Saint John the Baptist, believed to be the precursor to and cousin of Christ, emerged after many years of self-teaching in the desert to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah, as prophesied in the Old Testament. He led an ascetic life, like the Old Testament prophets, and spent years preaching the importance of penitence and baptizing the faithful in the Jordan River. John’s work culminated in his baptism of Jesus. Soon afterward, John was imprisoned for angering Herod Antipas, the Judean ruler, by denouncing him for marrying Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Herod. At the request of Salome, daughter of Herodias and Herod, St. John was decapitated.
This extraordinary icon depicts St. John, already beatified, with feathered wings a halo. He holds a goblet, studded with precious gems, in which a miniature baby Jesus is placed, a clear allusion to the baptism of Christ. However, this is a symbolic representation of this subject, not a historical one. This is not an icon of the baptism, but of the Baptist. The toils of his isolated life in a desert are evident, from the dreads of his overgrown beard to the lines underneath his eyes. His emaciated wrists attest to his ascetic beliefs. Unfortunately, time has turned the varnish used to protect the paint a dull yellow. This fact explains the overall darkness of the icon. Yet, one small patch on John’s left shoulder remains where the original vibrancy of the icon can be seen. Thus, his outer robes are not green as they now appear, but were once a soft lilac. This icon must have been even more glorious in its original luster. - (PF.5685)