The Beheading Of Saint John The Baptist [Matthew 14:1-12] Herod Antipas (son of the elder Herod who slew the children of Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth) was ruler of Galilee when John the Baptist was preaching. He was married to the daughter of Aretas, an Arabian prince. But Herod, an evil sprout of an evil root, put away his lawful wife and unlawfully took Herodias as his concubine. Herodias was the wife of his brother Philip, who was still alive. John the Baptist stood up against this lawlessness and strongly denounced Herod. Herod then cast John into prison. During a banquet in his court at Sebastia in Galilee, Salome–the daughter of Herodias and Philip– danced before the guests. Herod, drunk with wine, was so taken by this dance that he promised Salome anything she asked of him, even if it were half of his kingdom. Salome was persuaded by Herodias to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Herod gave the order, and John was beheaded in prison–and his head was presented to him on a platter. John’s disciples took the body of their teacher by night and honorably buried it, but Herodias pierced John’s tongue with a needle repeadedly, and buried his head in an unclean place. What later happened to John the Baptist’s head can be read on February 24. However, God’s punishment quickly befell this group of evildoers. Prince Aretas, avenging his daughter’s honor, waged war against Herod with his army and defeated him. The defeated Herod was sentenced by the Roman Caesar, Caligula, to exile (at first to Gaul, then later to Spain). Herod and Herodias lived in poverty and humiliation in exile, until the earth opened up and swallowed them. Salome died an evil death on the Sikaris (Sula) River (see “Reflection” below). St. John’s beheading occurred just before Passover [the Pascha] but its celebration on August 29 was established because a church that had been built over his grave in Sebastia (by Emperor Constantine and Empress Helena) was consecrated on August 29. The relics of John’s disciples, Eliseus and Audius, were also placed in that church.
Venerable Theodora Of Thessalonica She and her husband, a wealthy and devout man, lived on the island of Aegina. When the Arabs menaced Aegina, they settled in Thessalonica. There they gave their only daughter to a convent, and her monastic name was Theopista. Theodora’s husband died soon after this, and she also became a nun. She was a great ascetic. She often heard angelic singing, and often mentioned it to the sisters: “Do you not hear how beautifully the angels sing in the heavenly sanctuary?” She died at the age of seventy-five, in the year 879 A.D. From her relics flowed healing myrrh, which benefited many.
The Holy Female Martyr Vasilissa Vasilissa suffered for Christ in Srem [Serbia].
The Holy Martyr Anastasius Anastasius was a young man from Radovište, in the diocese of Strumica. He learned a trade in Thessalonica. The Turks tried to force him to become a Muslim, which he adamantly rejected, and for that he was tortured, then hanged, on August 29, 1794 A.D.
Hymn Of Praise
Saint John The Baptist
O Saint John, wonderful Baptist,
Of the glorious Savior, you were the Forerunner;
Your purity touched human souls
And, like a terrible trumpet, from the Jordan resounded,
Awakening men from sleep, and the vice of sloth,
When the axe was near to the root.
To you I bow, to you I pray:
Every attack, help me to withstand.
Prophet most powerful, to you I bow,
And before you I kneel, and before you I weep:
From your heart, grant me the strength of a lion;
From your spirit, grant me angelic whiteness.
Grant me your strength, that by practice I may attain
Submissiveness to God and self-control,
To be baptized by fasting, purified by all-night vigils,
Sweetened by prayer and heavenly sight;
And to face every martyrdom without fear,
With your courage and strong faith.
O Saint John, man of God,
Glorious martyr for supreme justice:
It is you whom the godless armies fear.
To my prayer, be not deaf,
But strengthen me by your prayers,
That, as a true candle before the Lord, I may stand.
If you observe how men die, you will see that the death of a man usually resembles his sin. As it is written: For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword (Matthew 26:52). Every sin is like a knife, and men usually are slain by that sin which they most readily committed. An example of this is that of Salome–the foul daughter of Herodias–who asked for and received from Herod the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Living in the Spanish town of Lerida [Loredo] with the exiled Herod and Herodias, Salome set out across the frozen river Sikaris one day. The ice broke, and she fell into the water up to her neck. Shards of ice jammed around her neck and she struggled, treading her feet in the water, as she once danced at the court of Herod. She was unable either to raise herself up or to sink down, and a shard of ice severed her head. The water carried her body away, and her head was brought to Herodias on a platter, as was once the head of John the Baptist. Behold how terribly a death resembles the sin committed.
To contemplate the righteousness of David (2 Samuel 3 [also known as 2 Kings 3]):
- How Abner the commander, one of David’s opponents, gave himself over to David, trusting him;
- How Joab, David’s commander, slew Abner;
- How David cursed the house of Joab, and wept copiously for Abner.
About the healing of mankind by the wounds of Christ
“And by His stripes [wounds] we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
We are healed by the wounds of Christ. Thus the prophet of God prophesied, and we now know that his prophecy is true. By the suffering of Christ, we have been saved from eternal suffering; by His most-pure blood, we are cleansed of the leprosy of sin and are enlivened. Our blood and body became impure from sinful passions; but it was our spirit–the nest and source of bodily impurity–that first became impure. Can the unclean be cleansed by the unclean? Can dirty linen be washed with dirty water? It cannot. Only that which is clean can wash that which is unclean. Even the pagans feel that mankind is impure. But they [the pagans] want to cleanse the impure by the impure: by invoking impure spirits and worshipping them, and by offering impure sacrifices, be they human or animal. One drop of the blood of the Most-pure Christ can cleanse mankind more than all of the idolatrous sacrifices from the beginning of the world. Why? Because the blood of Christ is pure, and all else is impure. By diluting just one drop of a strong medicine, physicians can vaccinate many people to protect them from disease. We dilute the blood of Christ with water, and then we drink it in Communion, for it is said that when they pierced the body of the Lord with a spear there came out blood and water (John 19:34). There is such power in one drop of His blood that the world could be burned up by it. It is sinless blood, the only sinless blood; the blood most-pure, the only truly pure blood in the world. Oh, if men would only know the power of absolute purity! All the sinful, impure ones would rush to cleanse themselves by the Most-pure Christ, and all the helpless ones would rush to partake of the Blood and Body of Christ [Holy Communion], and all the unbelieving would believe in Christ. For there is a trinity here; and all three are pure and all three purify–pure spirit, pure blood and pure body. Only the pure can purify the impure; only that which is healthy can heal the unhealthy; and only that which is powerful can raise up the helpless. O our omnipotent Lord, cleanse us by the blood of Your wounds, Your innocent and most-pure wounds. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.