In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, in this journey of Great Lent, we remember the Holy Prophet, the last of the Old Testament prophets, Saint John the Forerunner today, in the first and second findings of the saint’s precious head. Saint John the Holy Prophet, the Forerunner, pray for us.

When St John the Forerunner was beheaded, his body was reverently buried by the faithful in Sebaste, but his head was hidden by Herodias in a defiled place. St Joanna, wife of king Herod’s steward Chuza (St Luke 8:3) secretly placed the holy head of the prophet into a vessel and buried it in the Mount of Olives.

Eventually, the burial site was inhabited by a monk called Innocent. He uncovered the saint’s head when building a church and cell there. Fearful for the desecration of the saint’s head when he would pass on, the monk Innocent secretly buried the saint’s head in the same place. Eventually the monk Innocent reposed and the church fell into disrepair and ruins.

During the days of St Constantine the Great, the saint appeared twice to two monks and revealed the location of his head. The monks found the head of the saint and placed the holy relic in a sack. The monks met a potter and gave the potter the sack to carry. The potter did not realize he was carrying a precious relic. The holy prophet appeared to the potter and told him to run away from the two careless monks with the sack. The potter brought the holy relic home and venerated it. Before his death, the potter placed the relic in a jug and gave to his sister, and the relic was passed down with reverence by the faithful.

However, the relic came into the possession of an Arian heretic, who exploited the holy relic for healing people to lure the faithful from the Orthodox faith. Eventually, the heretic had to hide the head of the saint in a cave and hoped to get it back later on. But God’s Will determined that some monastics would move into the same cave, and the holy relic remained in there until St John the Forerunner again revealed himself, to Archimandrite Marcellus here, and the head was then carefully brought back to Constantinople.

St John the Forerunner frequently urged people he met, with great zeal and earnestness, to repent of their sins and center their lives with faith in God. When the prophet saw our Lord Jesus Christ come to Judea, the prophet recognized our Lord as the Messiah, the Lamb of God (St John 1:29-36). The prophet professed that he baptized people with water for repentance, but Jesus Christ our Lord would baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire (St Matthew 3:11).

Therefore, while we journey on in the Great Lent, we must remember our baptism as one of light and fire, which are inseparable in our pilgrimage towards God. What is light and fire?

While we seek the illumination from God to walk closer and closer to Him, we tend to hope that this illumination is like the moonlight, cool and calm. And yet, God’s illumination is also a fierce fire, the fire which refines us in a manner that He knows is best for us. The aim of our spiritual journey is not to find prosperity, nor mere peace. The aim of our spiritual journey is theosis (2 Peter 1:4), the fruit of salvation, to partake in the Divine Nature of God. This journey therefore, is not mere light, but fire also.

Therefore, walking towards God requires the mercy of God, and our obedience to His Divine Will. The journey will never seem to be a straight wide path. The journey will never seem to be easy even. But with every turn of the corner, every downhill journey, every rocky climb uphill, we are to remember that in His Mercy, we rest our faith on. We must not fall prey to be tempted by the evil one’s lure of an easy journey, or his false promises of great rewards. The journey will demand of us (Proverbs 6:3-20), and the journey will sometimes not make sense to our mere mortal wills and thoughts. But God is our illumination, and only on His unending and unchanging light, do we journey on. If we are to be crippled along the way, continue to limp along. If we are to be delayed by life’s many distractions or problems, shake off the dust and carry on. We are to hope in the Lord our God, for we are consoled that even if we are squeezed painfully from every corner, we will not be crushed; nor will we be in despair even if we are puzzled at life’s many turns (2 Corinthians 4:6-15).

Remember, that the word “HELL”, has a last letter “L”, which is the Loss of faith in God. But “HELL” is just one letter away from the word “HELP”, where the last letter “P”, refers to penance and prayer. To be removed from the hell we perceive, is just requiring us to leave the destitute state of having little or no faith in God, and walking towards God with penitent prayer.

Do not despair in the journey ahead, however vague, however difficult, however unbearable. Hold the prayer of the heart close to us, for Christ our Lord hears our confession and our penitent prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

Let us close by praying the thanksgiving prayer:

It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: True Theotokos, we magnify thee.

O virgin Theotokos, rejoice; O Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr Raphael+

Readings
Genesis 5:1-24
Proverbs 6:3-20
St Matthew 11:2-15
2 Corinthians 4:6-15