We have bright festivities in Greece on the 7th of January. We have a celebration for every person named Yannis (John in english) in memory of St John the Baptist who prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ and baptized him. Why is this feast so important in Greece ?
How Greeks celebrate St John ? Ιn Greece, the 7th of January is a special celebration day for all Greek people named Yannis (or Ioannis) want but it is less popular). The person’s name is more important that birthday in Greece and the festive Yannis’ house become on that specific day filled with joys and wishes with invited friends and relatives. Yannis day is also interrupted with phone calls for good wishes. And cakes never run short on tables.
Nobody in Greece forget to wish relatives and friend named Yannis « Hronia polla ! » which mean « Many years » (healthy years to come to you). This celebration is more important in Greece given that 1 greek man out of 5 on average in Greece is called Yannis !
Who was St John ? Because John’s role was played out on the Epiphany (Theophania), the Church has always dedicated the day following Epiphany to his memory. In the Orthodox church, St John the Baptist or St John the Forerunner was the prophet who prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ. He preceded Christ and taught repentance preparing men for Jesus’ teaching and His ministry.
I like stories, so I thought to tell you about St John Holy Hand…
The mystery of the coming of St John holy Relic (hand) to Constantinople. It happened that on the evening of Epiphany, the arrival of the holy hand of the Forerunner to Constantinople took place. This happened like that : The Evangelist Luke desired to remove the body of John from Sebaste, where the great prophet was beheaded by Herod, to Antioch his place of birth. He succeeded though, in acquiring and translating only one hand which was preserved in Antioch until the 10th century after which it was transferred to Constantinople from where it disappeared during the time of the Turks.
We also commemorate St John’s death : St. John always spoke the Truth and because Herod did not appreciate his criticism, he was imprisoned. Later he was beheaded, as the result of a promise Herod gave to his step-daughter to give her anything she asked. The daughter was convinced by her mother to ask for John’s head on a platter.
The Orthodox church celebrates St. John’s beheading as patronal feast day. It is a strict fast day in recognition of the way in which he died, but it is also a happy feast day because John’s life was such a bright example for monastics, martyrs and all Christians to follow him.
My experience : I like this day because I jump at the opportunity to see my friends named Yannis again. Churches are also full with people inside and outside. Greek live intensively this day and that prove Greek people are very alive and that Orthodoxy help them cheer up in difficult economic time.
To know a little bit more about Saint John the Baptist, I recommend you to get a lovely 60 pages book I bought recently. It is intitled « The Life and Prayers of Saint John the Baptist » and it is written by Wyatt North. This book also exist in Kindle edition. To buy this book, click the below frame on the left.