The Beheading of the Honourable and Glorious Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John
August 29th is the feast of John the Baptist’s beheading. This feast occurs at the close of our church year. Just as the death of John the Baptist occurs as Christ begins His public ministry.
The Beheading of John
We recognize John the Baptist, as the forerunner of Christ, for proclaiming truth and repentance in preparation for the ministry of Christ. There are many feast days in his honour. We celebrate his Nativity, the Synaxis of John (after Theophany), as well as the finding of His Head several times!
The feast of the beheading of John the Baptist recognizes the repose of His soul according to John’s own recognition that “He must increase, and I must decrease.” – John 3:30
We read two accounts of John’s beheading in scripture. The first is in the Gospel according to St. Matthew (Matt 14: 1-12), and the second is in the Gospel according to St. Mark (Mark 6: 14-27). The passages begin by explaining that King Herod heard of Jesus, as well as the rumours that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected from the dead. The Apostles then explain that this idea troubled Herod, for he himself was responsible for the death of the forerunner of Christ. St. Mark also mentions the rumours of Jesus being Elijah or another prophet as well, but adds the King Herod was convinced that John the Baptist had returned.
From there the apostles give acconts of how the beheading occurred. King Herod had arrested John for speaking out against Herod taking his brother’s wife, Herodias. And though Herod wanted to kill John, Herod was afraid to do so because John had the love of the people, and because Herod got to know John and recognized him as holy and righteous. However, on Herod’s birthday, he hosted a large banquet with many politically important guests present. And Herodias’ daughter entertained the crowd with a “pleasing” dance. After this dance, the king foolishly proclaimed that he would offer the daughter anything she asked for, and made an oath that he would do so, even if it were half of his kingdom. The girl, being obedient to her mother’s wishes, asked for the head of John the Baptist.
Herod had made an oath in front of his guest. Therefore, he sent orders for the executioner to bring John’s head. John’s followers were allowed to collect and bury his body, but the head was retained by Herodias for some time.
Prayers and Tropars for John’s Beheading
Troparion: (tone 2)
The just man is remembered with praises, but for you the Lord’s testimony suffices, O Forerunner. For you truly became more honourable than the prophets, and were deemed worthy to baptize the One foretold. Then you suffered for truth and joyfully announced to those in Hades that God appeared in the flesh, taking away the sins of the world, offering us great mercy.
Kontakion: (tone 5)
The Forerunner’s glorious beheading came to be a form of dispensation divine that he might proclaim to those in Hades the message of the Saviour. Let Herodias shed tears of lament for the lawless murder that was her request, for she loved a false and transitory age rather than God’s law and the age of life.
Prokeimenon: (tone )
The just man shall be glad in the Lord, and shall hope in Him.
Verse: Hear my voice, O God, when I make my petition to You
The Byzantine Life
Thank you for checking out this week’s article. You may also be interested in some of our other articles on John the Baptist. There is the article on the Nativity of John the Baptist, the article on The Synaxis of the Forerunner of Christ, and finally the article on the First and Second finding of John’s Head.
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