablet and wrote on it "John" and straightaway his mouth opened. Then he spoke and praised God and prophesied concerning his son John and the Lord Christ. He prophesied about his son that he would be a prophet and he should go before the face of the Lord.
When the mother of our Lord, St. Mary, visited Elizabeth during her pregnancy with St. John, "when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:41).
St. John the Baptist was left on the altar by his father, when the king's soldiers were ordered to murder any infant 2 years or younger. The angel of the Lord took the child to the desert of Ziphana, where "the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel" (Luke 1:80). "Now 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. It is written concerning this saint "came for a witness, 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).
St. John the Baptist preached in Judea urging the people to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:1-2). "Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins" (Matthew 3:5-6). "Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, 'I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.' (Luke 3:15-17).
"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” (John 1:29-34).
When St. John rebuked Herod because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Phillip whom he had taken as a wife, he said to him, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife" (Mark:6:18). Herod seized the saint and cast him into prison; however, he feared St. John the Baptist.
When Herod's birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore Herod promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, "Give me John the Baptist's head here on a platter." And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him at the table, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had St. John the Baptist beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. The deciples of St. John the Baptist took the body and buried it.
Aritas, the Arabic King, Herod's father-in-law, was enraged because Herod banished his daughter and married the wife of his brother, while his brother was still alive. Aritas instigated a war against Herod in revenge for his daughter. He overcame Herod, dispersed his army and destroyed the cities of Galilee. When Tiberius Caesar learned that the reason for these wars was the slaying of a prophet, who was great among his people, by Herod, who banished his wife, the daughter of Aritas, the Arabian king, and married his brother's wife, he summoned Herod and Herodias to Rome. Herod hid the head of St. John in his palace and went to Rome. When he arrived there, Tiberius removed him from his position and stripped him of all his possessions and exiled him to Spain where he died.
Years later, two believing men from Homs, Syria went to Jerusalem to spend the Great and Holy fast there. Night fell on them while passing by the ruins of Herod's palace, so they spent the night there. St. John the Baptist appeared to one of them and told him about his name and the whereabouts of his head and ordered him to take it to his house. When he woke up, the man told this to his friend and they went to the place where the head was buried. They dug and found a sealed pottery vessel.
When they opened that vessel, a sweet aroma spread out of it. They found the holy head, took its blessing and placed it back in the vessel. The man that saw the vision took it to his house. He put it in a safe place and put a candle in front of it. Before his departure, he told his sister about it and she went on doing the same thing. The head was handed from one person to another until it came to the hand of a follower of Arius who attributed the wonders and miracles that happened through the holy head to the heresy of Arius. The place of the head remained unknown until the time of St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem. St. John the Baptist appeared to Abba Martianus, Bishop of Homs, in his sleep and told him about the place of the head. He went there and found the head and that was on the thirtieth of the month of Meshir.
May the intercessions of St. John the Baptist be with us all.