Today is the Feast of the Conception of St John the Forerunner.
GODLY Zacharias was serving as priest, and had come within the Most Holy Place of the Temple, offering up the pleas of the people, to him who is Benefactor and All-Compassionate. He beheld an angel of surpassing godliness crying out unto him:
Thy prayer and supplication is heard. Be of good cheer, Elder, and do not disbelieve me. For thou shalt have a child, a godly Forerunner, who shall be greater than those born of women, who shall go before the Christ in the power of Elijah.
Ælfric, Abbot of Eynsham (+ c.1010) was perhaps the last of the great Anglo-Saxon Christians, before the Norman invasion of 1066 signalled the end of England’s Orthodox period. See the Timeline of Orthodoxy in the British Isles at OrthodoxWiki.
In his Sermon on the Theophany, Ælfric spoke warmly of St John the Forerunner, in simple terms which closely reflect the focus of today’s liturgy.
SE Ælmihtiga Godes Sunu, þaða hē mann beon wolde, ða sende hē his bydel toforan him, Iohannem þone Fulluhtere, þaet hē sceolde Cristes to-cyme mannum cyðan, þaet hī, ðurh ðone bydel, gelyfdon on ðone godcundan Cyning. …
THE Almighty Son of God, when he would be man, sent his proclaimer before him, John the Baptist, to announce the advent of Christ to men, that they, through that proclaimer, might believe in the divine King.
John was born as other men are, of father and of mother, and was a simple man, great and illustrious, as Christ himself said of him, “That among the children of women there was no greater man than John the Baptist.”
Christ was not of woman born, but was of a maiden, therefore was he not reckoned in this comparison.
Ælfric, Homily on the Lord’s Epiphany, tr. Benjamin Thorne.
CREATION rejoiceth at thy conception, Forerunner and Prophet, Baptist John. For thy divine birth is a sign unto us of the birth of the Master. Wherefore as is fitting we upon the earth give thee praise with one voice.
IN a barren lady’s conception, the angel found a wondrous testimony, which he bore unto Mary and offered for an assurance: wherefore let us too give praise to Elizabeth the childless, to Zachariah her husband, and to John.
THE lamp prepared by God for the eternal light,
The friend of the Bridegroom,
The great Morning Star of the Sun of glory,
The living voice of God the Word,
The Forerunner of the coming of the Lord
Is now conceived at an angelic salutation.
GLORY be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Both now and forever, and to the ages of ages.
ELIZABETH conceived the Forerunner of grace, but the Virgin conceived the Lord of glory. The mothers greeting each other, and the infant skipped: for from within the servant was praising the Master. The mother of the Forerunner began to cry out: Whence is this, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? It is that he might save his forlorn people, he that hath the power of the Great Mercy.