Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Saint Gregory Palamas-On Saint John the Baptist - Part One

 Saint John The Forerunner

by St. Gregory Palamas

If the death of the saints is precious (Ps. 116:15) and the just are remembered with praise (Prov. 10:7), it is even more fitting for us to commemorate John, the highest summit of holy and righteous men, by extolling him. He leapt in the womb in anticipation of the Word of God who took flesh for our sake; he was His Forerunner and went before Him as His herald, and the Lord in turn proclaimed and bore witness that John was superior to all the prophets, saints and just men down through the ages. Everything about him surpasses human speech, and the only-begotten Son of God witnessed to him and honored him, and he has no need of any tribute from us. But this does not mean that we should keep silent and fail to honor with our words, as best we can, the one whom the Scriptures refer to as "the voice" of the sublime Word (Matt. 3:3; Isa. 40:3). On the contrary, the fact that he was proclaimed to be so great and witnessed to by Christ, the Lord of all, should move every tongue to sing his praises as much as it can. Not that we can add to his glory in any way - how could we? - but in order to pay our debt individually and together by recounting the wonders surrounding him and celebrating them in song.

The whole life of the greatest man born of woman was a supreme miracle. John was a prophet and much more than a prophet, even before he was born; and not only did his entire life transcend all wonders, but so did everything concerning him, both long before his lifetime and afterwards. The divine predictions of seers inspired by God described him as an angel rather than a man (Matt. 11:10; Exod. 23:20); Mal. 3:1), as a lampstand for the light (Jn. 5:35; Ps. 132:17), a divinely radiant star bringing in the morning (Jn. 1:8; 5:35), for he went before the Sun of Righteousness and was "the voice" of God's Word. What could be closer or more akin to God the Word than God's voice?

When the time for his conception drew near it was not a man but an angel who flew down from heaven and put an end to Zachariah's and Elizabeth's barrenness, promising that the couple who had been childless from their youth would bear a child in extreme old age. The birth of this son would, he foretold, cause much joy, as it would be for the salvation of all. "For he", said the angel, "shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias" (Lk. 1:15-17). For he shall be a virgin as Elijah was, and dwell in the desert more than he did; and he shall censure kings and queens who transgress. What puts him above Elijah, however, is that he shall be the Forerunner of God, for the Scripture says, "He shall go before Him".

Because Zacharias considered these things beyond belief, his tongue was tied. Since he did not want to announce voluntarily the child's mysterious conception, he proclaimed it against his will by being silent until he saw "the voice" of the Word coming into the light. Having been conceived with so many great promises, he was anointed as a prophet before being born and - marvellous to relate! - passed on this anointing to his mother. Like Isaiah, he was clothed in the "garment of salvation" and the "robe of righteousness" (Is. 61:10); like Elijah he anointed someone else to be a prophet in his place (1 Kgs. 19:16), and while still unborn he equalled and surpassed both prophets in their perfection, because he displayed these attributes in the presence of the Lord. Once an unborn babe's members have been formed, it can move, but does not yet have a voice, as it is not yet living in the air. When the Virgin, who was at that time carrying God within her, appeared, even though John was in the womb he did not fail to perceive God's presence and His dispensation, but extolled it, declaring the divinity through his mother's tongue (Lk. 1:42). He leapt and rejoiced within her as - what a miracle! - he received in the Holy Spirit the fullness of the age to come in his mother's womb.

Proclaiming beforehand the mystery of eternal life, the great Paul says, "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:44). That is to say, the body will be indwelt and motivated by the supernatural power of the divine Spirit in the age to come. In the same way, John was sown and shaped in his mother's womb as a natural body, but by the mysterious anointing of the Holy Spirit while he was within her, he was shown to be a spiritual body, who leapt and rejoiced in the Spirit and made his mother a prophetess. Through her tongue he blessed God with a loud voice and declared the Virgin who was with child to be the Mother of the Lord, and he addressed her unborn Babe as the fruit of her womb, proving that she was at the same time both pregnant and a virgin (Lk. 1:41-45).

John did not merely, in the words of the Scripture, choose the good before knowing evil (Is. 7:16), but while still unborn, before knowing the world, he surpassed it. Then once he was born he delighted and amazed everyone by reason of the miraculous events surrounding him, because, it says, "The hand of the Lord was with him" (Lk. 1:66), working wonders again as it had in earlier time. His father's mouth, which had been closed because he had not believed in the child's strange conception, was opened and filled with the Holy Spirit, and he prophesied, among other things, about this his son, saying, "And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto His people" (Lk. 1:76-77). Once this divine child, this living instrument of grace from his mother's womb, had been conceived, he was moved by grace to rejoice in the Holy Spirit. In the same way, after being born, he grew and waxed strong in the Spirit. As the world was unworthy of him, he dwelt continuously in desert places from his earliest years, leading a frugal life without cares or worldly concerns, a stranger to sadness, free from coarse passions and above base, material pleasure, which merely beguiles the body and its senses. He lived for God alone, beholding only God and making God his delight. It was as if he lived somewhere exalted above the earth. "And he was in the deserts", it says, "till the day of his shewing unto Israel" (Lk. 1:80).
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...