BEHEADING OF THE HOLY AND GLORIOUS PROPHET, FORERUNNER AND BAPTIST JOHN
ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS, WINE, OLIVE OIL
Beheading of the Holy and Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John, Theodora of Thessaloniki, Anastasios the New Martyr of Bulgaria
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 13:25-33
IN THOSE DAYS, as John was finishing his course, he said, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.” Brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you that fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning him. Though they could charge him with nothing deserving death, yet they asked Pilate to have him killed. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.
At that time, Herod the King heard about the fame of Jesus, for his name had become known. He said, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; that is why these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; because he had married her. For John said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias’ daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” And she went out, and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the baptizer.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard and gave orders to bring his head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.
The Beheading of the Prophet, Forerunner of the Lord, John the Baptist: The Evangelists Matthew (Mt.14:1-12) and Mark (Mark 6:14-29) provide accounts about the martyric end of John the Baptist in the year 32 after the Birth of Christ.
Following the Baptism of the Lord, Saint John the Baptist was locked up in prison by Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch (ruler of one fourth of the Holy Land) and governor of Galilee. (After the death of king Herod the Great, the Romans divided the territory of Palestine into four parts, and put a governor in charge of each part. Herod Antipas received Galilee from the emperor Augustus).
The prophet of God John openly denounced Herod for having left his lawful wife, the daughter of the Arabian king Aretas, and then instead cohabiting with Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (Luke 3:19-20). On his birthday, Herod made a feast for dignitaries, the elders and a thousand chief citizens. Salome, the daughter of Herod, danced before the guests and charmed Herod. In gratitude to the girl, he swore to give her whatever she would ask, up to half his kingdom.
The vile girl on the advice of her wicked mother Herodias asked that she be given the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod became apprehensive, for he feared the wrath of God for the murder of a prophet, whom earlier he had heeded. He also feared the people, who loved the holy Forerunner. But because of the guests and his careless oath, he gave orders to cut off the head of Saint John and to give it to Salome.
According to Tradition, the mouth of the dead preacher of repentance once more opened and proclaimed: “Herod, you should not have the wife of your brother Philip.” Salome took the platter with the head of Saint John and gave it to her mother. The frenzied Herodias repeatedly stabbed the tongue of the prophet with a needle and buried his holy head in a unclean place. But the pious Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, buried the head of John the Baptist in an earthen vessel on the Mount of Olives, where Herod had a parcel of land. (The Uncovering of the Venerable Head is celebrated February 24). The holy body of John the Baptist was taken that night by his disciples and buried at Sebastia, there where the wicked deed had been done.
After the murder of Saint John the Baptist, Herod continued to govern for a certain time. Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, later sent Jesus Christ to him, Whom he mocked (Luke 23:7-12).
The judgment of God came upon Herod, Herodias and Salome, even during their earthly life. Salome, crossing the River Sikoris in winter, fell through the ice. The ice gave way in such a way that her body was in the water, but her head was trapped above the ice. It was similar to how she once had danced with her feet upon the ground, but now she flailed helplessly in the icy water. Thus she was trapped until that time when the sharp ice cut through her neck.
Her corpse was not found, but they brought the head to Herod and Herodias, as once they had brought them the head of Saint John the Baptist. The Arab king Aretas, in revenge for the disrespect shown his daughter, made war against Herod. The defeated Herod suffered the wrath of the Roman emperor Caius Caligua (37-41) and was exiled with Herodias first to Gaul, and then to Spain.
The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, a Feast day established by the Church, is also a strict fast day because of the grief of Christians at the violent death of the saint. In some Orthodox cultures pious people will not eat food from a flat plate, use a knife, or eat food that is round in shape on this day.
Today the Church makes remembrance of Orthodox soldiers killed on the field of battle, as established in 1769 at the time of Russia’s war with the Turks and the Poles.
The New Martyr Anastasius, a Bulgarian, was born in 1774 in the Strumnitsk diocese, in the village of Radovicha. His parents gave him over to military studies. When the youth was twenty years old, he happened to be with his teacher in Thessalonica. The master wanted to sell some Turkish clothes without paying the customary duty. He told his disciple to dress himself as a Turk and go into the city. The collectors of the duty stopped him and demanded the written receipt of duty payment. The youth answered that he was a Turk. Then the collectors demanded that he recite the salutation with the Moslem prayer. The youth became confused and quiet. They ordered him to appear before the commander, who in interrogating the martyr suggested that he become a Moslem. The youth refused, and they led him away to the chief tax-collector.
The official tried at first to flatter, then to threaten the martyr, who admitted his civil guilt, but would not agree to betray the holy Faith. The tax-collector made this known to the mufti, who in turn answered, “You have in one hand the sword, in the other the law, use what you wish.”
He knew that by law the tax-collector ought to collect the tax from the youth, but then by judgment of the mufti he would not be a follower of Mohammed, armed with a sword. When he had received such an answer, the commander of the haraje sent the youth to the local mullah together with five Turks, who were obliged to testify that the Christian had blasphemed the Moslem religion.
To the accusations of blasphemy against Mohammed by these witnesses, the youth honestly answered that he did not blaspheme him, but he would allow having shown disrespect to Moslem customs. They subjected him to torture and condemned him to hanging. Along the way, they continued to urge the martyr to renounce his faith, but bleeding and exhausted, he fell upon the wayside and died on August 29, 1794.
Saint Arkadios was born in Arsinoe, Cyprus and lived in the late third century until the early fourth century. He was the son of pious and wealthy parents, Michael and Anna. Saint Arkadios went to be educated in Constantinople, and then he returned home to Arsinoe.
He became known for his ascetic struggles and for his great virtues. When Saint Nikon died, Arkadios was chosen as his successor on the throne of Arsinoe. After shepherding his flock in a God-pleasing manner, he reposed peacefully on August 29th. He also had a brother, Saint Theosebios the God-bearer of Arsinoe (October 12).
Although the commemoration of these saints is on August 29, their celebration was moved to August 3 because of the Feast of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
Saint Joseph the Sanctified reposed on January 22, 1511 when he was about seventy years old, and was buried in his monastery. His holiness was recognized at the recovery of his relics, because they were found incorrupt and emitting a divine fragrance. They were deposited in the katholikon of the monastery. Even after his death, there were continuous miracles where many sick persons were healed, the blind and possessed, established his reputation as a miracle worker.
In 1669 the Ottomans occupied Heraklion in Crete, and so the devout clergyman Anthony Armakis transferred the sacred relics of Saint Joseph to Zakynthos on August 29, 1669 and placed them in the Monastery of Saint John of Mantineos in Xerobounia. There the Saint's relics remained until 1915, when they were placed in the parish church of the Pantokrator at Gaitanios, Zakynthos.