Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard the Scripture readings which at the same time inspired us with the faith and dedication of St. John the Baptist while also warning us of the false leaders and antichrists who will try to mislead the faithful into the path of sin and darkness, away from God’s salvation. Hence, today we are presented with the contrasts between those who truly are faithful to God and those who served the devil.
In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the words of St. John the Baptist that he spoke towards the priests and the Levites, likely the members of the Pharisees that would later oppose the Lord Jesus and His works, as these people also doubted the authority and veracity of St. John the Baptist, questioning him on the validity and the source of his teachings and works among the people as he baptised many people at the Jordan.
They asked if he had the authority to do what he has been doing and wondering if he was the Messiah that God has promised to His people. St. John the Baptist clearly told those who asked him that he was not the Messiah and that he was just the one who was sent into this world to prepare the way for the Messiah of God. Had anyone else been asked of this at that time, more likely than not they would have claimed that they were the Messiah promised by God.
As historical evidence had it, and which was recorded even in the Acts of the Apostles, there had been people at that time who claimed that they were the Messiah, gathered a following, large at times, and quite a few rebelled against the Romans and the authorities, only for them all to vanish when their leaders were arrested and condemned to death. Their supposed missions and Messiah title did not last because indeed they were not the Messiah.
St. John had the means to do the same, and he had a large following of people who themselves thought that he was the Messiah promised by God. They came to him and thronged to him because they believed in his words and sought reconciliation with God through baptism. St. John the Baptist’s great charisma and faith could have easily made him the cherished Messiah of the Israelites as other false Messiahs had done before him.
But that was not what St. John the Baptist had chosen to do, as he remained faithful completely to the task that he had been entrusted with, and he clearly stated publicly that he was not the Messiah, but only the one sent to precede the coming of the one and true Messiah, Jesus Christ. He proclaimed this before the priests and Levites sent to question him, and he also did the same before his disciples. And when the Lord Jesus came to him for His baptism, St. John the Baptist proclaimed Him as the Lamb of God and thus the Messiah to his own disciples.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are called to look upon the good examples set by St. John the Baptist who placed himself completely in the hands of God, entrusting his whole self to the Lord’s providence and giving his whole life to God without regards for his own pride, ego and desire. This is contrasted to the attitudes of many among the Pharisees, the false Messiahs and the leaders who led the people astray.
And today, we have yet two more great examples of faith we can be inspired with, in St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, as we celebrate their feast day today. Both of these saints also had to contend with the heretics and their powerful influence at their time, at a time when those false teachings and ideas threatened not only to destroy the unity of the Church, but also the salvation of many souls and the survival of the Church and faith itself.
St. Basil the Great was the Bishop of Caesarea in Asia Minor, who was the contemporary of St. Gregory Nazianzen, who was the Archbishop of Constantinople. They were strongly opposed to the erroneous and yet popular Arian heresy, as championed by the heretic priest Arius, who claimed that Jesus Christ was not the equal of the Father and that He was created by the Father rather than being co-eternal and co-existing with the Father from before the beginning of time as we believe in our Christian faith.
Arius was a very charismatic man, much like that of St. John the Baptist, but he chose to champion a view divergent and different from the Christian truth, and got a large following especially in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire and among the Germanic peoples beyond the boundaries of the Empire. The Arian heresy affected quite a large portion of the faithful and in fact many bishops took the side of Arius until the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea finally condemned the teachings of Arius as being heretical.
Nonetheless, the Arian heresy still remained for many decades and centuries after the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, and it was the vigorous efforts and works of both St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen in opposing this heresy among some other heresies like Apollinarianism and more, that the true Catholic and orthodox faith survived and many among the faithful who had been ensnared by the false teachings returned to the true faith.
In the course of their efforts, they encountered many trials and difficulties, oppositions from clergy and bishops who were favourable to the Arian heresy in particular, and even the hierarchy of the Imperial government and the Emperors themselves who were Arian in their profession of faith. Yet, St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen persevered in their faith and in their efforts, and their extensive writings on the truth of the Christian faith made them to be recognised as two of the original Doctors of the Church together with St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Augustine of Hippo.
All of them served the Lord and put Him first and foremost in their lives. Are we able to do the same with our own lives, brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we able to be faithful as St. John the Baptist, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzen and all of our holy predecessors have shown us? This is the challenge that we have been given as we continue to live our lives and as we embark through the journey in this new year.
May the Lord continue to guide us through life and may He strengthen us always each and every moments of our lives that we may grow ever stronger in faith and that we may always seek the truth of God in all things, and not to allow our pride, ego and desire to overcome us. May the Lord bless each and every one of us, now and always. Amen.