John the Baptist
In the Byzantine Rite St. John the Baptist is venerated above all other Saints and right below the Angels, with the exception of the Blessed Mother of God, the Theotokos, who enjoys a unique veneration (hyperdulia) over and above all the Angels and Saints.
St. John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the people for the coming of the promised Messiah (Mal. 3:1). In his role as God’s messenger (in Greek-angel) he was expected to point out to the people their Redeemer, the “Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world” (In. 1:29). He also was to baptize Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, initiating our Lord in His messianic mission (Mt. 3:13-15).
Since he baptized Jesus, he was surnamed the Baptist. As the messenger (angel) of God, he was to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven in the person of Jesus Christ. Rightly then, our Lord testified of St. John the Baptist: ” I tell you that of all the children born of women there is no one greater than John” (Lk. 7:28) .
St. John’s early veneration was due to his innocent and austere life in the desert, for which he was hailed by the Fathers as an ” earthly angel in human body” (St. Sophronius, P.G. 87, 3340). Filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Lk. 1 :15), St. John the Baptist spent all the years of his youth in the desert, preparing himself with fasting and prayer for his unique mission. When he appeared in the Jordan region to preach penance, he was clothed in a garment of camel‘s hair (Mt. 3:1-6), which was the traditional garb of the Prophets.
John came out from his solitude as a “voice crying in the desert” (In. 1 :23), preaching moral reform in preparation for the advent of the Messiah: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand” (Mt. 3:2). He gathered a group of disciples and, having initiated them into the ascetical life, he taught them how to pray. The Desert Fathers, imbued with this great admiration, were the first to promote the veneration of the Baptist among the people of the East as well as the West. All the Fathers were convinced that “to praise the Baptist meant to praise Jesus, for he gave a moving witness to Our Savior!”
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