The Synaxis of Saint John the Baptist
Because John’s main role in his life was played out on the day of the Epiphany (Theophany), the Church from earliest times dedicated the day following Epiphany to his memory. To this feast is also linked the incident with the hand of the Forerunner. The Evangelist Luke desired to remove the body of John from Sebaste, where the great prophet was beheaded by Herod, to Antioch his place of birth. He succeeded though, in acquiring and translating only one hand which was preserved in Antioch until the tenth century after which it was transferred to Constantinople from where it disappeared during the time of the Turks.
Feasts of St. John are celebrated several times throughout the year, but this day, January 7, has the most Svecara. [That is, those Orthodox Serbs who honor St. John the Baptist as their Krsna Slava – Patron Saint. The Krsna Slava is the day that the Orthodox Serbs commemorate the baptism of their ancestors into Christianity].
Among the Gospel personalities who surround the Savior, John the Baptist occupies a totally unique place by the manner of his entry into the world as well as by the manner of his life in this world, by his role in baptizing people for repentance and for his baptizing the Messiah and, finally, by his tragic departure from this life. He was of such moral purity that, in truth, he could be called an angel [messenger] as Holy Scripture calls him rather than a mortal man. St. John differs from all other prophets especially in that he had that privilege of being able, with his hand, to show the world Him about Whom he prophesied.
It is said that every year on the feast of the saint, the bishop brought the hand of St. John before the people. Sometimes the hand appeared open and other times the hand appeared clenched. In the first case it signified a fruitful and bountiful year and, in the second case, it meant a year of unfruitfulness and famine.
~By St. Nikolai Velimirovich, taken from Mystagogy: The Weblog of John Sanidopoulos (http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/01/st-nikolai-velimirovich-synaxis-of-st.html).
John did not merely, in the words of the Scripture, choose the good before knowing evil (Is. 7:16), but while still unborn, before knowing the world, he surpassed it. Then once he was born he delighted and amazed everyone by reason of the miraculous events surrounding him, because, it says, “The hand of the Lord was with him” (Lk. 1:66), working wonders again as it had in earlier time. His father’s mouth, which had been closed because he had not believed in the child’s strange conception, was opened and filled with the Holy Spirit, and he prophesied, among other things, about this his son, saying, “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto His people” (Lk. 1:76-77). Once this divine child, this living instrument of grace from his mother’s womb, had been conceived, he was moved by grace to rejoice in the Holy Spirit. In the same way, after being born, he grew and waxed strong in the Spirit. As the world was unworthy of him, he dwelt continuously in desert places from his earliest years, leading a frugal life without cares or worldly concerns, a stranger to sadness, free from coarse passions and above base, material pleasure, which merely beguiles the body and its senses. He lived for God alone, beholding only God and making God his delight. It was as if he lived somewhere exalted above the earth. “And he was in the deserts”, it says, “till the day of his shewing unto Israel” (Lk. 1:80).
~By Saint Gregory Palamas, taken from Mystagogy: The Weblog of John Sanidopoulos (http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/01/on-saint-john-baptist-part-one.html).