St. John the Baptist: the Forerunner

Baptism of Christ by John Bellini. Church of St. John of Malta in Venice.


John, known as the Baptist, is the only saint, besides the Mother of the Lord, whose birth according to the flesh (on June, 24th) we celebrate alongside with his birth to heaven (on August, 29th).

Son of Elizabeth, a relative of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her husband Zacharias, priest of the class of Abia, both in old age, his birth was foretold by the Angel of the Lord: “Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.  For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk 1, 11-17).

His prophetic vocation from the womb is surrounded by extraordinary events, full of messianic joy, which prepare for the birth of Jesus. When the Blessed Virgin Mary, after the Annunciation, goes to visit Elizabeth – now in her sixth month of pregnancy – John is the first to recognize the presence of the Savior from the womb.

Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, «Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy» (Lk 1, 41-44).

John is the Forerunner of Christ by his words and by his life. And the Lord himself recognizes him as the greatest among those born of women. The baptism of penance which accompanies the announcement of the last times is a figure of Baptism according to the Spirit. The date of the feast of his birth on June 24th, three months after the Annunciation and six months before Christmas, responds to the indications of the Evangelist Luke.


15th-century silver reliquary that holds an arm of St. John the Baptist.
St. John the Baptist: the Forerunner