Saint John the Baptist—The most shining example of monastic life

A homily given by His Grace Bishop Partenij of Antania, the abbot of the Holy Monastery of Bigorski, on the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, before the beginning of the All-Night vigil, July 6th in the year of Our Lord 2022.

Your Grace, the Bishop of Amorion, and the Holy Abbot of the Stavropegial Monastery of Vlatadon in Thessaloniki, Nikiphoros, 

Your Eminences, 

Most venerable and reverend Fathers, 

Brother monks and sister nuns, 

Beloved brothers, sisters, and children in the Lord,

“Drip with sweetness, O Mountains, dance like lambs, O Hills,” proclaims the holy hymnographer today, “for from Elizabeth is born he who will settle among us, the Forerunner of the Lord,”[1] by whom “the Incarnation of the Son of God is preached to the world.”[2]

The great spiritual delight expressed above is completely understandable because the venerable Nativity of the Prophet and Forerunner of the Word is not only a reason for joy but is in fact the very essence of spiritual joy. With the miraculous birth of the Baptist of the Lord from his barren and aged parents Zacharias and Elizabeth, the consolation of this sinful and lifeless world began. In the prophecies about the “prophet of the Most High,”[3] which we will hear at Vespers, the advent of Saint John is described as the consolation of God, as forgiveness and liberation: “Comfort, yes, comfort My people, says your God; Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned…Rain down you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness… With a voice of singing, declare, proclaim this, utter it to the end of the earth; say, ‘The Lord has redeemed His servant Jacob!”[4]

Truly, the Forerunner’s coming to earth had a liberating character, with consolation, joy repentance, and sweet words flowing forth from his mouth. While being outwardly very strict and harsh with himself, at the same time, Saint John the Baptist was particularly gentle and comforting to others. Even when he exposed people for their sins, he did so with so much love that it brought everyone to true repentance. As “a preacher of repentance and a guide to the Light, as the voice of the Word,”[5] he had divine authority, and as such was an unusually strong magnet for God, drawing all men to himself, preparing them for the Deliverer Who was yet to come. Both the learned and simple, masters and servants, the virtuous and the sinful came to him. Tax collectors, criminals, harlots, Pharisees, and Sadducees came and he taught them all with simple words, directing them to the path of repentance. The Evangelist Mark says that even the godless Herod knew that this was “a just and holy man and he protected him. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed, yet he heard him gladly.”[6] No one departed from his luminous presence unconsoled or unmoved. Yes, “he was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness to that Light.”[7] He was, therefore, a precursor, the daystar of the Light. As the greatest of the Saints of the Old Testament, Saint John remains “the first of the First” in the holy hierarchy, who gave birth to Christ on Earth. And no human praise, even if it is made with much love, could be worthy of a man about whom the mouth of Christ said, “among those born of women there has not arisen one greater than John the Baptist.”[8]

As such, he, along with the Most Holy Theotokos, remains the most shining example for monastic life. This is why the Church praises and exalts them as the protectors of the monastic order. The blessed Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra says so beautifully that “the Holy Forerunner is an example for us monks; we cannot live without him. Woe to us, if we do not have him as our prototype every day and every night.”[9] How much more honor and responsibility do we have, the inhabitants of this Holy Monastery, through which for more than a thousand years the Holy Forerunner has been doing the same holy and apostolic work that he once did by the Jordan, bringing countless people to repentance and showing them the “Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world!”[10] This year, on the day of his Nativity, he will offer us five more “fruits worthy of repentance,”[11] five monastic births, which, like lamps lit with love for Christ, will shine before the Throne of God for the repentance and salvation of the Orthodox people and the glory of the Holy Archdiocese of Ohrid. Tomorrow, at the hands of our honored archpastor, the Metropolitan of Debar-Kichevo, Timotej, our obedient brothers Dragan, Django, Philip, Angel, and Gligorcho will be tonsured in that same angelic monastic image unto the joy and glory of the Monastery of the Forerunner. I intentionally mentioned they are obedient because blessed obedience is the supreme monastic virtue.

The recently glorified Holy Father Ephraim of Katounakia tells us concerning this perfect life philosophy of surrendering your will to the will of a spiritual father, “Understand where obedience comes from. From the Triune Godhead. Christ says: ‘I did not come to do my own will, but the will of the One who sent me.’ Obedience begins from here. And therefore everyone who is obedient becomes an imitator of Christ… He who obeys his Elder imitates Christ who obeyed His Father.”[12]

I would like to repeat for you the priceless words, which you, the Holy Bishop of Amorion, once said to our brothers: “If you do not obey the Elder, you are nothing. Do you have obedience? Then you have a hypostasis. Obedience gives you your existence before God.”

With this advice in mind, I would like to wish our brothers who will be clothed in the angelic schema tomorrow a blessed monastic journey, filled with obedience and life in God.

Thank you once again, Your Eminence, Nikiphoros, for the great honor you have shown us, enriching our Monastery’s feast day with your invaluable presence and the blessings of the First Throne of the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

I thank you especially, Most Reverend Archimandrite Cherubim and your honorable retinue and all who will sing with you, for being willing to adorn our joy with your sweet-singing choir.

I also thank you all, brothers, sisters, and children in the Lord, with whose presence and prayers you make our constant prayerful intercessor before Christ, Saint John the Baptist, and his glorious Bigorski Monastery rejoice.

May the Birth of the Honorable Forerunner help us and I wish you all a good vigil!

[1] First litiya stichera for the Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, Menaion, June 24th.

[2] Dismissal troparion for the Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, Menaion, June 24th.

[3] Luke 1:76

[4] Isaiah 40:1-2; 45:8; 48:20 (According to the Septuagint text)

[5] Glory of the Litiya stichera, Menaion, June 24th.

[6] Mark 6:20

[7] John 1:8

[8] Matthew 11:11

[9] Ἀρχιμανδρίτου Αἰμιλιανοῦ Σιμωνοπετρίτου, Λόγοι Ἐόρτιοι Μυσταγωγικοί, Αθήναι 2014, 141-142.

[10] John 1:29

[11] Luke 3:8

[12] Γέροντας Εφραίμ Κατουνακιώτης, έκδοση Ι. Ησυχαστηρίου «Άγιος Εφραίμ», Κατουνάκια Αγίου Όρους, 2000 162-163.