Anyone who walks into an Orthodox church will know the prominence given to John the Baptist. Standing in front of the iconostasis (or icon-screen), there stands Christ, Saint Mary the Theotokos, and this saint. The icon of Christ is a good looking man who offers compassion and blessing. The icon of Saint Mary is noble and shows the way to salvation by gesturing to the infant in her arms. And, then there’s the icon of Saint John. Painfully thin, often standing half-naked, with uncombed hair, who looks at us unblinkingly. But, with his presence in this triptych, I believe we come face to face with a representation of the fullness of the church.
Saint John the Baptist was a prophet who lived outside the conventions of the ancient world as much as today’s. He was chosen by God before his birth, full of the Holy Spirit, and literally prepared the way of the Lord with his words. He lived in the desert, his food was bugs and honey, and his clothes were animal skins. He preached, harassed, and baptized.
His presence on the iconostasis is purposeful. To this day, Saint John the Baptist is seen in the Orthodox church as being the greatest of men and the least of angels. Beside Christ, on his right, stands his mother who pondered, wept, and prayed. She bares witness to the life that many of us live in faith. But, with Saint John standing on his other side, we also see the figure of a man who was tireless in his work in the Kingdom of God. Both of these saints witness to holy extremes that existed during Christ’s life on earth, and still do in the Church today.
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This icon of Saint John the Baptist is in the Conestoga style and created primarily out of that region’s local colours and materials.