The Gospel of St. Luke states that the righteous parents of St. John the Baptist, the Priest Zachariah and Elizabeth, lived in the ancient city of Hebron. They reached old age without having children, since Elizabeth was barren. One day, while St. Zachariah was serving in the Temple at Jerusalem, he saw the Archangel Gabriel standing on the right side of the altar with incense. Gabriel predicted that St. Zachariah would father a son, who would announce the Savior, the Messiah, awaited by the Old Testament Church. Zachariah was troubled and fearful. He had doubts that in old age it was possible to have a son, and he asked the archangel for a sign. It was given to him, and it was also a chastisement for his unbelief. Zachariah was struck speechless until the time of the fulfillment of the archangel's words.
St. Elizabeth came to be with child, and fearing derision at being pregnant so late in life, she kept the news secret for five months. Later, her cousin, the Theotokos, came to share with her Her own joy. Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” was the first to greet her as the Mother of God. St. John leapt in his mother’s womb upon the visit of the Most Holy Virgin Mary and the Son of God incarnate within Her.
Soon St. Elizabeth gave birth to a son, and her relatives and acquaintances rejoiced. On the eighth day, in accordance with the Law of Moses, he was circumcised and was called John. Everyone was amazed, since no one in the family had this name. When St. Zachariah was asked about this, he motioned for a tablet and wrote on it, “His name is John.” Immediately his tongue was loosed, and St. Zachariah glorified God. He also prophesied about the coming into the world of the Messiah, and of his own son John, the Forerunner of the Lord.
After the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ and the worship of the shepherds and the Magi, King Herod gave orders to kill all the male infants. Hearing of this, St. Elizabeth fled into the wilderness and hid in a cave while St. Zachariah continued to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem. Herod sent soldiers to the Temple to find out the whereabouts of the infant John and his mother. Zachariah answered that he did not know, and he was immediately killed.
St. Elizabeth continued to live in the wilderness with her son and she died there. John, protected by an angel, dwelt in the wilderness until the time when he came preaching repentance, and was accounted worthy to baptize the Lord.
Troparion (Tone 4) –
Prophet and Forerunner of the coming of Christ,
although we cannot praise you worthily,
we honor you in love at your nativity,
for by it you ended your father’s silence and your mother’s barrenness,
proclaiming to the world the incarnation of the Son of God!
Kontakion (Tone 3) –
Today the formerly barren woman gives birth to Christ’s Forerunner,
who is the fulfillment of every prophecy;
for in the Jordan,
when he laid his hand on the One foretold by the prophets,
he was revealed as Prophet, Herald, and Forerunner of God the Word.
By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org )