September 2014 Letter
In September of every year we celebrate the Coptic New Year, and on the following day of the New Year we celebrate the martyrdom of John the Baptist, for whom Christ has witnessed saying: “among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist” (Mat 11: 11). It would be of benefit to remember some of his titles, guided by the sayings of H.H. Pope Shenouda:
1) Although St. John has many titles yet the best of them is “the Baptist”, for he was the only one in the whole world who deserved to baptize our Lord Jesus Christ. He also baptized many people from the Jews by a baptism “of repentance” (Acts 19: 4). Therefore his icon baptizing Christ is the one we hang in our churches.
2) St. Mark in his gospel called him an angel, for he wrote his gospel to the Romans who were ruling at that time, and the custom was that wherever the king went, a knight would proceed to prepare the way for the king. Since the one coming is Son of God (Mark 1: 1), it was suitable that the one to proceed Him to prepare the way would be an angel. Thus St. Mark wrote in the beginning of his gospel: “As it is written in the Prophets: Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You” (Mark 1: 2).
3) He was also a martyr, for he rebuked Herod the king saying: “It is not lawful for you to have her” (meaning his brother’s wife) (Mat 14: 4). Herod threw him in jail and later killed him to become a martyr defending the truth.
4) John the Baptist was also a priest and son of a priest. His father is Zacharias the priest and his mother a daughter of Aaron (Luke 1: 5). Being a priest he accepted the confession of those coming to be baptized, thus it was said in the gospel of Mathew: “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him, and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mat 3: 5-6). He was the last holy priests of the Old Testament.
5) He was also a prophet. In the story of his persecution by Herod the king it was said: “And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet” (Mat 14: 5). When Christ asked the chief priests and the elders of the people about the baptism of John “they reasoned among themselves, saying, If we say, `From heaven,’ He will say to us, `Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, `From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet” (Mat 21: 25-26). Christ Himself said to the multitude about John: “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet” (Math 11: 9). He was the last prophet in the Old Testament, and he prophesized about Christ baptism by the Holy Spirit and fire (Mat 3: 11).
Asking you to remember the whole church in your prayers, and may the blessings of St. Mary, St. John the Baptist & St. Mercurius, the blessings of the Coptic New Year be with us always.
Fr. Youssef Halim & Fr. Luke Istafanous
Belleville, September 1, 2014