Why are we fasting today?
This Sunday, August 29th, we mourn the beheading of the Holy and Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John. This feast day is a strict fast day, which usually means no oil, wine, meat, fish or dairy. There is some exception today, because it is Sunday, we are allowed oil and wine. There are additional fasting traditions throughout the Orthodox world which help Christians remember and grieve the violent death of St. John the Baptist. Many people fast from eating anything that resembles a beheading. Examples include: not serving anything on a flat plate, not cutting anything with a knife, and not eating anything round or red in color like watermelon or tomatoes. In Holy Mount Athos, the monks mourn their patron saint by fasting from all food just as they do on Holy Friday. They only drink water.
St. John the Baptist is so important that we celebrate him on six different feast days throughout the year. Yes, 6! We celebrate him on the day of his conception on September 23rd, his commemoration on January 7th, the second finding of his head on February 24th, the third finding of his head on May 25th, his birth on June 24th, and today, his beheading on August 29th.
Why is St. John so important? Because our Lord Jesus Christ tells us he is! Jesus tells us that St. John is a prophet and in fact, he is “more than a prophet.” He is the messenger of God, sent here to prepare the world for Jesus. He is the Holy Forerunner of Christ and the pioneer of our Faith. Jesus says: “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John.”
St. John’s life began as a miracle, a gift from God to his elderly parents St. Zachariah and St. Elizabeth, the aunt of our Blessed Mother Mary. St. John was a Holy Prophet and the Forerunner of Christ. He helped, guided and baptized many faithful followers. He baptized Jesus even though he felt he was unworthy. St. John the Baptist was the first monk and lived a monastic life. He lived and preached repentance, obedience, poverty from wealth and power, and chastity. These monastic beliefs are what guided him to publicly denounce the sins of Herod Antipas, who divorced his wife and had a daughter with his sister-in-law. It was this daughter Salome, together with her mother Herodias, who asked for the head of St. John to be delivered to them on a platter. He was the first martyr during Christ’s teachings.
Today let us remember, through prayer and fasting, the Holy Prophet and Forerunner St. John the Baptist. And let us always remember that of all the men born on Earth, “There is no one greater than John.”