Tag Archives: Beheading of John the Baptist

The darkness has not overcome it.

And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

Today is the commemoration of the Beheading of John the Baptist, which we Orthodox Christians 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 intruded into (family) 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. John is holding his own head on the platter; some Orthodox do not eat anything from a plate, or from 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 used her connections to retrieve the head so that it could be given an honorable burial.

This is a repeat of most of my post from five years ago. This morning I attended Divine Liturgy for the feast and was more awed than ever by the life of Jesus’s cousin John who was imprisoned for speaking the truth. Then he was killed because, though Herod was “sorrowful” about this unexpected outcome, he was a coward and wanted what he wanted, no matter that he seemed to like talking with John about spiritual things. As we heard in today’s homily, the rulers of this world always operate on the terms of their power above all.

But The Forerunner went joyfully to his reward, as do all martyrs; what they want more than anything is to be with Christ. That’s why we celebrate their deaths, which are glorious as the Cross of Christ is glorious. On this feast day we also fast, because it is to us a sort of Holy Friday; and to help our prayers for strength to have courage ourselves, to live and die in the spirit of the martyrs, in bright contrast to whatever darkness is currently trying in vain to extinguish the inextinguishable Kingdom of God.

In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.
The Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:4-5

Let mercy shoot forth.

THE PROPHECY of ISAIAH

Thus saith the Lord: Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith God. Speak ye, priests, unto the heart of Jerusalem, cry unto her that her humiliation is at an end, since her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths for our God. Get thee up into the high mountain, O Zion, that bringest good tidings; lift up thy voice with strength, O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift it up, be not afraid: I am the Lord God, I will hear the poor of Israel and will not forsake them, but will cause rivers to flow in high places and fountains in the midst of the fields. I will turn the wilderness into meadow and the dry land into water-springs. Let heaven above rejoice and let clouds sprinkle down righteousness; let the earth shine and let mercy shoot forth and let righteousness spring up together. With a voice of singing declare ye, and let it be heard, utter it even to the end of the earth, say ye: The Lord hath redeemed His servant Jacob, and if they thirst in the wilderness, He will cause water to flow out of the rock for them. Sing, O barren one, thou that didst not bear, break forth into singing and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail, for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife.

-A reading for the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist

A day for a funeral, and great beauty.

gl8 cloud IMG_3123This morning I had to wait around to take my walk, until the dawn lightened enough. When I went outside the first time to check the visibility, the feeling in the air was thrilling. The combination of the light and the humidity and everything was something you don’t get to experience if you are in the house smelling the coffee.

I’m not usually outdoors before 6:00, though there was one summer when for a few weeks at least Pippin and I would go to the high school track so that she could run, while I walked, in the dark — because it was the only time we had.

When I did start out a little later, the sky was filled with beautiful clouds. All the plants along the path were breathing into the space where my face was coming along with its nose. It was very intimate; I wanted to stand a while in the middle of the path and breathe with them.

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giant eucalyptus tree by the creek

I’ve been walking the same path almost every day, and getting to know some landmarks, or seeing how they have developed in the last 26 years. I feel that I didn’t notice them before…. or I forgot, is more likely. I am not the same person I was, and some of them are also more grown up, if they are still there.

gl8 IMG_3071 creek

When my tires were getting rotated the other day I took a walk in that neighborhood and it had its own scents and views. With fennel! I know I am always talking about the wild fennel, but it is everywhere, and giving off that sweet licorice smell as it makes its seeds and dries up. The banks of the creek are full of it — my summer is full of it — and this field is decorated, too.

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fennel in field with fog

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Today I will go to the funeral and burial for the young man who fell asleep in the Lord last week. His casket was brought into the church this week and while we were commemorating the Beheading of John the Baptist yesterday morning it was in the middle of the nave. After the Liturgy we had more prayers for him, and koliva.

 

 

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We have sung these prayers as an adjunct to every service that has happened since he died, and this week there has been a service every day. I wasn’t present for every one.

 

 

 

A new icon of the Forerunner of Christ was recently commissioned for the church, showing several scenes from his life. It was finished just in time for this feast.

gl8 John the Baptist Forerunner new

Yesterday we heard words from St. Justin Popivic’s homily on this feast, about how St. John the Baptist had been the Forerunner of Christ not just on earth, but also into Hades:

The glorious Forerunner also entered into the kingdom of death as the Forerunner of all of the true Confessors of Christ in the world, all of the true Prophets in the world, to announce to all of the souls in the kingdom of death: Lo, death is defeated, the demons destroyed, the kingdom of death will be destroyed when, in a little while, the Lord appears here, and you will be led out of this horror and into heavenly joy, into the Kingdom On High.
….
Thus, for us Christians today is like unto Great Friday. Just as for the Savior, the Resurrection follows Great Friday, so the Forerunner joyously dies and enters into death, for he sees the victory over death, and knows that the Lord has prepared for him as well eternal life and resurrection from the dead on the day of the Great Judgment.

When the Lord was crucified, He descended into the nether regions, into Hades, into the kingdom of death, with His human Soul. His Body lay in the tomb, but His Soul, the fullness of his Divinity, descended into death’s kingdom. And how astonished must have been all of the human souls in Hades, on seeing God in a human soul, shining with ineffable light, light impossible for a human being to imagine. Who would not come to believe in Him? Who, when He appears in the kingdom of death so filled with Eternal Truth, Eternal Life, Eternal Justice?

He appears as conqueror over death. And as death’s kingdom could not hold God Who was in Jesus’ soul, as it could not hold God in its hands, it fell apart because of Christ’s Divinity, because of His Most-holy Soul, in which was the fullness of God. And the Lord led out of death’s kingdom all those who had earlier come to believe the Forerunner, and those who had come to believe in Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, to believe that in truth, He was True God in Heaven and on earth.

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