St. John the Baptist's father, Zacharias, was well advanced in years and his wife, Elizabeth, was barren and her time for begetting children had passed.
Zacharias was praying and beseeching God persistently to give him a child because the children of Israel reviled anyone without a son and treated him with ignominy. They would say about him that he was without the blessing that God had told Adam in these words: "Be fruitful and multiply."
The Lord had compassion on him and He hearkened to his petition. He sent him Gabriel the Angel to announce to him the birth of John. The angel came to him while he was in the sanctuary, as it is mentioned in the Holy Gospel (Luke 1:11), and announced to him the birth of the great prophet John, and that he should precede the Christ as it was said by the prophets, "He shall go before Him." He asked the angel, "Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well advanced in years." The angel told him that he was sent from God to announce that to him and it is not seemly for him to doubt. He then told him that he shall be dumb till the birth of the child.
On the day of John's circumcision, they asked him about the child's name. He asked for a tablet and wrote on it John and straightaway his mouth opened. Then he spoke and praised God and prophesied concerning his son John and the Lord Christ. He prophesied about his son that he would be a prophet and he should go before the face of the Lord.
In 31 A.D., our Master, Lord and God, Jesus Christ, was baptized at the hands of St. John the Baptizer (the dyer). The feast is called in Greek the Feast of Theophany or the Feast of the Revelation of the Divine Nature of the Lord, for the Holy Trinity was revealed: our heavenly Father was heard from heaven saying, "This is My beloved Son," and the Son standing in the Jordan river, and the Holy Spirit was descending in the form of a dove, and alighting upon Him.
St. John the Baptist bore witness that the Lord Christ, when He had been baptized, came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven saying,
"This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased." -Matthew 3:16-17
St. John the evangelist said about this day, "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 'Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. This is He of Whom I said, 'After me comes a Man Who is preferred before me, for He was before me.' I did not know him but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.'" (John 1:29-31)
The glory of our Lord Jesus Christ was revealed on this day, that He is the Son of God and that He is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. For this reason, this feast has become a great feast for all believers, in which they are purified with water after the example of the baptism of our Lord, to Whom is the glory, to obtain forgiveness of their sins.
When St. John rebuked Herod because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Phillip whom he had taken as a wife, he said to him, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." (Mark 6:18) Herod seized the Saint and cast him into prison; however, he feared John.
An opportune day came when Herod, on his birthday, gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers and the chief men of Galilee. And when Herodias' daughter herself came in and danced and pleased Herod. He promised her anything she might ask for, even as much as half of his kingdom. She went to her mother and asked her, "What shall I ask?" Her mother said, "Ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter." When Herod heard this, he was exceedingly sorry. But because of his promise and those who were sitting with him, he did not want to refuse her request. He therefore commanded his servants to cut off the head of Saint John and they gave it to the damsel and the damsel gave it to her mother. (Mark 6:20-28) There was great consternation that day, and their joy soon turned into sorrow.
It was said that when the holy head of St. John was cut off, it flew up off their hands into the air, and it cried out saying, "It is not right for you to take your brother's wife." It is also said that the head now is present at Homs in Syria.
As of the holy body, the disciples of St. John took it and laid it in a grave until the days of Pope Athanasius, when God Willed to uncover his body.
May his prayers be with us. Amen.