Recently there has been an increase in Christian martyrdom by beheading, but that is not what the title of my post refers to. It is a phrase from the hymnography of the Orthodox Church for the commemoration of the Beheading of John the Baptist, which we who use the Gregorian Calendar remember on August 29 every year.
John was the Forerunner of Christ, and his preaching of repentance prepared many hearts to receive Christ. You might say that John got involved with politics when he spoke up about the governor Herod’s unlawful relationship with his brother’s wife Herodias. It doesn’t appear that they had asked for his opinion, but Herodias was angry enough about it that she asked Herod, via her dancing daughter Salome, for John’s head on a platter, which was granted. In the Gospel of Mark is one passage that recounts these events.
The hymns lament that Herod and Herodias missed their opportunity to repent and gain eternal life, but rejoice that God was glorified by the prophet’s death as well as by his life, and speak of John continuing to preach repentance even to the souls in Hades.
Icon Reader tells in depth about the iconography of John the Baptist, who is often pictured with wings. These symbolize the fact that he was a prophet or messenger from God. He is also called an “angel of the desert,” because like angels he was not involved in normal mundane things. The icon I show here is my own; when I received it as a gift it was the first time I saw that John is holding his own head on the platter. Some Orthodox do not eat anything from a plate, or anything round, on this day, and we all keep a fast in St. John’s honor.
I have a particular interest in the Glorious Forerunner’s beheading because the saint whose name I bear, Joanna, was married to Chuza, Herod’s steward, and is reported to have used her connections to retrieve the head so that it could be given an honorable burial.