Six months before his appearance in Nazareth to the All-holy Virgin Mary, the
great archangel of God, Gabriel appeared to Zacharias the high priest in the
Temple at Jerusalem. Before he announced the miraculous conception to the unwed
virgin [Mary], the archangel announced the miraculous conception to the
childless old woman [Elizabeth]. Zacharias did not immediately believe the words
of the herald of God and this is why his tongue was tied with dumbness and
remained as such until eight days after the birth of John. On that day, the
relatives of Zacharias and Elizabeth gathered for the young child's circumcision
and for the sake of giving him a name. When they asked the father what name he
wishes to give to his son and being dumb, he wrote on a tablet: "John." At that
moment his tongue became loosed and he began to speak. The home of Zacharias was
on the heights between Bethlehem and Hebron. The news of the appearance of the
angel of God to Zacharias was spread throughout all of Israel, as well as of his
dumbness and the loosening of his tongue at thee moment when he wrote the name
"John." The news concerning this even reached Herod. Therefore, when Herod sent
soldiers to slay the children throughout Bethlehem, he directed men to the hilly
dwelling place of the family of Zacharias to kill John also. However, Elizabeth
promptly hid the child. Enraged, at this King Herod sent his executioners to
Zacharias in the Temple to slay him (for it happened that it was Zacharias' turn
again to serve in the Temple of Jerusalem). Zacharias was slain between the
court and the temple and his blood coagulated and petrified on the stone pavers
and remained a perpetual witness against Herod. Elizabeth hid with the child in
a cave where she died soon after. The young child John remained in the
wilderness alone under the care of God and God's angels.
Nicetas was a friend and the same age as St. Paulinus of Nola (January 23). It appears that he was a Slav and, as such, preached the Gospel among the Slavs in the region of Nish and Pirot. The kind of change that St. Nicetas did among the Slavs is best shown in the hymn which St. Paulinus composed about St. Nicetas: "O what a change! And how fortunate!" Until then the impassible and bloody mountains concealing robbers now converted into monks; cadets of peace. Where once the habits of wild beasts, there is now the feature of angels. The righteous one hides in a cave where earlier, the evildoer dwelled. The episcopal see of Nicetas was Remesiana which some understand to be Pirot. Along with his missionary service, St. Nicetas also wrote several books such as the six books about Faith and a book about a fallen maiden (which aroused many to repentance). Saint Nicetas reposed in the Lord in the fifth century.
They were all brothers and Roman soldiers during the reign of Emperor Maximian. When the Romans were waging war against the Scythians beyond the Danube river, St. Orentius came forth to battle with Marathom, the Scythian Goliath, and slew him. Because of this, the entire Roman army offered sacrifices to the gods but Orentius, with his brothers, declared that they were Christians and could not offer sacrifices to the deaf and dumb idols. Regardless of their military merits, they were condemned to exile to the Caspian region however, along the way, all seven, one after the other, died from hunger and sufferings and took up habitation in the Kingdom of Christ.
SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST
By God's miracle, John entered the world,
As once did Sarah's and Abraham's Isaac,
By God's miracle, remained alive
From Herod's bloody knife.
The knife, the young child John missed,
But John's father, it did not miss;
By God's miracle, John in the desert
For thirty years, he sustained himself,
To the servant of God angels are shepherds,
To the poor angels are guardians!
John grew loveable lamb,
The Lamb of God to serve,
To proclaim the bright day, before the sun,
The Unknown, recognized and glorified.
Of the great prophets, the last
And of God's apostles, the beginning.
As Elijah, with God he speaks
And as an apostle, loves and rebukes,
Of the high priest, wondrous son,
Of the martyr of God, the first-born brother.
One of the differences between the eloquent philosophy of the Greeks [Hellenes] and the Christian Faith is that the entire Hellenistic philosophy can clearly be expressed with words and comprehended by reading, while the Christian Faith cannot be clearly expressed by words and even less comprehended by reading alone. When you are expounding the Christian Faith, for its understanding and acceptance, both reading and the practice of what is read are necessary. When Patriarch Photius read the words of Mark the Ascetic concerning the spiritual life he noticed a certain unclarity with the author for which he wisely said: "That [unclarity] does not proceed from the obscurity of expression but from that truth which is expressed there; it is better understood by means of practice (rather than by means of words) and that cannot be explained by words only." And this, the great patriarch adds, "It is not the case with these homilies nor only with these men but rather with all of those who attempted to expound the ascetical rules, passions and instructions, which are better understood from practice alone."
To contemplate the miraculous recognition of the Elder Simeon the Receiver of God:
"And he came by inspiration of the Spirit into the Temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him according to the custom of the Law:" (St. Luke 2:27):
Against malicious rejoicing
"Rejoice not when your enemy falls and when he stumbles, let not your heart exult" (Proverbs 24:17).
He is a man, do not rejoice in his fall. He is your brother, let not your heart skip for joy when he stumbles. God created him for life and God does not rejoice in his fall. And you also, do not rejoice at that which grieves God. When man falls, God loses; would you rejoice in the loss of your Creator, your Parent? When the angels weep would you rejoice?
When your enemy falls, pray to God for him that God will save him and give thanks to God that you did not also fall in the same manner. You are of the same material, both you and he, as two vessels from the hand of the potter. If one vessel breaks should the other smile and rejoice? Behold, a small stone, which broke that vessel waits only for another's hand to raise it and then to destroy this vessel also. Both vessels are of the same material and a small stone can destroy a hundred vessels.
When one sheep is lost, should the remaining flock rejoice? No. They should not rejoice. For behold, the shepherd leaves his flock and, concerned, goes to seek the lost sheep. The loss of the shepherd is the loss of the flock. Therefore, do not rejoice when your enemy falls, for neither your shepherd nor his shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, rejoices in his fall.
O Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, extricate malicious joy from our hearts and in its place, plant in our hearts compassion and brotherly love.
With prayers in memory of the late Hieromonk John Hess
on the Nativity of St John the Baptist
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.