My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE FORERUNNER AND BAPTIST [August 29th]
Herod Antipas who slew the young children in Bethlehem at the time of the birth of the Lord Jesus was the ruler of Galilee when St. John the Baptist was preaching. This Herod was married to the daughter of Aretas, an Arabian prince. But Herod, an evil branch of evil stock, put away his lawful wife and took Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, to live with him while Philip was still alive. Saint John stood up against this lawlessness and strongly denounced Herod, at which Herod threw him into prison. At the time of some feast (his birthday) at his court in Sebastia in Galilee, Salome, the daughter of Herodias and Philip, danced for the guests. Herod, in his cups and carried away by her dancing, promised her whatever she asked, even to the half of his kingdom. Instructed by her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist. Herod commanded that John be beheaded in the prison and his head brought on a platter. Saint John's disciples took the body of their teacher by night and buried it, but Herod tore out St. John's tongue with a needle and then buried his head in an unclean place. What later happened to Saint John's head is recorded and can be read under February 24th.
God's punishment was quickly visited upon this group of evildoers. Prince Aretas, to avenge his daughter's honor, attacked Herod with his army and brought him to his knees. The defeated Herod was condemned by the Roman Caesar, Caligula, to exile first in Gaul and then in Spain. As exiles, Herod and Herodias lived in need and debasement until the earth opened and swallowed them up. Salome, Herodian's daughter, came to a bad end in the river Sikaris (Sula).
The death of Saint John took place before the Passover, but its commemoration on August 29th was instituted because it was on this day a church, that had been built over his grave in Sebastia by Emperor Constantine and Empress Helena, was consecrated. In this church were also the holy relics of Saint John's disciples, Eliseus and Audius. (Source: The Prologue from Ochrid)
ON CHRIST'S HIGHLY REVERED PROPHET, FORERUNNER AND BAPTIST JOHN
By Saint Gregory Palamas
If the death of the Saints is precious (Psalm 116:15) and the just are remembered with praise (Prov. 10:7 Lxx), it is even more fitting for us to commemorate John, the highest summit of holy and righteous men, by extolling him. He leapt in the womb in anticipation of the Logos/Word of God Who took flesh for our sake (St. Luke 1:41); he was His Forerunner and went before Him as His herald, and the Lord in turn proclaimed and bore witness that John was superior to all the Prophets, Saints and just men down through the ages (cf. St. Luke 7:28). Everything about him surpasses human speech, and the Only-Begotten Son of God witnessed to Him and honored him, and he has no need of any tribute from us. But his does not mean that we should keep silent and fail to honor with our words, as best we can, the one whom the Scripture referred to as "the voice" of the sublime Logos/Word (St. Matthew 3:3; cf. Isaiah 40:3 Lxx). On the contrary, the fact that he was proclaimed to be so great and witnessed to by Christ, the Lord of All, should move every tongue to sing his praises as much as it can. Not that we can add to his glory in any way - how could we? - but in order to pay our debt individually and together by recounting the wonders surrounding him and celebrating them in son.
The whole life of the greatest man born of woman was a supreme miracle. John was a Prophet and much more than a Prophet (St. Luke 7:26), even before he was born, and not only did his entire life transcended all wonders, but so did everything concerning him, both long before his lifetime and afterward. The divine predictions of seers inspired by God described him as an Angel rather than a man (St. Matthew 11:10; cf. Exodus 23:20; Mal. 3:1), as a lampstand for the Light (St. John 1:8; 5:35), for he went before the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2), and was "the voice" of God's Logos/Word (St. Matthew 3:3; cf. Isaiah 40:3 Lxx). What could be closer or more akin to God the Logos/Word than God's voice?
"... Herodias who was wise in doing evil put an end to her fear by persuading Herod to murder John without just cause, in accordance with her own opinion, or rather her deceit. Full of spite and murderous feelings, she was looking for an opportunity to put into effect her fanatical hatred of the Baptist and Prophet, while protecting herself from being blamed by the masses. "And when", it says, "a convenient day was come" (St. Mark 6:21), convenient, that is, for the murderous scheme, during the celebration of Herod's birthday; while all the people were assembled, and the men of importance were in their seats, Herodias's daughter came in among them all, dispatched by her mother for this purpose (St. Mark 6:22). The girl danced in the sight of all, and pleased everyone including Herod. Given that she was Herodias' daughter, and had been sent in by her, how could she fail either to dance shamelessly or to please Herod? Her brazen dancing so captivated the pleasure-loving king that he said to the girl, "Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it to thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom" (St. Mark 6:22-23).
The impudent girl went out to her mother, the one who had taught her how to leap and writhe in that unseemly way, and told her of the oath. She asked to be instructed as to what she should request, was immediately informed, and eagerly obeyed (St. Mark 6:24). She hurried back to the king, and shamelessly stated her demand, saying, "I will that thou give me at once", that is, as quickly as possible, this very moment, "in a charger the head of John the Baptist" (St. Mark 6:25).
"...Herod is an example of everything evil and impious, whereas St. John is the pillar of all virtue and godliness. Herod is the fullness of wickedness, the power of ungodliness, the tool of lawlessness, is absolutely carnal, and lives and thinks according to the flesh. John, by contrast, is the summit of all the God-bearing men down through the ages, the visible resting-place of the gifts of the Spirit, who bears the Name of divine grace, and in whom all piety and virtue dwell. Two images are set before us today, extreme opposites at odds with each other. The one seems to bring a little enjoyment and honors in the short term to those inclined to live after its example, then delivers them up to unceasing, unbearable disgrace and affliction. The other gives those who look towards it short-lived suffering, then bestows on them glory and divine enjoyment, which are beyond description, true and eternal. If we live after the flesh, imitating the carnal Herod, we shall die, as the Apostle says (Romans 8:13). But if, through the Divine Spirit and with zeal like Saint John's we oppose the body's evil appetites and deeds, we shall live forever. (Source: Saint Gregory Palamas. The Homilies)
(To be continued)
Please note: AUGUST 29TH:
Beheading of the Prophet, John the Baptist
Acts 13:25-33; St. Mark 6:14-30
Matins (Orthros) at 9:00 a.m.
Divine Liturgy at 10:00 a.m.
"Brethren, the Holy Forerunner encompassed within himself, within his person, all of the virtues of heaven, all of the virtues in all of the Prophets, all of the Apostles, all of the Martyrs, all of the Angels of Heaven, all of the Confessors" (Saint Justin Popovich).
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"-- Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God