St. John the Baptist

We believe in God, who is invisible and incomprehensible, whose essence always remains beyond any created concept, who cannot be seen by the eyes of a creature, especially in this fallen world. In order to enable us to see Him, God in His immeasurable love unites Himself with us, fills us with His Spirit, "the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him, nor knows Him." But, the Lord says to us, "You know Him, for He dwells with you, and will be in you" (John 14:17). A man who sees Him, who is capable of recognizing God when He reveals Himself, already has the Holy Spirit dwelling and acting in him.

This living union of God and man through the presence of the Holy Spirit is beautifully expressed by St. Gregory Palamas, when he says that the power to see God is: itself light, and seeing light through light. If it looks at itself, it sees light; if it looks at the object of its vision, it again sees light; and if it looks at the means by which it sees, again it sees light. That is what union means; all is so [perfectly] one, that he who sees can make no distinction either of the means or the end or the object; he is conscious only of being light and seeing light distinct from all that is created (Triads 11).

In this Icon we see the one who is more than a prophet, who is the voice of God "crying in the wilderness," John the Baptist. How great was the presence of the Holy Spirit who dwelt in him that he was able to recognize and to rejoice at seeing the unborn Son of God while he himself was still in the womb of his mother!

In Hebrew the Holy Spirit is called the breath or the wind of God. We can see the wind, blowing about the head of John the Baptist in this Icon, filling him with zeal for the word of God, zeal "to prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight" (Luke 3:4). We can see his total surrender to the love of Christ. We can hear his words:

"He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full" (John 3:29).

The garments in the icons are often written as though they are shining with light, sometimes with light as brilliant as on the himation of John the Baptist here. In the Bible the light is the first creation of God, the ultimate symbol of His uncreated Glory: He who made heaven and earth covers Himself "with light as with a garment" (Ps. 104). In the very center of Creation Adam and Eve were made in the image and likeness Or God. "They were both naked, and werc not ashamed" becausc heing the image of God they were filled with His glory, and like Him they were adorned with the garments of light. The shame came when they discovered that through their sin they had lost this light; they saw in themselves that very dust from which they had been made, and, horrified by that image of death, they reached to takc thc glory of thc trees, their leaves and branches, in order to cover themselves. Even now the garments retain this meaning of glory. We still borrow colors, shapes, and materials from the rest of the world to make ourselves more beautiful and comfortable.

The icons restore the reality of a human being as the image of God, illumined by His glory. This is the reason why the garments of the saints are triumphantly radiant, filled with light, shining with that unique glory with which God has adorned them. Thcy arc vcslcd in garmcnls of different colors to reveal the varieties of tasks appointed to them by the Lord. The colors signify some of them as apostles, some as prophets or martyrs, each given "the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (I Cor. 12:7).

The depiction of John the Baptist shines with emerald green, and blue, and white, all translucent and filled with light. His coarse garment of camel's hair, his hair-shirt, the symbol of his self-denial and ascetic life, is revealed here as the robe of glory, the garment of incorruption.

-A. Tregubov

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