Icon of the Nativity of Saint John The Forerunner written by the hand of Athanasios Clark and used with permission. © Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Background of the Feasts
He that was greater than all who are born of women, the Prophet who received God's testimony that he surpassed all the Prophets, was born of the aged and barren Elizabeth (Luke 1:7) and filled all his kinsmen, and those that lived round about, with gladness and wonder. But even more wondrous was that which followed on the eighth day when he was circumcised, that is, the day on which a male child receives his name. Those present called him Zacharias, the name of his father. But the mother said, "Not so, but he shall be called John." Since the child's father was unable to speak, he was asked, by means of a sign, to indicate the child's name. He then asked for a tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And immediately Zacharias' mouth was opened, his tongue was loosed from its silence of nine months, and filled with the Holy Spirit, he blessed the God of Israel, Who had fulfilled the promises made to their fathers, and had visited them that were sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, and had sent to them the light of salvation.
Zacharias prophesied concerning the child also, saying that he would be a Prophet of the Most High and Forerunner of Jesus Christ. And the child John, who was filled with grace, grew and waxed strong in the Spirit; and he was in the wilderness until the day of his showing to Israel (Luke 1:57-80). His name is a variation of the Hebrew "Johanan," which means "Yahweh is gracious."
Orthodox Christian Celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
The feast and commemoration of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom which is conducted on the morning of the feast and preceded by a Orthros service. A Great Vespers may be conducted on the evening before the day of the Feast. On this day, the Orthodox Church also commemorates the mother of Saint John the Baptist, Elizabeth.
Scripture readings for the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist are: At the Vespers Genesis 17:15-19, 18:11-15; 21:1-3; Judges 13:2-21; Isaiah 40:1-5, 9; 41:17-18; 45:8; 48:20-21; 54:1. At the Orthros (Matins): Luke 1:24-25, 57-68, 76, 80. At the Divine Liturgy: Romans 13:11-14:4; Luke 1:1-25, 57-68, 76, 80.
Hymns of the Feast
Apolytikion: Fourth Tone
O Prophet and Forerunner of the presence of Christ, we who fervently honor you cannot worthily praise you. For by your revered and glorious birth the barrenness of your mother and the muteness of your father were unbound, and the incarnation of the Son of God is proclaimed to the world.
Kontakion: Third Tone
She that once was barren doth today bring forth Christ's Forerunner, John, the culmination and the crown of all the Prophets. For when he, in River Jordan, laid his hand on Him Whom the Prophets preached aforetime, he was revealed as God the Word's fore-chosen Prophet, His mighty preacher, and His Forerunner in grace.
Reading courtesy of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, MA
Apolytikion courtesy of Narthex Press, Northridge, CA
Kontakion courtesy of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, MA