On June 24 the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the Nativity of Agios Ioannis the Baptist and Forerunner.
Six months before his appearance in Nazareth to the All-holy Virgin Mary, the great Gabriel, the archangel of God, appeared to Zacharias the high priest in the Temple at Jerusalem. Before announcing the miraculous conception by the unwedded virgin, the archangel announced the miraculous conception by the childless old woman.
Zacharias did not immediately believe the words of the herald of God, and thus his tongue was bound by dumbness and it remained thus 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 naming.
When they asked the father what name he wished to give to his son, since he was mute he wrote on a tablet, “Ioannis.” At that moment his tongue was loosed and he began to speak. The home of Zacharias was on the heights between Bethlehem and Hebron. Throughout all Israel there was spread the news of the appearance of the angel of God to Zacharias, as well as that of his dumbness and the loosing of his tongue at the moment he wrote the name “Ioannis.”
Zacharias prophesied concerning the child also, saying that he would be a Prophet of the Most High and Forerunner of Jesus Christ. And the child Ioannis, who was filled with grace, grew and waxed strong in the Spirit; and he was in the wilderness until the day of his showing to Israel (Luke 1:57-80). His name is a variation of the Hebrew “Johanan,” which means “Yahweh is gracious.”
The news of this even reached Herod. Therefore, when Herod sent soldiers to slay the children in Bethlehem, he directed men to the hills, to the dwelling place of the family of Zacharias, to kill Ioannis also. But 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 again Zacharias’s turn to serve in the Temple of Jerusalem).
Zacharias was slain between the court and the temple and his blood coagulated and petrified on the paving stones and remained a perpetual witness against Herod. Elizabeth hid with the child in a cave, where she died soon after. The young child Ioannis remained alone in the wilderness under the care of God and His angels.
Today there will be many celebrations, feasts and Panigiria (festivals) across Greece in many regions, where they will be celebrating the birth of Agios Ioannis. Xronia Polla!