The Friend of the Bridegroom: On the Orthodox Veneration of the Forerunner

By Sergius Bulgakov; Boris Jakim | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
The Honorable Death of the Forerunner

“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), the Forerunner said about himself. By meeting the Lord, baptizing Him, and bearing witness about Him, the Forerunner had accomplished his earthly work; his earthly life was inwardly concluded. He was now called to a new ministry —the preaching of the coming of Christ to those in hell. He is “sent in advance to those in hell as Christ’s proclaimer” (office of 29 January, sticheron). Along with this, the Forerunner needed, above the glory already given to him, to receive the martyr’s crown. On his feast day, the Church sings: “How should we call you, prophet? Angel, apostle, or martyr? Angel because you lived as though without flesh. Apostle because you taught the Gentiles. Martyr because you were decapitated for Christ.”

The murder of the Forerunner is one of the most heinous misdeeds and most terrible crimes known by the world, which is drowning in crimes. But this crime exposes the whole impotence of evil, for the greatest triumph of good is accomplished precisely in this crime. Is there a greater triumph for the Forerunner than the fact that torment unto death could not bend him? Was his voice stilled? Was the tongue silenced that, according to tradition, was pierced with a needle by Herodias in her satanical rage? Can there be a greater triumph of truth than the acceptance of suffering and death for its sake?

The Forerunner’s martyrdom was needed for the fullness of his glorification on the path of his new mission. By no means was a long life with a natural end necessary and possible for him. For the Forerunner’s mission on earth had a temporary and even fleeting character. His activity alongside Christ, his preaching of repentance, would have gradually lost much of its meaning; and after the Lord’s death and resurrection it would have

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