During this challenging time of the pandemic, our nation is also confronting the effects of racial and ethnic inequality. These disparities have deep roots in our national history and it calls for deep changes in our hearts (repentance) and in our society. As we engage in the transformative life of the Church, we are called to wisdom by showing love and mercy while being bold when it comes to our faith and the Holy Tradition.

On August 29 we remember the Beheading of the Venerable Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptizer. For the Orthodox Christians, it is a day of mourning. Sadly, many of us are often too busy to notice this feast – vacationing, transitioning back to school, preparing for the parish festival, etc. However, we are called to observe the day with strict fasting and engaging in the liturgical services. It is in these services that we are transformed by becoming part of the reality of the Baptizer’s amazing journey two thousand years ago. His beheading gives us the sobering opportunity to reflect upon his calling, ministry and struggles.

Saint John was an extraordinary man: miraculously conceived, blessed by Christ while in the womb, a strict ascetic and the greatest of the prophets, the one whose hand baptized Jesus. He had the boldness to stand for justice and to confront King Herod and his immoral act of taking his brother’s wife. The Forerunner was firm and unshaken when it came to non-negotiable values: The Law, chastity and marriage. His boldness and zeal for God led to his martyrdom.

But despite his great character, virtues and calling, John also had a weakness: he doubted, just as we all do at times. While in prison, at a time of personal crisis, John sent two of his disciples to Christ to ask if He was indeed the Messiah or if they should look for another. John doubted because Jesus was not living according to what John had prophesized: the ax was not cutting the fruitless trees (Matthew 3:10). John was confused and perhaps disappointed; he had witnessed only the acts of Jesus’ mercy. He was expecting that the Messiah would bring the ax to establish justice, as well. In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30) and in His answer to John’s inquiry (Luke 7:22), the Lord teaches that the time for judgment and justice, for the ax to come out, would take place later, at His second coming. Until then, He continues to offer His love, His mercy and the Holy Spirit, patiently waiting for the return of all and giving all time to repent. John learned that Christ’s priority in this present life is of mercy – “for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world”. (John 12:47).

As we approach the sobering remembrance of the Beheading of Saint John, let us reflect on how we, too, can become Christ-like by showing mercy and love, yet with boldness witness to our faith and the Holy Tradition.

Like Saint John, we must boldly reject what is impure, immoral and not in keeping with the Gospel; we must not embrace movements or ideologies according with the passions of the world, that are in conflict with our Faith and Tradition. We are so blessed to receive guidance and reassurance from the Scriptures, to engage in the liturgical life of the Church and to have the blessing of our hierarch.

From the iconostasis, Saint John calls out to us every time we worship in church: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” In response, we pray that with God’s help we may purify our hearts to become more merciful, loving and patient and to grow bold and courageous about following the narrow path for our salvation.

Through the prayers of the Forerunner, may the Lord God help us to do so!