FIRST & SECOND FINDING OF THE VENERABLE HEAD OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
First & Second Finding of the Venerable Head of John the Baptist, Romanos, Prince of Uglich, Boswell, Abbot of Melrose Abbey, Cumine the White, Abbot of Iona
ST. PAUL’S SECOND LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS 4:6-15
Brethren, it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness, " who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, "I believed, and so I spoke, " we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
At that time, when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been coming violently and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
After the Beheading of the Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John (August 29), his body was buried by disciples in the Samarian city of Sebaste, and his venerable head was hidden by Herodias in an unclean place. Saint Joanna (June 27), the wife of King Herod’s steward Chuza (Luke 8:3), secretly took the holy head and placed it into a vessel and buried it on the Mount of Olives in one of Herod’s properties.
After many years, this property passed into the possession of a government official who became a monk with the name of Innocent. He built a church and a cell there. When they started to dig the foundation, the vessel with the venerable head of John the Baptist was uncovered. Innocent recognized its great holiness from the signs of grace emanating from it. Thus occurred the First Finding of the Head. Innocent preserved it with great piety, but fearful that the holy relic might be abused by unbelievers, before his own death he again hid it in that same place, where it was found. Upon his death the church fell into ruin and was destroyed.
During the days of Saint Constantine the Great (May 21), when Christianity began to flourish, the holy Forerunner appeared twice to two monks journeying to Jerusalem on pilgrimage to the holy places, and he revealed the location of his venerable head.
The monks uncovered the holy relic and, placing it into a sack of camel-hair, they proceeded homewards. Along the way they encountered an unnamed potter and gave him the precious burden to carry. Not knowing what he was carrying, the potter continued on his way. But the holy Forerunner appeared to him and ordered him to flee from the careless and lazy monks, with what he held in his hands. The potter concealed himself from the monks and at home he preserved the venerable head with reverence. Before his death he placed it in a water jug and gave it to his sister.
From that time the venerable head was successively preserved by devout Christians, until the priest Eustathius (infected with the Arian heresy) came into possession of it. He beguiled a multitude of the infirm who had been healed by the holy head, ascribing their cures to the fact that it was in the possession of an Arian. When his blasphemy was uncovered, he was compelled to flee. After he buried the holy relic in a cave, near Emesa, the heretic intended to return later and use it for disseminating falsehood. God, however, did not permit this. Pious monks settled in the cave, and then a monastery arose at this place. In the year 452 Saint John the Baptist appeared to Archimandrite Marcellus of this monastery, and indicated where his head was hidden. This became celebrated as the Second Finding. The holy relic was transferred to Emesa, and later to Constantinople.
Saint Erasmus of the Kiev Caves Saint Simon, Bishop of Vladimir (May 10), wrote about him to his friend Saint Polycarp (July 24): “At the Caves was Erasmus the black-robed. He acquired a legacy of fame because he used everything he possessed for the adornment of the monastery church. He donated many icons, which even now may be seen over the altar.
“The saint experienced great temptations after he had given away his wealth. The Evil One began to suggest to him that he should have given the money to the poor, rather than spend it on the beautification of the church. Saint Erasmus did not understand such thoughts, so he fell into despondency and began to live in a careless manner. Because of his former virtue the gracious and merciful God saved him. He sent him a grievous illness, and the monk lay near death.
“In this sickness Erasmus lay for seven days, unable to see or speak, and hardly breathing. On the eighth day the brethren came to him and, seeing the difficulty of his approaching death, said, ‘Woe to the soul of this brother, for he lived in idleness and in sin. Now his soul beholds something and tarries, not having the strength to leave the body.’
“Erasmus suddenly got up, as though he had not been ill, and said to the monks, ‘Fathers and brethren! It is true that I am a sinner, and have not repented, as you said. Today, however, our monastic fathers Anthony and Theodosius have appeared to me, and said: “We have prayed for you, and the Lord has given you time for repentance.” Then I saw the All-Pure Mother of God with Christ in Her arms, and She said to me, “Erasmus, since you adorned My Church with icons, I will also adorn you and exalt you in the Kingdom of my Son! Arise, repent, take the angelic schema, and on the third day you will be taken from this life.”’
“Having said this, Erasmus began to confess his sins before all without shame, then went to church and was clothed in the schema, and on the third day he died.” Saint Erasmus was buried in the Near Caves. His memory is also celebrated on September 28 and on the second Sunday of Great Lent.