Sermon given January 7, 2007. The Synaxis of John the Baptist.
Last night Cretin Durham Hall played a team from Houston, Texas. Joe Springer hit a three point shot to win it with eight seconds left in the game. He scored 19 points and was nominated player of the game. Afterwards, reporters gathered around him to talk about the game. People gather around the star performers or participants to get their take on the event.
Did you know that the Orthodox Church does the same thing? Every year on September 9, the day after the Nativity of the Virgin Mary Theotkos, we gather around her parents, Joachim and Anna. On December 26, the day after the Nativity of Christ, we gather around the Virgin Mary. Today, the day after the Baptism of Christ, we gather around John the Baptist.
This gathering is called a synaxis in Greek. Synaxis is related to the Greek word "synagogue". Syn means "together" in Greek, and. ago means "I bring", thus "bringing together".
Why does the Church want to bring us together around John the Baptist? To learn more about St. John. St. John is ...
- Messenger/Angelos -- as stated in Mark 1:2 which quotes Malachi 3:1. He was sent by God (John 1:6); "... the word of God came to John." (Luke 3:2). Some icons show John with wings to emphasize that He is a messenger/angelos. What was the message John brought to us? "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:2). "Bear fruits worthy of repentance." (Matthew 3:8) He is "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord." (Is. 40:3; Jn. 1:23) If you read further in Malachi, the prophet says, "Every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 3:10; see also v.12). This is reflected in the icon of Theophany where a small tree is depicted with an axe in it.
- Baptist -- John baptizes with water (John 1:26); for repentance and remission of sins (Mark 1:4). The people confess their sins in baptism (Matthew 3:6). John's baptism reveals Christ to Israel (the Church). "I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water" (John 1:31).
- Forerunner -- John came to bear witness to the Light (Jesus) (John 1:7). John says, "Behold (see) the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29; see also v.36). He proclaims Jesus as the Son of God (John 1:34).
What can we learn from John the Baptist? Let me share the words of Monk Lev Gilet, the author of the book, The Year of the Grace of the Lord.
Paul's words point exactly to the greatness and the limitations of John's ministry. On the one hand, we must receive John's baptism of repentance, that is to say, listen to John when he tells us what the conditions are for entry into the messianic kingdom and allow ourselves to be touched by his call to repentance. On the other hand, John's baptism is not sufficient. We must go to Jesus Himself. We must be baptized in the name of our Savior and in the Holy Spirit. This does not simply involve the sacramental rites. What matters is our constant inner attitude. I cannot go to Jesus if I have not listened to John's voice, and if I have not repented. But I cannot remain in the state of repentance that John preached: the new justice that I must move on to is that which Jesus alone procures (YGL, p.86).
John declared that Jesus accomplishes what the baptism of repentance cannot do: the Savior takes upon his own shoulders the sin of the world and thus cleanses mankind. John's ministry therefore, will only be effectual for us if it produces these two results: first that it rouses us to repentance, and then that it shows us to the Lamb who offers himself in sacrifice as reparation for our sins.
What the synaxis of the Forerunner suggests to us today is the breaking of our hearts which repentance demands, and the act of faith by which we entrust our sins to the Lamb of God and inwardly experience redemption (YGL, p.86).
Just as Jesus approached John for baptism, we must draw near, gather around -- 'synagomai in Greek, to Jesus so He can baptize us as John says, "Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matthew 3:11).
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.