“The voice of one crying in the wilderness …” (Mark 1:1-8)

15th century icon of St. John the Baptist, Nabaktevi, Georgia
15th century icon of St. John the Baptist, Nabaktevi, Georgia

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way;

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8, Revised Standard Version*

 

*1:2 Patriarchal Text et al.: As it is written in the prophets


Eusebian Canon:

Matthew Mark Luke John
11:10 1:1-2 7:27
3:3 1:3 3:3-6 1:23
3:4-6 1:4-7a
3:11 1:7b-8 3:16 1:15

 


The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way;the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mark 1:1–3)

 
1231theofilact-ochrid0001

The evangelist calls John, who was the last of the prophets, the beginning of the Gospel of the Son of God. For the end of the Old is the beginning of the New Testament. The testimony concerning the Forerunner is taken from two prophets: Behold, I send My angel before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way before Thee is from Malachi [3:1]. The voice of one crying in the wilderness … is from Isaiah [40:3]. Here God the Father is speaking to God the Son, calling the Forerunner an “angel” [ἄγγελος] because of John’s angelic and all but immaterial way of life, and also because he comes to announce [ἀγγέλλειν] and to proclaim the coming of the Christ. John prepared the way of the Lord by preparing the souls of the Jews to accept Christ. He did this by baptizing, that is, immersing them in water. Before Thy face means “Thy messenger [ἄγγελος = angel = messenger] will be close to Thee”, showing the kinship of the Forerunner to Christ, just as those who go directly before a king in a procession are of the king’s own household. The voice of one crying in the wilderness refers, perhaps, not only to the Jordan desert but also to the desolate synagogue of the Jews. The way is the New Testament; the paths are the Old Testament which was well trodden. The Jews needed to be prepared for the way, that is, for the New Testament, and they also needed to make straight the Old Testament paths which they had once followed but from which they had turned and become wayward.

– Theophylact of Ochrid (11th c.), The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark (tr. Fr. Christopher Stade, St. John Chrysostom Press, 2006)

 


John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:4–5)

 

The baptism of John did not bestow the forgiveness of sins but instead only led mankind to repentance. Why then does Mark say here “unto” the remission of sins [εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν? We answer that John preached the baptism of repentance. Where did this preaching lead? Unto the remission of sins, that is, to the baptism of Christ, which bestows the remission of sins. Likewise it might be said that a soldier arrives before the king to summon people to prepare the king’s meal, assuring them that it will be for their own good to do so. But that does not mean that the soldier himself will be the benefactor of those who prepare the king’s meal. Rather, that the soldier has only commanded the preparation of the meal, and it will be the king who will reward those who have prepared the meal and received him. In like manner, the Forerunner proclaimed the baptism of repentance so that those who repent and receive Christ would have the forgiveness of sins.

– Theophylact of Ochrid

 


Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:6)

 

Even by his appearance John called them to repentance, for he wore the garb of mourning. It is said that the camel is somewhere between a clean and unclean animal: it is clean in that it chews its cud, but it is unclean in that its hoof is not cloven [Leviticus 11:1-8]. Another reason, then, that John wore camel’s hair is that he was leading to God both the Jewish people, who appeared clean, and the Gentiles, who were unclean, and he was a mediator between the Old and the New Testaments. And a leather belt about his loins. All the saints appear in Scripture girt about the waist with a belt, for they labored continuously; but the careless and the gluttonous are not girt, but let their robes flow to the ground, like the Saracens of today [in the 11th century]. Or, the saints are girt because they have mortified the desires of the flesh, for leather is a part of a dead animal. And his food was locusts and wild honey. Some say that “locusts” refer to a type of herb; others say that the word refers to the fruit of wild pod-bearing trees. Wild honey is produced by wild bees, and is to be found in trees and rocks [ The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew].

John’s clothing was a symbol of mourning, for the prophet is showing that he who repents must mourn for his sins. The hair-shirt indicates mourning; the belt of dead animal flesh signifies the deadness of the fleshly Jews. The Lord Himself says that John’s clothing indicates mourning, when He says, We have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented [Matthew 11:17] where “mourning” refers to the Forerunner’s way of life. For He says, John came neither eating nor drinking, and you say, he hath a demon. The food that John ate certainly showed his self-control, but it may also be seen as a symbol of the spiritual fare of the people at that time. For they did not eat any of the birds of the heavens, which they were allowed to eat, nor did they apprehend the lofty, but instead fed on that which seemed to leap heavenward, but which always fell back to earth again. Such is the nature of the locust, which leaps upwards as if to the heights only to fall back down again. And John’s fare of wild honey may also show that the people were eating honey produced by bees, that is, by the prophets, but the honey was not being cultivated and domesticated, meaning, that the words of the prophets were not being well understood, and searched, and comprehended. For the Hebrews had the Scriptures which were sweet as honey [cf. Psalm 118:103 LXX], but they were neither tending nor searching them [The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark]

– Theophylact of Ochrid

 


And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7–8)

 

John is saying, “I, the least of His servants, am not worthy to unloose the tied thong of His sandal.” It may also be understood as follows. All those who came and were baptized by John, by their repentance were loosed from the bond of their sins when they later believed in Christ. Of all these John loosed the thongs and the bonds of their sins. But he was not able to loose the thong of Jesus, because he found no thong, that is, no sin in Him.

– Theophylact of Ochrid

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