Commemoration of the 14,000 Holy Innocents


My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,



When Herod "saw that he was mocked of the Wise Men" (St. Matthew, chapter 2), became "exceeding wroth", both with them and the newborn King of the Jews. He was angry with the Magi because they had failed to return and tell him where the Child was, and with Christ, because he was afraid to lose his kingdom. He thought Christ wished to establish an earthly empire, and failed to understand that the Lord's Kingdom is not of this world. He, therefore, poured out his anger upon innocent children. He sent soldiers armed as if for battle to Bethlehem, with orders to slay every child that was "two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men".  

He was infuriated by the Wise Men's disdain for his authority and employed every means at his disposal to find out where the Child was, but without success, because Joseph had left for Egypt soon after the rites of purification were performed. For a whole year Herod vainly searched for Christ. Then necessity required him to visit Caesar in Rome, and he became very worried that the people would acclaim the Child king and he would lose his throne. Therefore, he decided to destroy all the infants in Bethlehem, and with them, Christ the Lord. The slaughter of the innocents took place twenty-one months after the Star appeared, in the year following the Nativity, on the 29th of December; therefore, the Holy Church commemorates these blameless sufferers on this day. Because he wished to be certain he had achieved his aim, fearful Herod slew "all the children from two years old and under." "Do not marvel that every infant two years old or less was put to death," says Saint John Chrysostomos. The raging tyrant was a coward, so his order was intended to allow the soldiers no possibility for error" (St. Chrysostom's 7th Homily on Matthew). Efthimius Zigavenus' explanation agrees with Saint John Chrysostom's: "Herod knew that the star appeared some time before the Child was born, and to prevent Christ's escape, commanded that no babe less than two years old survive."

On that day the saying of the Prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not" (Jeremiah, Ch. 31; Matthew, Ch. 2). Rama was a city on a hill within the allotment of the Tribe of Benjamin. Rachel is another name for Bethlehem, since Rachel, mother of Benjamin and wife of the Patriarch Jacob, was buried there. When the infants were slaughtered in Bethlehem, that is, in Rachel, "the lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning" of the mothers could be heard in Rama, which is not far away.

Both Saint John Chrysostomos and Saint John of Damascus describe how the mothers mourned their slain babes. Saint John Chrysostomos writes: "The mothers pleaded with the murderers, 'Why do you butcher our children? What offence have they committed against you or your king?' But the soldiers were too busy with their grisly work to reply. Nothing could calm the women, who were in a frenzy and cried out with ever-increasing desperation, 'Mercy! Mercy! Have you no mothers? Do you not have wives? Are you not put to shame by our naked breasts? What if these were your children? Have compassion on us; slay us rather than our little babies. We cannot bear to see them destroyed! Take our lives first! Wet your swords with our blood! If these children have committed some wrong, put us to death with them.'

Soon after the massacre of the holy children, divine retribution overtook Herod. According to Saint Theophylact, he "came to a miserable end, with fever, spasms of the bowels, itching, swelling of the feet, rotting of the private parts, breeding of worms, difficulty in breathing, trembling, and spasms in very member, until he spat out his evil soul" (Saint Theophylact, Explanation of Saint Matthew). It is said that he was not satisfied with slaughtering the children of Bethlehem, and that shortly before expiring he executed many of the most noble and eminent citizens of Jerusalem. Herod saw to the destruction of his accomplices, and God to Herod's death: thus the whole band of murderers was wiped off the face of the earth.

Saint Epiphanius, Herod's associate would not permit the holy and wise teacher, that esteemed Prophet, who proclaimed Christ in the Temple before all, to be given a fitting burial. Moreover, they were parties to the murder of the Prophet Zacharias. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, and Saint Andrew of Crete tell us that when the Most Pure Virgin Mary entered the Temple with the Child to be cleansed, Prophet Zacharias allowed her to stand with the virgins rather than with the wives. Seeing this, the Scribes and Pharisees were filled with indignation, but Prophet Zacharias announced that this mother remained a virgin after giving birth ('Ever-Virgin'). "Human nature, like everything else, is subject to its Creator;" he said; "therefore, if God so wills, it is possible for a maiden to give birth and not lose her virginity. This Mother is indeed a virgin, and I will not deprive her of the right of standing with the virgins."

The Scribes became furious with Zacharias. They reported to Herod that the Prophet was a brazen law-breaker who had permitted a mother to stand where she ought not and that he had proclaimed the seedless conception of her Son. Within a few days Joseph fled with Mary to Egypt and the unsuccessful search for the Child began. During that time the Scribes' anger at Saint Zacharias and the elder did not cool. Saint Symeon soon breathed his last and was deprived of an honorable burial, while Prophet Zacharias was put to death by Herod, at the instigation of the Scribes. Prophet Zacharias refused to reveal where his son John (St. John the Baptist and Forerunner) was during the massacre of the Bethlemite children, so the king's executioners slew him between the Temple and the Altar. In this way the Scribes and Pharisees rewarded him for permitting the Most Pure One (Theotokos) to stand in the place appointed for virgins.

The holy infants slaughtered for Christ, they reside on high with the Angels, "for of such" children is 'the kingdom of God" (St. Matthew, Ch. 7; St. Mark, Ch. 4; Saint Luke, Ch. 6), in Christ Jesus Our Lord. Unto Him be glory forever.  Amen.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" - Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Divine Birth,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George