Feast of the Beheading of the Holy and Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John
THE FATHERS imitated the Forerunner of grace, bade farewell to the world, and fled the company of those devoted to it. Some inhabited the desert and attracted to it many of those born later. Others led ascetic lives within sacred enclosures and organized spiritual communities, and we associate ourselves with various ones of these in emulation of the Fathers, and live in these hallowed folds. We should not, however, merely dwell in them, but also live as the Fathers lived. Even these other paradises of God on earth are not without the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or the wicked guide. Instructed by the examples from former times, however, we can pay heed to those who were, and are now, obedient to Him, imitating their conversation, to use the apostle’s expression (cf. Heb. 13.7), as we have seen the outcome of their lives. There are also wild animals and cattle in the desert and in these hallowed sanctuaries, and we must greatly fear lest any of us should fail to imitate John’s way of life, as far as is possible, and be reckoned among the senseless beasts and become like them (cf. Ps. 49.12, 20).
John always had his head uncovered as a sign of unceasing prayer, and boldness towards God, for when a man prays he should have his head uncovered, according to the apostle (cf. 1 Cor. 11.4), that with unveiled face we may reflect as a mirror the glory of the Lord (cf. 2 Cor. 3.18). Let those who are bound up with the world cover themselves on account of these harmful things that surround them, or rather, are innate within them, and their constant impediments, since they cannot pray unceasingly as we do. We, on the other hand, who have abandoned the world in a good cause, should withdraw our thoughts from it as well, uniting our minds to Christ in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5.19), and make ourselves a dwelling-place for the saving Name (cf. Acts 2.21, 38; 4.12; 10.43), remembering Him for whose sake we left the world. For anyone who has retired from the world and this life’s concerns for His sake obviously longs for union with Him, and this is brought about by the constant remembrance of Him, which purifies the mind.
Let us cleanse the eye of our understanding by reaching up with our deeds, words and thoughts towards God. There would be nothing to drag us down if we were only to look, as far as we can, at John’s way of life. He went around without a roof over his head, so let us be content with a small shelter, and may each one of us gladly accept the modest room which the superior gives us, remembering him who was homeless all his life long. He was satisfied with “locusts”, the name of a type of fruit, and “wild honey” (Matt. 3.4, Mk. 1.6), a plant which grows wild in the desert, the roots of which were used as food by the Fathers who dwelt there after him. So he lived on fruit and wore a girdle of skin about his loins, thus showing symbolically that he carried about in his body the death of the passions, and also that he possessed the virtue of poverty, teaching it to us through his actions. How well off we are in everything necessary for nourishment and clothing! We have receptacles and storehouses full of grain and wine, kitchens and bakeries, and absolutely everything we need.
Let us thank God who gives us these things, and His Forerunner, for through Him we gather them in effortlessly, as if they flowed towards us from a spring. Let us accept them to His glory, rendering Him thanksgiving through our deeds.
—St Gregory Palamas, Homily on Christ’s Highly Revered Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John