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|Archbishop Averky (Tauchev)|
Explanation of the four Gospels
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This section tells of the appearance of God’s Angel to the priest Zacharias during the church service, foretelling him of the birth of his son John who would be great in the sight of the Lord, and at the same time, his punishment in the form of muteness for his disbelief. The Angel also foretells Zacharias of his wife Elizabeth’s conception.
King Herod (mentioned here) He was by birth an Iudemean, son of Antipas who during Hyrcanus — last in the dynasty of Maccabees, seized authority over Judea. He received his title of king from Rome. Although he was a proselyte, the Judeans did not regard him as one of their own, and his rule was exactly that “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,” after which the Messiah should appear (see the prophecy of Genesis 49:10). The priests were divided into 24 divisions, among which, Abijah headed one. Zacharias belonged to this division. Elizabeth also came from an ecclesiastical background. While they both were outstanding in their genuine righteousness, they were without children. This was regarded by the Judeans as God’s punishment for sinning. Every week, a divine service was conducted in the temple by each division (twice a year). With that, the priests allocated responsibilities among themselves by casting lots. Zacharias’ lot was to perform the censing of the temple. That’s why he entered the second part of Jerusalem’s Temple — called the Holiest of the Holy — where the incensory altar was located. At the same time, all the people were praying in a specially designated open area of the temple, or Courtyard. Having entered the sanctuary, Zacharias observed an Angel and a great fear gripped him, because according to Jewish perception, the appearance of an Angel foretold of impending death. The Angel calmed Zacharias, telling him that his prayer was answered and his wife will bear him a son, who will be “great in the sight of the Lord.” It is difficult to assume that Zacharias with his righteousness, being old and at such a solemn moment of the church service, would have been praying for a son. Apparently, as one of the finest people of that time, he prayed to God for a swift onset of the Kingdom of the Messiah — and it is precisely this prayer that the Angel said was answered. And here his prayer received its high reward: not only is his sorrowful infertility resolved, but his son will be the Forerunner of the Messiah, whose coming he had waited for so intensely. His son will surpass everyone in his extraordinary strict abstinence, and from birth, will be filled with particular blessed gifts of the Holy Spirit. He is faced with the task of preparing the Judean people for the coming of the Messiah, which he does with sermons on repentance and reformation of their lives. He diverted toward God, many sons of Israel who honoured Jehovah formally, but having distanced their hearts and lifestyles away from Him. To accomplish this, John will be given the spirit and strength of Prophet Elijah, to whom he will be likened with his fiery zeal, strict ascetic life, sermons on repentance and exposure of iniquities. He will have to invoke the Judeans from the abyss of their moral decline, returning into the hearts of parents the love for children, and those resisting the right hand of God — to confirm in their minds thoughts of the righteous.
As he and his wife were too old to hope for an offspring, Zacharias did not believe the Angel and asked him for a sign as proof of the authenticity of his words. In order to dispel Zacharias’ doubts, the Angel enunciates his name: he is Gabriel, which means God’s power, the same that brought the good tidings of the time of the Messiah’s coming to the Prophet Daniel, having indicated the time with “sevens” (Daniel 9:21-27). For his disbelief, the Angel inflicts him with muteness and apparently at the same time with deafness, as all future communications with him are with signs. Normally, censing continues for a short period so that the people started to wonder: why is Zacharias lingering in the sanctuary? However, no sooner had Zacharias appeared and began to gesticulate when the people realised that he had a vision. It is remarkable that Zacharias did not cease but continued to fulfill his turn at serving at church — right up to the end. After he returned home, his wife Elizabeth did indeed conceived a son. For 5 months she hid this from fear of disbelief and ridicule from the public, while her soul rejoiced and thanked God for lifting the denouncements of her. The conception of John the Baptist is celebrated on the 23rd of September.