Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE HOLY FEAST-DAY OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST AND FORERUNNER (+August 29th)
TROPARION OF THE FEAST, TONE 2
The memory of the righteous is celebrated with songs of praise, but the Lord's testimony is sufficient for thee, O Forerunner. Thou wast shown indeed to be the most honorable of the prophets, for in the waters thou didst baptize Him Who had been proclaimed. After suffering with joy in behalf of the truth, thou didst proclaim even to those in Hades the God Who appeared in the flesh, Who takest away the sin of the world, and granteth us the Great Mercy.
Kontakion (Plagal of the First Tone)
The glorious beheading of the Forerunner was a certain divine dispensation, that the coming of the Savior might also be preached to those in Hades. Let Herodias lament, then, that she demanded a wicked murder; for she loved not the Law of God, nor eternal life, but one false and fleeting.
The Lord said: "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he." (St. Matt. 11:11)
"For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife; for he had married her. Because John had said to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.' Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. And when Herodia's daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, 'Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you'. He also swore to her, 'Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.' So she went out and said to her mother, 'What shall I ask?' And she said, 'The head of John the Baptist!' Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, 'I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter'. And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb". (St. Mark 6:17-29).
Saint John the Baptist is one of the most revered Saints in the Orthodox Church. Saint John is a cousin of our Lord Jesus Christ through his mother Elizabeth who was the daughter of Zoia. Zoia was the sister of Christ's grandmother. Because he baptize Christ, he is the Patron Saint of Sponsors or godparents. He is sometimes called the Angel of the Desert; because of this title, he is sometimes depicted with wings.
Prophet Isaiah 40:3-5 is commonly read as a prophecy of St. John. His father, Zacharias, was a priest of the course of Abia (1 Chr. 24:10), and his mother, Elizabeth, was of the daughter of Aaron (St. Luke 1:5). Saint John the Baptist held the priesthood of Aaron, giving him the authority to perform baptisms of God.
His birth took place six months before that of Jesus, and according to the Gospel account was expected by prophecy (St. Matt. 3:3; Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1) and foretold by an Angel. Zacharias lost his power of speech because of his unbelief over the birth of his son, and had it restored on the occasion of St. John's circumcision when he gave his name John (St. Luke 1:64)
Saint John was Nazarene from his birth (St. Luke 1:15; Num. 6:1-12). He spent his early years in the mountainous tract of Judea lying between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea (St. Matthew 3:1-12). He led a simple life, wearing rope (gamla) fiber clothing and eating "locusts and wild honey" (St. Matthew 3:4).
As an adult Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner started to preach in public, and people from "every quarter" were attracted to his message. The essence of his preaching was the necessity of repentance and turning away from selfish pursuits. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees as a "generation of vipers", and warned them not to assume their heritage gave them special privilege (St. Luke 3:8). He warned tax collectors and soldiers against extortion and plunder. His doctrine and manner of life stirred interest, bringing people from all parts to see him on the banks of the Jordan River. There he baptized thousands unto repentance.
The divine St. John the Baptist, the Prophet born of a Prophet, the seal of all the Prophets and beginning of the Apostles, the mediator between the Old and New Covenants, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, the God-sent Messenger of the Incarnate Messiah, the Forerunner of Christ's coming into the world (Isaiah 40:3; Mal. 3:1); who by many miracles was both conceived and born; who was filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb; who came forth like another Elias the Zealot, whose life in the wilderness and divine zeal for God's Law he imitated: divine Prophet, after he had preached the baptism of repentance according to God's command; had taught men of low rank and high how they must order their lives; had filled them with the fear of God, teaching them that no one is able to escape the wrath to come if his works are not worthy of repentance; had, through such preaching, prepared their hearts to receive the evangelical teachings of the Savior; and finally, after he had pointed out to the people the very Savior, and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sin of the world" (St. Luke 3:2-18; St. John 1:29-36), after all this, St. John sealed with his own blood the truth of his words and was made a sacred victim for the Divine Law at the hands of a transgressors. Saint John's Office ceased with the Baptism of Jesus, Who must now "increase" as the King come to His Kingdom. He continued, however, for a while to bear testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself testified regarding Saint John that he was a "burning and a shining light" (St. John 5:35).
This was Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee, the son of Herod the Great. This man had a lawful wife, the daughter of Arethas (or Aretas), the king of Arabia (that is, Arabia Petraea, which had the famous Nabatean stone city of Petra as its capital. This is the Aretas mentioned by Saint Paul in II Corinthians 11:32). Without any cause, and against every commandment of the Law, he put her away and took to himself Herodias, the wife of his deceased brother Philip, to whom Herodias had born a daughter, Salome. He would not desist from this unlawful union even when Saint John, the preachers of repentance, the bold and austere accuser of the lawless, censured him and told him: "It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife" (St. Mark 6:18). Thus Herod, besides his other unholy acts, added yet this, that he apprehended St. John the Baptist and shut him in prison; and perhaps he would have killed him straightway, had he not feared the people, who had extreme reverence for St. John. Certainly, in the beginning, he himself had great reverence for this just and holy man. But finally, being pierced with the sting of a mad lust for the woman Herodias, he laid his defiled hands on the teacher of purity on the very day he was celebrating his birthday. When Salome, Herodias' daughter, had danced in order to please him and those who were supping with him, he promised her--with an oath more foolish than any foolishness--that he would give her anything she asked, even unto the half of his kingdom. And she, consulting with her mother, straightway asked for the head of Saint John the Baptist in a charger. Hence this transgressor of the Law, preferring his lawless oath above the precepts of the Law, fulfilled this godless promise and filled his loathsome banquet with the sacred blood of the Prophet. So it was that that all-venerable head, revered by the Angels, was given as a prize for an abominable dance, and became the plaything of the dissolute daughter of a debauched mother. As for the body of the divine Baptist, it was taken up by his disciples and placed in a tomb (St. Mark 6: 21-29). The findings of his holy head are commemorated on February 24th and May 25th.
According to Tradition, the mouth of the dead preacher of repentance once more opened and proclaimed: "Herod, you should not have the wife of your brother Philip". Salome took the platter with the head of Saint John and gave it to her mother. The frenzied Herodias repeatedly stabbed the tongue of the Prophet with a needle and buried his holy head in an unclean place. But the pious Joanna, wife of Herod's steward Chuza, buried the head of Saint John the Baptist in an earthen vessel on the Mount of Olives, where Herod had a parcel of land. (The Uncovering of the Venerable Head is celebrated on February 24th.) The holy body of Saint John was taken that night by his disciples and buried at Sabastia, there where the wicked deed had been done.
The First Uncovering of the most holy and honorable Head of Saint John the Baptist took place in the 4th century at the time when Saint Constantine the Great and his holy mother, St. Helen, began restoring the holy places in Jerusalem.
The Second Finding of the Precious Head of Saint John took place on February 18, 452 A.D. at Emesa.
After the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787 A.D.), which reestablished the veneration of holy icons, the Head of Saint John the Baptist was returned to the Byzantine Capital Constantinople in around the year 850 A.D. The Church commemorates this event on May 25/June 27 as the Third Finding of the Precious Head of Saint John the Baptist.
His holy relics are kept in several places including:
St. Demetrios Church, Neo Phaleron, Piraeus
Benaki Museum, Athens
Sacred Relics Room, Topkapi Museum, Constantinople (entire right arm and cranium)
Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria
Cetinje Monastery, Montenegro (right palm)
Philotheou Monastery, Mt. Athos
After the murder of Saint John the Baptist, Herod continued to govern for a certain time. Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, later sent Jesus Christ to him, Whom he mocked (St. Luke 23:7-12).
The judgment of God came upon Herod, Herodias and Salome, even during their earthly life. Salome, crossing the River Sikoris in winter, fell through the ice. The ice gave way in such a way that her body was in the water, but her head was trapped above the ice. It was similar to how she once had danced with her feet upon the ground, but now she flailed helplessly in the icy water. Thus she was trapped until that time when the sharp ice cut through her neck.
Her corpse was not found, but they brought the head to Herod and Herodias, as once they had brought them the head of Saint John the Baptist. The Arab king Aretas, in revenge for the disrespect shown his daughter, made war against Herod. The defeated Herod suffered the wrath of the Roman emperor Caius Caligua (37-41 A.D.) and was exiled with Herodias first to Gaul, and then to Spain.
The beheading of Saint John the Baptist, a Feast day established by the Church, is also a strict fast (Abstain from meat, fish, olive oil, wine, dairy products) because of the grief of Orthodox Christians at the violent death of the Saint. In some Orthodox Christian traditions pious faithful will not eat food from a flat plate, use a knife, or eat food that is round in shape on this holy day.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia
The sinner and unworthy servant of God