The Greatness of John the Baptist
By Fr Mark Basily
Imagine Fr Yacoub told you that you were the greatest person in St Mark’s Church. Now imagine Bishop Daniel told you that you were the greatest person in the diocese of Sydney. Now imagine Pope Tawadros said that you were the greatest person in the Coptic Orthodox Church. Well here we have, in Luke7:28, Christ Himself saying that John the Baptist was the greatest person to ever live! Why is that though?
We all aspire to be great in our endeavours, whether it be at work or in various services. So what can we learn about St John the Baptist that made our Lord turn to him and say “you are the greatest”; it was his humility as displayed by his words. Often from someone’s words you can tell what he or she was about. It illustrates the principles that person stood for. So today we will look at five comments from the mouth of this great saint to try to understand why Christ said “among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he”. Luke 7:28
- “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him by Heaven” – John 3:27
Here we see that St John the Baptist believes that everything he has and everything he owns has been given to him by God. This is a beautiful principle to live by. We become relieved when we realise that everything I have, even my possessions belong to God. Recently the fathers went to visit a family who built a nice big house. When the fathers went to visit, the family said “This house is not ours, it belongs to God and His Church. Whatever you need that’s in this house, it’s yours.” So I decided to take them up on their offer and half jokingly I said that we need a studio in your house. Now we permanently have one of their rooms as a studio for when the Church needs to record music. So this idea that everything of mine is God’s is one of the reasons why St John the Baptist is so great.
- “I am not the Christ” – John 3:28
At that time, St John the Baptist was baptizing and he had a large following and so it was very easy for him to accept it when people asked him whether he was Christ or not. St John Chrysostom says that St John the Baptist could’ve taken all the glory for himself. Rather, he referred the glory to someone else; Christ. So the second principle we learn is to refer all glory to Christ. When Anba Antonious Morkos, bishop of South Africa, came to a youth meeting he spoke extensively about the achievements in his diocese. A youth put up their hand and asked ‘How can you not feel a sense of pride when you speak about these things?’ For Sayedna he was very clear, he said ‘all the achievements are God’s work, I just happened to be used in the process’. So in my life, if I live attributing all success to the Lord, then I’m on the path to greatness that St John the Baptist was.
- “I have been sent before Him” – John 3:28
St John the Baptist understood very well that his mission in life was to prepare the path of glory for Christ. This is another quality of greatness, if I am able to prepare a path for people. Often we prepare pathways for ourselves and make decisions to please us, but what if I could live like John the Baptist, preparing others for glory. Fr Daniel Fanous is currently doing a PHD about Pope Kirollos; a man who we all know barely gave sermons and didn’t write many books. Due to this, people concluded that he wasn’t good at giving talks, that’s why he never did it. However, Fr Daniel found in his research proof that Pope Kirollos was a brilliant writer and an excellent speaker. One of his sermons was distributed to thousand of churches; but then Pope Kirollos just stopped. He did this to create pathways for other people. He ordained Bishop Gregarious to be the official spokesperson for the Church and Bishop Shenouda to be bishop of education, who later became pope. This is the way John the Baptist lived and hence he said, “I have been sent before Him”.
- “Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled” – John 3:29
In this verse, St John the Baptist likens himself to a best man who is joyful to see the bridegroom married to his bride. In our lives we always pursue what will make us happy. For this great saint, his joy was extracted from others and from seeing Christ. Imagine if I am joyful by seeing others’ lives going well, if I share in the joy of someone else. Before I became a priest, I saw how God worked in my own life. After I became a priest, I saw how God worked in others’ lives. This is one of things I love about priesthood that I am continuously sharing in the joy of others. If we partake in the joy of others, then surely we are on the path to greatness.
- “He must increase, but I must decrease” – John 3:30
This comment stands against everything society and the whole world teaches. The world teaches that if need be, trample over others to attain success. However, here we have the greatest prophet on Earth saying that someone else must increase and I must decrease. This principle is one to be lived out not only in service but also in our own homes. Imagine this idea being implemented between a husband and a wife or between co-workers. To humble yourself to allow others to be glorified is a step on the pathway to greatness
These five statements give us an insight into why Jesus calls St John the Baptist the greatest. It is St John the Baptist’s humility, shown by his statements, that constitutes to his greatness. So today I pray that we all aspire to this kind of spiritual greatness and not after worldly greatness so that the Lord may likewise look to us and say, “you are great”.
Glory be to God