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The Beheading of St. John the Baptist

posted Sep 8, 2012, 3:02 PM by   [ updated Sep 8, 2012, 3:02 PM by Yulia Russiyanova ]
Beloved teachers, parents, students and friends of St. John’s, 

May the blessing of God be with you!

I write to greet you in love with the coming commemoration of our Father among the Saints, the glorious Prophet and Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord, St. John. This coming Tuesday (29th August / 11th September 2012) the Church will keep the memory of the Saint’s beheading, with a service of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom combined with a day of intense fasting.

We keep the memory of the beheading of St. John the Forerunner sacred and precious, for in it we behold a piety of life that cannot be overcome, even by all the fallen baseness of the world. From a worldly perspective, it seems that the life of this man who is called the ‘beginning of the Apostles’ and ‘prophet born of a prophet’ ends in utter futility: he is condemned to an arbitrary death as the result of a poorly-planned promise and a resentment for the Saint’s knowledge of the truth. The one who had baptized Christ, who had seen the heavens open and beheld the great manifestation of the Holy Trinity, is beheaded at a whim.

But from the Church’s perspective, we see something more in the death of St. John the Baptist. We see, in fact, the ultimate triumph of life over death. This same St. John preceded his Lord to the grave, but he did so in knowledge that he had come face to face with the Saviour of the Universe -- and that knowledge allowed him to witness the power of Life that is greater than all death. He knew, from the moment he took the human body of Christ in his hands and plunged the Lord beneath the waters of the Jordan, that he was baptizing the One who would save his own soul. St. John knew, when he saw the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus and heard the voice of the Father proclaiming Him His beloved Son, that no power in creation would be able to separate him from the glory of this One. And he knew, above all else, that the whole world -- to which he never ceased to cry out with the call of repentance: ‘Repent ye, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!’ -- had met its Saviour and Redeemer in this same Jesus Christ.

It is for this reason that we read of no fear in the Scripture’s accounting of St. John’s martyric end. We read of no hesitation; we read of no sense of loss or futility, despite the apparently meaningless circumstances of his execution. Whether the world claim the martyr’s life in some heroic act of glory and renown, or whether it claim the martyr’s life in a trifle, as it did with St. John, all that matters to the martyr is that he gives his life to Christ -- and St. John gave himself wholly to the Lord. So it was that Herod and his daughter may have taken the Saint’s life; but it is the Lord Himself that raised him up in glory, and we behold that glory even today, in our every Temple, where St. John the Baptist stands next to Christ on the iconostasis, continuing to offer himself wholly and completely to God.

My brothers, sisters and children: let us not be afraid of this world! There is so much, all around us, that inspires fear; and there is so much that seems to give life a sense of meaninglessness and triviality. But on this day when we commemorate our beloved Father, St. John the Forerunner, the ‘Seal of all the Prophets’, let us be reminded of the great power of our God, who takes insult and gives glory; who takes human triviality and gives eternal meaning; who takes death, and gives life.

May we, through the prayers of St. John, find the Lord’s mercy and offer our own lives wholly and completely to our God in Trinity.

Wishing you the blessing of God,

INXC, Archimandrite Irenei

NOTE: On this day, students and teachers of St. John’s celebrate the Liturgy together in the morning. For all Christians, the entirety of the day is one of most devoted fasting, remembering with repentance the death of the Saint. In many places (particularly in the Russian lands) it is the pious custom on this day, in addition to the normal fasting rules, not to eat anything round, served on a plate, or cut with a knife (commemorating the Saint’s head, the platter on which it was presented to Herod, and the knife of the executioner).

Troparion (Tone 2):

The memory of the righteous is celebrated with hymns of praise, / but the Lord’s testimony is sufficient for thee, O Forerunner. / Thou wert shown in truth to be the most honourable of the prophets, / for thou wert deemed worthy to baptize in the streams of the Jordan Him whom they foretold. / Therefore, having suffered for the truth with joy, / thou didst proclaim to those in hell God who appeared in the flesh, // Who takes away the sin of the world and grants us great mercy.