The Gathering of Saint John the Baptist

In the Romanian folklore there is conviction that St. John the Baptist is the “godfather” of Christ (because he was the one who baptized Him) and the one who helps the children not to die without being baptized. It is an original interpretation of the celebration established by the Church on January 7 and dedicated to the gathering of St. John.

But this feast was set up right after the day of the Epiphany, according to a Church principle that says the day after a royal feast is dedicated to those who were involved in the event of preceding holiday.

 Why is on 7 January the name’s day of those who bear Saint John the Baptist’s name?

Indeed, there are at least three important holidays related to the life and work of Saint John the Baptist: the Gathering of Saint John the Baptist (January 7), the Birth of St. John the Baptist (June 24) and the Beheading of St. John the Baptist (August 29),  not to mention the holidays concerning the findings of Saint John’s head.

Normally, the saints are celebrated on the day of their death, as the day they entered the eternal life. The only ones with special treatment are the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and St. John the Baptist whom Christ described “the greatest amongst those that are born of women.”[1]

If, in the case of the Virgin Mary, the motives are obvious with regard to St. John the Baptist one must emphasize the role he had in the history of salvation – to present Christ to the world.

To this mission, which he was very aware of, St. John practically devoted his whole life. All, his birth, the very austere life in the wilderness, the missionary activity and the guidance of his disciples, everything had as ultimate goal the announcing of Christ as the Savior of the world, when Son of God came to the Jordan River to be baptized.

The Activity of Saint John the Baptist and Its Importance to Our Salvation

The mission of St. John the Baptist was predicted by the ancient prophets[2], and it consisted of preparing the coming of the Savior[3] and making Him known to the world. This mission was necessary to increase the impact that the Savior’s work would have had on the world.

Jesus had to preach in the midst of human communities, where the tumult of daily life prevented people from thinking about spiritual life.

Moreover, after sending His message, Christ did not spend much time in the same town, because there were other communities which needed His teachings and many sick people who could use His healing power. Under these circumstances, it would have been difficult for those willing to become the first disciples of the Master of the world to ask for it.

Unlike this way of preaching, the activity of John the Baptist was one that took place in the wilderness, near the Jordan River.

There, he was lived a very austere life, characterized by prayer and an extraordinarily difficult lent. He was dressed in a camelhair coat and was girded with a leather belt, and his food consisted of locusts and wild honey[4].

In order for his message to be taken seriously, he could not begin his preaching earlier than the age of 30. Since Christ came to be baptized after having reached this age[5], we infer that John’s public activity began about 6 months before that of our Lord Jesus Christ[6].

Probably, in order to have a bigger audience, Saint John preached in a place where the Jordan River intersected with a main road and could be crossed. This explains how his message had a significant impact that attracted disciples[7], brought him into the attention of the priests from the Temple[8], and even managed to cause distress to the ruler of his time[9]. Evidently, this location provided Saint John the Baptist with enough water to baptize those who confessed their sins[10].

John’s baptism was one that anticipated the baptism that Christ would bring. Those who confessed their sins did not receive forgiveness, but only a visible sign of the fact that by virtuous life[11] they could receive that forgiveness when the world’s Redeemer would come.

Even though John announced the baptism with “Holy Spirit and fire”[12], and Christ, during discussion with the Pharisee Nicodemus, spoke of “the birth of water and of the Spirit”[13], there is no contradiction between these descriptions of the Sacrament of Initiation in the Christian Life.

The baptism Saint John spoke of took place on the Day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), when, over the apostles, the Holy Spirit appeared unto them in the form of “tongues like as of fire”[14]. The baptism we see today in the Church was announced by Christ and has been practiced since the beginning of Christianity by the apostles[15] and their successors.

So, neither the austere life, nor the martyrdom he suffered as a result of the public condemnation of King Herod Antipas’ decadent morals, but the mission he accomplished brought to Saint John the Baptist the special honor the Savior and the Church gave to him.

For us, the twenty-first century people, dedicating our life to a single moment, be it crucial to the destiny of the whole world, is something that very few of us would be willing to do.

That is why St. John the Baptist remains one of the moral leaders of Christianity and a model of sacrificing one’s life for a unique purpose that is of paramount importance to all.

 

[1] Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 11, verse 11.

[2] Isaiah, chapter 40, verse 3; Malachi, chapter 3, verse 1.

[3] Gospel according to Luke, chapter 1, verse 17; Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verses 6-8.

[4] Gospel according to Mark, chapter 1, verse 6.

[5] Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verse 23.

[6] Between the moments of the conception of Saint John the Baptist and the Savior’s conception there is a difference of 6 months (Gospel according to Luke, chapter 1, verse 26). So, St. John the Baptist was 6 months older than our Lord Jesus Christ.

[7] Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verses 35-37.

[8] Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verses 19-27.

[9] Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verses 19-20.

[10] Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verses 5-6.

[11] “And the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answereth and saith unto them, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, “what shall we do?” And he said unto them, “Exact no more than that which is appointed you.” And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, “And what shall we do?” And he said unto them: “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” (Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verses 10-14).

[12] Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verse 11; Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verse 16.

[13] Gospel according to John, chapter 3, verse 5.

[14] Acts, chapter 2, verses 1-3.

[15] Acts, chapter 8, verses 26-38; chapter 10, verses 44-48.

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