+++ Synaxis of the Holy Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John
John's greatest role during his life was enacted on the day of the Theophany, and because of this the Church has, from the earliest times, dedicated the day following that feast to his memory. This day is also connected with an event involving the hand of the Forerunner. The Evangelist Luke desired to take John's body from Sebaste, where the great prophet had been beheaded by Herod, to Antioch, his own birthplace. He succeeded, though, in acquiring and taking only one hand, which was kept in Antioch till the tenth century. It was then moved to Constantinople, whence it disappeared during the Turkish occupation.
St John is commemorated several times during the year, but his greatest feast is on this day, January 7th. Among the Gospel-figures surrounding the Saviour,the person of John the Baptist holds a very special place, by the manner of his birth in this world and of his earthly life, by his role of baptiser of men to repentance and his baptism of the Messiah, and, lastly, by the tragic manner of his departure from this world. He was of such moral purity that he indeed deserved the name 'angel'*, as he was named in the Scriptures, rather than being thought of as just a mortal man. John differs from all the other prophets in that he had the joy of showing forth to the world the One Whom he had foretold.
About the hand of St John: it is related that each year, on his feast-day, the archbishop would bring it out before the people. Sometimes the hand appeared open, and sometimes clenched. In the first case it indicated that it would be a fertile year, and in the second that it would be a year of famine.
(*The word 'messenger' is, in Greek, 'angelos'. See Malachi 3:1, Matt. 11-10-Tr.)
The Holy Martyr Athanasius
This martyr of Christ was a poor and simple man, but was rich in faith and in wisdom through the Spirit of God. On one occasion he was inadvertently involved in a quarrel with a Turk. The Turk was educated and adroit with words, but Athanasius strove with all his might to present and uphold the truth of the Christian faith and its superiority over Islam. They then parted. On the following day, Athanasius was summoned to trial, and found the Turk standing there as his accuser. When the judge called on Athanasius to repudiate his faith and embrace Islam, as he had given the impression of declaring to his companion of the previous day, Athanasius cried out: 'I would die a thousand deaths before I would deny the Faith of Christ!' He was therefore condemned to death and beheaded in the year 1700. His body was buried in the Church of St Paraskeva in Smyrna, the city of his execution.