September 11/August 29: the commemoration of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist. A full fast. Note the date according to the Julian calendar: it falls on 911. Is it somehow a sign? Or should we refrain from all sorts of interpretations? Nonetheless, it is quite noticeable and as years pass that the date is so special for the Americans and the Western world. It becomes more significant, it swings along the years and almost two decades.
The terrorists who flew into the Twin Towers were definitely not Christian. On the other hand, they did come from the East. East is not West as we all recall and, at times, people do not care or listen. We, Orthodox, in particular in Jerusalem do know by in-born nature that there is a terrific Western-style sort of “arrogance”, esp. from the part of the Church, not that I intend to be judgmental – I know them quite well – but there is a sort of “cover”, a kind of “head cover”, far more dangerous than any “burqa” that blinds and blurs the way Western Christianity rushes along to reaching goals that they do not cope with from inside.
One thing is peculiar: 911 terror attack took place on the memorial day of the most hideous act committed against the forerunner and baptist of Jesus of Nazareth. Saint John the Baptist is positively mentioned in the Talmud as a saint man (Tractate Gittin). He is not “denied”. Past Sunday, The Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem proposed the reading of the Gospel of the vinedressers who killed these and those and even the son… Two years ago, we heard of beheadings in the Middle-East committed by people who pretend to act according to their way of being true faithful. Lots of individuals have been beheaded throughout history in many places: as if the head could symbolize the “location” of intelligence, human being, mind, understanding thus placed at the top of the body.
Saint John the Baptist was beheaded for a dance. Some spiritual fathers and directors opined that this si why dance is a sin. This swayed around at different periods of the Church history. Salome got the head of the saint man because of a full twisted situation at all levels of the then-reigning authorities. Corruption and betrayal. Beheadings have been performed in the Christian world: during the French Revolution but also by the days of the Russian Revolution in 1917. The French “guillotine” was still in use in France some two decades ago.
At the present, we see how daily beheadings with a sabre (curved sword) are performed in the Middle-East (e.g. Saudi Arabia) and the world is in shock.
As I was heading home in the bus, from Ramot to Jaffa Gate (Old City of Jerusalem) on that September 11, 2001, we all were listening to the news. The reporter was explaining on the Israeli radio what was going on in the morning in New York. We were at the end of the day in Israel. People were staring, in shock, no words and things got clear to me when I arrived at Jaffa Gate. There was a TV at the coffee-shop and we could see, scrolling up and down and up and down again the falling towers, also a sort of “beheading” of the two buildings. In the bus, there were a lot of American born Israelis. At Jaffa Gate, there were mainly the local Arabs and they looked, stared, fascinated by the “absolutely unexpected TV live vision of some unbelievable scenery”.
In the East, all the local traditions do know of the crude way, harsh capacities of the human beings to face life and/or death. In the West, “beheading” is a murder that “cuts, stops” i.e. kills and removes life. This is why the lives of the Saints are so important: Saint Denis of Paris, the founder of the Church and first bishop of Lutèce (Paris) was also beheaded but the account of his death reports that, though beheaded close to the present Montmartre, he took his head and carried it till the place called nowadays Saint-Denis.
In Hebrew, “cherev/חרב ” is the sword or sabre that causes a full ruine. The sword intends to ruine, devastate, exterminate. It is the same root as “churban/חורבן that is “chirb’n” in Yiddish, total eradication.
We continue to live under the rule of eradication, beheading. It is so strange that a human body, a corpse, should face the East and the Rising Sun of Glory, expected redemption, first the feet and then the head. That the head can be full of forces, mindful, energetic, creative or slew, rude, smashing wild thoughts or projects. The skull rolls i a move in the Semitic languages as “Golgotha”, the Aramaic word that defines “revolving actions, transmutations”. The head is also the “roof” of the home where the soul should conceive good deeds and not drift aside from sanity.
We should know that this very date, maybe by some unexplained fate or hazard, became the date that so deeply impacted the United States and the Western world in 2001 and continues to interrogate us, because Christians and “other minorities” are still tortured that way in countries that have first received the message of redemption for all mankind.
Commemoration of the Beheading of the Holy and Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John
Life of the Saint
<img>The divine Baptist, the Prophet born of a Prophet, the seal of all the Prophets and beginning of the Apostles, the mediator between the Old and New Covenants, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, the God-sent Messenger of the incarnate Messiah, the forerunner of Christ’s coming into the world (Isaiah 40:3; Mal. 3: 1); who by many miracles was both conceived and born; who was filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb; who came forth like another Elias the Zealot, whose life in the wilderness and divine zeal for God’s Law he imitated: this divine Prophet, after he had preached the baptism of repentance according to God’s command; had taught men of low rank and high how they must order their lives; had admonished those whom he baptized and had filled them with the fear of God, teaching them that no one is able to escape the wrath to come if he do not works worthy of repentance; had, through such preaching, prepared their hearts to receive the evangelical teachings of the Savior; and finally, after he had pointed out to the people the very Savior, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sin of the world” (Luke 3:2-18; John 1: 29-36), after all this, John sealed with his own blood the truth of his words and was made a sacred victim for the divine Law at the hands of a transgressor.
This was Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee, the son of Herod the Great. This man had a lawful wife, the daughter of Arethas (or Aretas), the King of Arabia (that is, Arabia Petraea, which had the famous Nabatean stone city of Petra as its capital. This is the Aretas mentioned by Saint Paul in II Cor. 11:32). Without any cause, and against every commandment of the Law, he put her away and took to himself Herodias, the wife of his deceased brother Philip, to whom Herodias had borne a daughter, Salome. He would not desist from this unlawful union even when John, the preacher of repentance, the bold and austere accuser of the lawless, censured him and told him, “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife” (Mark 6: 18). Thus Herod, besides his other unholy acts, added yet this, that he apprehended John and shut him in prison; and perhaps he would have killed him straightway, had he not feared the people, who had extreme reverence for John. Certainly, in the beginning, he himself had great reverence for this just and holy man. But finally, being pierced with the sting of a mad lust for the woman Herodias, he laid his defiled hands on the teacher of purity on the very day he was celebrating his birthday. When Salome, Herodias’ daughter, had danced in order to please him and those who were supping with him, he promised her — with an oath more foolish than any foolishness — that he would give her anything she asked, even unto the half of his kingdom. And she, consulting with her mother, straightway asked for the head of John the Baptist in a charger. Hence this transgressor of the Law, preferring his lawless oath above the precepts of the Law, fulfilled this godless promise and filled his loathsome banquet with the blood of the Prophet. So it was that that all-venerable head, revered by the Angels, was given as a prize for an abominable dance, and became the plaything of the dissolute daughter of a debauched mother. As for the body of the divine Baptist, it was taken up by his disciples and placed in a tomb (Mark 6: 21 – 29). The findings of his holy head are commemorated on February 24 and May 25.
Orthodox Christian Commemoration of the Beheading of John the Baptist
The commemoration of the beheading of John the Baptist is observed with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom which is conducted in the morning and preceded by a Matins (Orthros) service.
Scripture readings for the commemoration are the following: At the Matins: <a>Matthew 14:1-13</a>. At the Divine Liturgy: <a>Acts 13:25-33</a>; <a>Mark 6:14-30</a>. (If the feast falls on a Sunday the Gospel readings may vary.)
The day is also commemorated with a strict fast no matter what day of the week it may be.
<a></a>Hymns of the Saint
Apolytikion (Second Tone)
The memory of the just is celebrated with hymns of praise, but the Lord’s testimony is sufficient for you, O Forerunner; for you have proved to be truly 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 rejoiced 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.
Kontakion (Plagal of the First Tone)
The glorious beheading of the Forerunner was a certain divine dispensation, that the coming of the Savior might also be preached to those in Hades. Let Herodias lament, then, that she demanded a wicked murder; for she loved not the Law of God, nor eternal life, but one false and fleeting.