Feast of the Prophet Zacharias, the Father of Saint John the Baptist

The Fifth Day of September

The 5th of the month, Memory of the Holy and Glorious Prophet ZACHARIAS, Father of Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner


Zacahrias was a levite descended from the high priest Abiathar and lived in Jerusalem with his wife Elizabeth of the lineage of Aaron. They were both righteous and observed all the commandments of the Lord with love, but had remained childless until their old age.

It happened on the great holy day of the Atonement that Zacharias, to fulfil his ministration as high priest, had gone alone into the Sanctuary to burn incense, when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him standing on the right side of the altar of incense Shining with the divine light, the Angel told him that God had heard his prayers and those of his wife Elizabeth, and that He had granted them a son in their old age, who was to be called John. ‘He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,” the Angel announced, ‘and will go before the Lord to make ready a people prepared for Him’ (Luke 1:15,17). Zacharias was amazed at this vision and wondered whether to believe what he heard, so the Angel took away his power of speech until the birth of the Forerunner, in order to teach him not to doubt divine promises that surpass the order of nature.

Zacharias regained his speech on the day of the child’s birth, while he was writing the name John on a tablet; and, full of the Holy Spirit, he intoned the prophetic canticle: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. And has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old…And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins; Through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:68ff).

After the birth of Christ, Zacharias plainly declared the virginity of Mary and showed her truly to be the Mother of God; for he appointed her a place in that part of the Temple reserved for the virgins and so brought upon himself the hatred of the priests and levites.

When John was six months old, Zacharias hid him and his mother in a cave beyond the Jodan because King Herod, hearing of the birth in Bethlehem of the king of the Jews and fearing a rival of his own worldly power, sent soldiers to kill all the male children of Bethlehem. His enemies seized this opportunity to denounce Zacharias to Herod, who had him pursued and put to death within the precinct of the Temple, at the very place the Mother of God abode for a witness to her virginity. As the Prophet’s blood flowed within the sanctuary, it signified the withdrawing of the divine Presence. Priests came to take up his body and they buried him with his fathers. From that moment signs and prodigies occurred in the Temple, indicating that the rites of the law would soon be abolished. No longer would the priests behold the angels of God, or have the grace of prophecy; no longer would they be able to deliver oracles or enlighten the people upon the dark places of holy Scripture, as they had been wont to do.

 

-From the Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, Volume 1: Introduction – September, October by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, translated from the French by Christopher Hookway, Holy Convent of The Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia (Chalkidike), 1998.