Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Sign of The Forerunner

The prophetic significance of Muslim beheadings of Christians.

The Beheading of St John the Forerunner, commemorated August 29 in the Orthodox Church.

John the Baptist’s rich and descriptive title in the Orthodox Church is, “The Holy, Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist, John.” He is much more than “John the Baptist.”  He is a sign, a mystery

As “The Forerunner” he is a clear sign of the First Coming of Christ, but also of the Second Coming; he is a mystery of the fulfillment of this age, and of its trials and woes.

Jesus Himself called John “the greatest born of woman” and “more than a prophet.” The Church considers him to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets, just as the Virgin Mary  — the Mother of God — is the fulfillment of righteousness through the Old Testament lineage in preparation for the Messiah. 

As the Messiah Himself spoke to the crowds after John’s disciples came and saw the signs He was doing:
Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John… “What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: 
‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ [Malachi 3:1]
“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”  (Matthew 11:7-12)

John is the Forerunner of Christ, fulfilling the prophecy of Elijah coming to restore all things:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord…(Malachi 4:5-6)
“For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.”  (Matthew 11:13-15)

John the Forerunner was beheaded “for righteousness sake,” for warning and calling the corrupt and dissipated King Herod to repentance. Yet this is not some dark and dire event, but a radiant, joyous, shining witness (Greek: martyria) for us to emulate.

St. Justin Popovich teaches that St. John "had become the first of all the Holy Martyrs of the New Testament":

See how he suffered for God's truth in this world! He suffered joyously! In today's principal hymn and prayer to him it is said that he went to his death rejoicing, and that he suffered rejoicing. [See John 3:29.]  Thus he became the first example and inspiration to all the Holy Martyrs in the New Testament, beginning with St. Stephen the Protomartyr and through today. 
All of the Holy Martyrs go to their death rejoicing...

As the first one beheaded for righteousness sake — that is, for his witness to Christ, for Christ is our righteousness — John is shown to be the Forerunner of the last great wave of martyrs for Jesus:
“Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God…” (Apocalypse 20:4)

The Holy, Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist, John, is revealed in our time precisely as the Forerunner “of those who are being beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God.”

Today, faithful Christians by the thousands, throughout the Middle East, Africa, and the Islamic world, are being beheaded by Muslims for their witness to Jesus Christ. And an exiled archbishop from Mosul warns, “I have lost my diocese to Islam; you in the West will also become victims of Muslims.”

“It’s later than you think... 
The apocalypse is now!”
~ Hieromonk Seraphim Rose (†1982)

We are already in the Great Persecution. 

We who slumber in deceitful comfort, wondering what will happen next, yet shopping and entertaining ourselves in our fools' paradise in the West, have not discerned the signs of the times, and are in for for a brutal awakening.  We all are infected to some degree by the spirit of this age of apostasy. The lukewarm deny Christ with their faint and vague affirmations, and the Lord Himself warns them that He "will vomit them out of His mouth" (Apocalypse 3:16).

But the Lord has not abandoned us! He sends us signs, trials, reminders, to rekindle in us the fire of faith, calling us to repentance:
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." (Apocalypse 3:19-21)

And as he did before the Lord’s First Coming, the Holy, Glorious Prophet John the Baptist — the Forerunner of those beheaded for their witness to Jesus — calls us to "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

If we will not heed his voice, let us at least be shocked into soberness and repentance by the sign of those beheaded for their witness to Jesus Christ. 

Let us fall on our faces and beg the Lord to waken us, to prepare us for the times now close at hand. And let us promise and vow to never deny our Lord Jesus Christ, but to be faithful witnesses to Him unto the end, and even that we may do so as all the Holy Martyrs have done... joyously!