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St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (398-404)

St. John Chrysostome: Discourse On Saint John The Baptist – “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand” (Matt. 3:1-2)

“In those days, – the Gospel tells us, — came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness and saying: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:1-2).  “In those days,” that is, in the days of the Lord Jesus Christ’s coming to earth, in the days when the Heavenly King appeared, in the days when the pre-eternal Light began to shine in the world.  In those days John the Baptist comes and preaches in the wilderness, in an uninhabited land, for mankind at that time was like a wilderness, it had not yet become the abode of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

 

Saint John the BaptistWhat did John proclaim?  “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  John himself had a raiment of camel’s hair and a leather girdle around his loins (Matt. 3:4). Let us, too, my beloved brethren, attire ourselves in John’s raiment, for in this raiment is concealed the mystery of our salvation.  This raiment is the image of people turning from paganism to faith.

 

 

John had a raiment of camel’s hair.  The Holy Scriptures often liken the devil to a camel, in view of the latter’s pride, perfidy, and rage.  In the writings of the Prophet Isaiah, for example, the watchman says from his watchtower: “And he saw a chariot of asses and a chariot of camels (Isaiah 21:7).  The chariot of asses represents Christ, Who entered Jerusalem sitting upon an ass; while the chariot of camels represents the Antichrist, who will appear in the last days through the camel’s hair.  With his preaching, he attracted pagans, who were like hair covering the devil, and thus, by making the devil lose his “hair,” John the Baptist united these pagans with the Church.

 

 

“John himself…had a leather girdle around his loins.”  The Holy Scriptures speak also of John’s  girdle and loins, in order to show that carnal desires, which so oppose virtue, were deadened by the outward girdle made of dead skin; this girdle symbolized true internal chastity.  According to the Gospel, John’s food was locusts and wild honey.  This symbolizes the Jews’ abandonment of the law and the commandments, as it is described by the prophet: “Thy crowned ones are as the locusts, and thy captains as the great grasshoppers, which camp in the hedges in the cold day, but when the sun arises they flee away” (Nahum 3:17).  And the wild honey indicates that by transgressing the commandments the Jews turned the sweetness of the law into bitterness for themselves.

 

 

Saint John the Baptist, circa 1551

 

“Then, – says the Gospel, – Jesus comes to Jordan unto John, to be baptized by him.  But John restrained Him, saying: I have need to be baptized by Thee, and comest Thou to me?  And Jesus replied to him: Suffer it to be so now, for thus we must fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:13-15).  Suffer it now, for it behooves you to be a witness concerning Me.  I have come to teach that “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5), and therefore I Myself must first fulfill that which I shall teach others to do.  Suffer it now, for the words of the long-suffering Job must be fulfilled: “Not one man shall be clean of impurity, even if he lives on earth just a single day.”  I must cleanse the ancient sinful impurity and renew the soul by means of the Spirit and the body by means of water.

 

Then John let Jesus alone.  And when Jesus descended into Jordan, a great miracle appeared before the eyes of all those standing around: they saw the Source of all things being cleansed in the river, and the River of all bounty immersing Himself in water.  Christ is truly the source of all things, as He Himself testifies, saying: “They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13).  At the same time, Jesus Christ is a river of all bounty, as can be seen from the following prophetic words: “The river of God has been filled with water” (Psalm 64:9). 

 

The Saviour has descended upon the waters, and they have become blessed, for He has blessed them.  If any of you, dear brethren, has not yet washed himself in the fountain of eternal being, let him come and see what God the Father proclaims from the heavens about Jesus: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased” (Matt. 3:17).  “Hear Him” (Luke 9:35).  Thus, a voice is heard at the Jordan River, the Father calls the Son by name, the Son cleanses the heavens and blesses the water, the Holy Spirit renews the earth and blesses the air.  Now the ancient words of the Psalm come to pass: “Day unto day uttereth speech” (Psalm 19:2).  The day is the Father, and the day is the Son; and so, the Father passes the word unto the Son, as the Apostle Paul confirms when he exhorts us: “And take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). By this word may we all be joined in Jesus Christ, our Lord, unto Whom are due glory and worship unto ages of ages. 

 

Amen.

 

Theophany

 
Illustrations:

  1. Saint John the Baptist Icon by Saint Andrei Rublev
  2. Saint John the Baptist, Russian Icon, circa 1552
  3. Theophany Icon
  4. Header: Saint John Chrysostom fresco, Archbishop of Constantinople (398-404).