Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Church of Saint John the Baptist

According to the New Testament, a Jewish high priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth lived in the hill town of Judea (Jerusalem suburb of Ein Kerem). Zechariah and his wife had tried to have children but had not been able to.

Once a year, a high priest was selected to go to the Holy of Holies (the inner sanctum of the Temple). On this occasion, Zechariah was chosen.  While there, an angel of the Lord appeared. The angel told Zechariah that his wife would bear him a son and that they were to name him John.

Mary, knowing that Elizabeth needed help in her last stage of pregnancy, traveled for four days to be with her.  Mary was three months pregnant herself.  When they met, the baby in Elizabeth's womb jumped for joy.  Mary stayed with Elizabeth until the birth of the baby, before traveling back home to prepare for the birth of her own child.

Zechariah had expressed his doubts to the angel regarding the prophecy.  The angel struck him dumb and he was unable to speak until after the baby was born. When he announced that the child would be named John, his ability to speak returned. He then voiced the following prayer which can be found in many languages at the Church of Saint John the Baptist:

The most revered site in the church is the grotto. Believed to be part of the home in which John the Baptist was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and perhaps even the site of his birth.  It was incorporated into the church's left apse.

It is interesting that the Jewish temple in which Zechariah received the visitation from the angel of the Lord was missing the ark (large golden box that contained a staff, the ten commandments and manna).  The had been lost years before.  Mary, of course, became the ark of the Christian Church - the living vessel of our Lord.

Are you as open as Mary was to listen to and respond to God's call?

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