THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST
The Reading from the Acts of the Holy Apostles (13:25-33)
In those days, as John fulfilled his course, he said: ‘Whom think ye that I am? I am not He. But, behold, there cometh One after me, the shoes of Whose feet I am not worthy to loose.’ ‘Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in Him, yet desired they Pilate that He should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of Him, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulchre. But God raised Him from the dead; and He was seen many days of them which came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings of the promise which was made unto the fathers: God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus again.’
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark (6:14-30)
At that time, king Herod heard of Jesus, for His name was spread abroad. And he said ‘John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in Him.’ Others said, ‘It is Elias.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, or as one of the prophets.’ But when Herod heard thereof, he said, ‘It is John, whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead.’ For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, ‘It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.’ Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him and would have killed him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and kept him safe. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. And when a convenient day was come, when Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee, and when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, ‘Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.’ And he sware unto her, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.’ And she went forth and said unto her mother, ‘What shall I ask?’ And she said, ‘The head of John the Baptist.’ And she came in straightway with haste unto the king and asked, saying, ‘I will that thou give me by and by on a charger the head of John the Baptist.’ And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the damsel; and the damsel gave it to her mother. And when John’s disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb. And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught.
Troparion of St John the Baptist (Tone 2)
The memory of the righteous is celebrated with hymns of praise, but the Lord’s testimony is sufficient for thee, O Forerunner; for thou hast proved to be truly even more venerable than the prophets, since thou wast granted to baptise in the running waters Him Whom they proclaimed. Wherefore, having contested for the truth, thou didst rejoice to announce the good tidings even to those in hades: that God hath appeared in the flesh, taking away the sin of the world and granting us great mercy.
Kontakion of Beheading of the Forerunner (Tone 5)
The glorious beheading of the Forerunner was a certain Divine dispensation, that the coming of the Saviour might also be preached to those in hades. Lament then, Herodias, that thou hast demanded a wicked murder, for thou didst love neither the law of God nor eternal life, but one false and fleeting.
THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST
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.