"The memory of the righteous is celebrated with hymns of praise, but the Lord's testimony is sufficient for you, O Forerunner; for you have proved to be even more venerable than the prophets since you were granted to baptize in the running waters Him Whom they proclaimed. Wherefore, having contested for the truth, you did rejoice to announce the good tidings even to those in Hades; that God has appeared in the flesh, taking away the sin of the world and granting us great mercy." (Troparion of the Feast)
The day of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist is commemorated by the Holy Orthodox Church on the September11. In memory of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, the feast day established by the Church is also a strict day of fast -- as an expression of the grief of Christians at the violent death of the saint.
In Matthew 14:1-12 we read about the cruel death of John the Baptist. John had publicly reprimanded Herod for taking his brother's wife as his own, so Herod had him imprisoned. Although Herod really wanted John dead, he feared the many people who believed John to be a prophet. [Indeed, we in the Orthodox Church consider him to be the last of the Old Testament prophets.] During his riotous birthday party, Herod was so pleased with the dancing of his wife's daughter Salome that he promised her anything she wanted. Her mother prompted her to say, "the head of John the Baptist on a platter." Even though Herod regretted his promise, he had to abide by it because his guests had heard him. So he commanded that John be beheaded and that the head be given to Salome, who in turn, gave it to her mother.
When I think about this date many thoughts come to mind. As you all know this year marks the 10th anniversary as our people and country were scared forever. I am sure that this tragedy changed all of our lives in some ways. It did mine! May we always remember and pray for our country, the innocent victims who lost their lives and their family members, and also those who are overseas at this time fighting so that this tragedy may never happen again.
There is no doubt that the Holy Prophet John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our savior, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: "I am the truth"? Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.
Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.
Such was the quality and strength of the man who accepted the end of this present life by shedding his blood after the long imprisonment. He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men. He was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by that Light itself, which is Christ.
To endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward.
Since death was ever near at hand, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ's name. Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: "You have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake." He tells us why it is Christ's gift that his chosen ones should suffer for him: "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us." Amen.
Fr. Taras Naumenko