Feastday – Sept 5/18
Zacharias was a holy prophet of God. His father was Barachias, a priest of the Lord. Zacharias was married to Elizabeth, one of the daughters of Aaron. Elizabeth was a sister to Anna, who was the mother of the Theotokos. This holy couple was filled with all the virtues, they were blameless in the laws of the Lord. Their son, Saint John the honorable and glorious prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, was the fruit of their righteousness and holy lives, as it is written in the Holy Bible: “Ye shall know them by their fruits; a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, and if the root be holy, so are the branches.”
It was during the reign of king Herod that Saint Zacharias was performing his priestly duties. His course of service was that of the eighth week in the temple. The descendants of Aaron were so many, that it was impossible for them to serve together in the temple at one time. So King David, the prophet, divided them into twenty-four divisions. Each group of priests would take turns performing its office at different times, so they were all able to serve in the temple. Only the most honorable priests among them were chosen as chiefs over each group, so that each division had its own head priest.
It was Zacharias’ duty to burn incense in the temple when it was his turn to serve the Lord. At one time while Zacharias was performing his priestly duties, and many people came to pray, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, at the right side of the altar of incense. Great fear came over Zacharias, so the angel comforted him and said, “Fear not, Zacharias.” The angel told him that his prayer was well pleasing to God, and that the Lord would be merciful to Zacharias. The angel visited Zacharias’ wife and loosed the bonds of her barreness, even though she was quite old. The angel told Zacharias that Elizabeth would give birth to a son, and his name was to be John, whose name signifies grace. This birth would bring much joy, not only to his parents, but to a multitude of people. The angel said’ “And many shall rejoice at his birth.” ( Lk. 1) Zacharias was told many good things by the angel about his future son John. He was told that John would be great in the sight of the Lord, not in body, but in spirit, and no one would ever display such abstinence and fasting as he would. For as the Lord said, “John came neither eating nor drinking.” The angel told Zacharias that their son would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, and that because of him, many of the Isrealites would turn to the Lord. Zacharias was told by the angel that John would be the Forerunner of the Christ, going before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, making ready the people prepared for the Lord.
These words of the angel seemed unbelievable to Zacharias, and he marvelled, for Elizabeth was barren, and they were quite old. So he asked the angel, “Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is well stricken in years.”
The angel then told him, “I am Gabriel, that stands in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
The people began to wonder why Zacharias tarried so long in the altar. But when he came out and was not able to speak, they realized that he had seen a vision.
When Zacharias completed his days of ministry, he left from the temple and went to his home which was in the hill country of Hebron, a city of Judah. This city was appointed as the dwelling place of the priests.
When Saint John the Baptist, their son was born, Zacharias wrote John’s name on a tablet. His tongue was then loosed and he was able to talk. He spoke and praised the Lord. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied saying, ” Blessed be the Lord God of Isreal, for He hath visited and wrought redemption for His people, and hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spake by the mouth of His holy ones, the prophets of old. And thou, O child shalt be called the prophet of the Most High; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord, to prepare His ways.
Six months later, our Lord Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. And when the Magi came from the east, they told Herod of the birth of the newborn King. Now Herod had heard of the birth of Saint John and thought to himself, “What manner of child shall this be? Will this child be the King of the Jews?” He then decided to kill Saint John and sent his soldiers to Zacharias’ house. When the executioners were not able to find the baby, Herod had his soldiers slay all the little children who were 2 years old and under. This is when the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem began. The cries from the infants’ mothers became known to Saint Elizabeth, she quickly took her son, who was about two and a half years old, and fled to the mountains. During this time Zacharias was at the temple performing his priestly duties. Saint Elizabeth prayed to the Lord with many tears, imploring Him to protect her and her baby. She suddenly saw the soldiers from afar searching for them, she prayed, “O mountain of God, receive a mother with her child!” All of a sudden the mountain split open, and she was able to hide with her child, and not be found by the soldiers.
When the executioners returned to Herod without having killed Saint John. He sent word to Zacharias saying, “Surrender your son John to me!”
Then Saint Zacharias said, “I serve the Lord God of Israel. As for my son, I do not know where he is.”
When Herod sent his soldiers a second time to ask Zacharias the whereabouts of Saint John, Saint Zacharias again told them he did not know where his son was. The soldiers then told him that Herod would have him put to death for not surrendering Saint John. Saint Zacharias said, “You will kill my body, but the Lord will receive my soul.”
The soldiers immediately fell upon Zacharias and killed him between the temple and the altar. His blood was spilled on the marble floor. It became hard as rock, and was a testimony against Herod and a witness to his eternal condemnation.
In the meantime, Saint Elizabeth and Saint John remained hidden. The Lord had commanded a cave to be formed inside the mountain. He caused a spring of water to spring up so they could have fresh water to drink, and a date palm tree filled with dates for them to eat. When they were hungry, the date tree would bend down so they could easily pick the dates, and then the tree would stand up straight again when they had finished.
Forty days after the martyrdom of her husband Saint Zacharias, Saint Elizabeth reposed, and from then on an angel would come to feed Saint John until he grew up. He remained in the desert until the time of his preaching to the Isrealites.