Today in the Orthodox Church we commemorate the Beheading of St John the Forerunner (see Matthew 14:1-13). St Gregory Palamas ruminates that St John’s purpose and message was to prepare us and all people for the coming of Christ. We are called to prepare ourselves to accept Christ, this is not Christ’s work. Christ is ready to enter into our hearts and lives if we have prepared ourselves for Him. St John’s call to us to prepare the way of the Lord is an essential message. Repentance, that changing our outlook about the world and God, is the means to prepare ourselves to receive Christ. Repentance is not merely enumerating our sins, it is a change in how we understand ourselves and the world around us—making ourselves aware of God’s immanent presence in our lives.
St Gregory writes:
Before all else, brethren, I beseech you, let us hear with understanding that the Lord did not say that He went out to plough the human fields, or to break up the ground two or three times, dig up the roots of the weeds and smooth out the clods of earth, that is to say, to prepare our hearts for cultivation, but that He went out immediately to sow. Why? Because this preliminary work on our souls prior to sowing ought to be done by us. That is why the Forerunner of the gospel of grace, anticipating this fact, says with a loud voice, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (Matthew 3: 3), and ‘Repent ye: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3: 2). Our preparation and the starting point of repentance is blaming ourselves, confession, an abstention from evil. He also issued a warning to those who had not made themselves ready in this way to bear fruits worthy of repentance (c.f. Matthew 3: 8, Luke 3: eight). ‘Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire’ (Matthew 3: 10). (THE HOMILIES, p 371)