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Synaxis of St. John the Baptist

On January 20th (the 7th by the old calendar), on the second day of Theophany, the Church celebrates the Synaxis of the holy Forerunner and Baptist John. Synaxis meant an assembly or gathering in honor of the Forerunner John, when the faithful gathered in church right after the feast of the Baptism of our Lord, in order to have a service in honor of and for the glorification of the Baptist.

There is a tradition concerning the right hand of St. John the Baptist, which had actually baptized the Lord. After the Forerunner was beheaded by King Herod, his venerable body was buried by his disciples in the famous Samaritan city of Sebastia. When the holy evangelist Luke came to Sebastia during his travels for the sake of spreading Christianity, he wished to take the body of the Baptist back with him to his home town of Antioch. The body was whole and incorruptible but could not be taken, because the inhabitants of Sebastia greatly venerated the relics of the Baptist and guarded them carefully. The evangelist Luke could therefore take with him only the right hand of the Forerunner, which he brought to Antioch, where it performed many miracles.

St. John baptizes the Lord
St. John baptizes the Lord.

A long time passed, and the Emperors throne became occupied by Julian the Apostate, who openly renounced Christ and worshipped the idols. He began to cruelly persecute Christians, not only the living but also the relics of the dead. Coming once into Antioch, he began to search for the hand of the Baptist, which local Christians had previously hidden in one of the city towers. Julian cruelly tortured the Christians of Antioch, but was unable to uncover the Baptists hand. After the Emperors terrible end, the hand of the Baptist was taken out of the tower and once again began to perform miracles.

In the environs of Antioch there lived a great and terrible serpent, whom the pagans worshipped and to whom they brought annual sacrifices. For this sacrifice a young and innocent maiden was usually chosen by lot, who was given over to be devoured by the serpent in the presence of all the people, who watched this as a spectacle. The serpent came out of his cave and frightened everyone with his horrible appearance, his hissing and his gaping mouth, then snatched his victim and, tearing her to pieces with his lips, devoured her. Once the lot fell to the daughter of an Antioch Christian. The unfortunate father tearfully prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ and His holy Baptist to deliver his daughter from cruel death. When the day of that vile feast dawned, the father went to the church of the Forerunner in which the Baptists hand was kept, and secretly broke off one of the joints of the little finger, put it in his pocket and carried it out of church unnoticed. Later, when the pagans gathered for the spectacle, the father came there, bringing his daughter to be sacrificed to the serpent, while praying in his heart to God for salvation.

And then the terrible serpent came out of his cave, hissing, with his mouth gaping open, and began to slither towards the maiden, in order to devour her. But the father did not leave his daughter, appealing to the Saviour and to His Baptist for help. When the serpent came quite near, the father threw the joint of the Baptists finger right into the serpents mouth, and the serpent immediately fell dead. Thus the maiden was saved from cruel death, while her father loudly thanked God and glorified the Forerunner. All the people who attended the spectacle, seeing the serpent dead and the maiden alive, were greatly amazed at first and awed at the sight of such a wondrous miracle, and then began to glorify the One true God. Then a great celebration took place in Antioch, for a multitude of pagans came to believe in Christ on that day.

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