The Nativity of Saint John the Forerunner and Baptizer of the Lord

The Nativity of Saint John the Forerunner and Baptizer of the Lord - June 24

 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.

-from the Prologue from Ohrid (written by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich)

Grotto of Benedictus

The Church of St. John the Baptist in Ein Kerem belongs to the Franciscan monastery  of the same name. Ein Kerem is the town where St. John the Baptist was born and also the site of the visitation of the Most Holy Theotokos. The first Church rose here in the 5th century, over the place traditionally held to be the home of the holy and righteous Zacharia and Elizabeth. Enlarged by the Crusaders and later used by Arabs as a caravanserai and stable, the Church was rebuilt and transformed several times.

The latest additions, carried out by the Franciscans, date from the second half of 19th century and from the thirties of last century. The most striking part of the pleasantly adorned interior is the Crypt, which houses the so-called Grotto of the Benedictus (Zacharia’s song in Luke 1:68-79), considered being the place where St. John the Baptist was born. A marble star beneath the altar bears a Latin inscription: “HIC PRECURSOR DOMINI NATUS EST” (Here was born the Precursor of the Lord).

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